We hear it from our doctors, from the news media, and our moms—“eat more leafy greens!” Leafy greens are loaded with vitamins and minerals that are essential to so many vital functions in the body. While dark leafy greens are most often touted for their nutritional content, in the cabbage vs. lettuce debate, cabbage is no slouch nutritionally.
Cabbage and lettuce may share a similar appearance, but in reality, they aren’t even from the same plant family. Most varieties of table lettuce come from the Lactic or the Asteraceae botanical family while cabbage comes from the Brassica family. These are important distinctions, as they both offer excellent health benefits.
Cabbage and lettuce grow in different types of soil and generally thrive under different growing conditions. Nutritionally, they each have their strong points and weaknesses when measured head-to-head. Taste wise, lettuce is much blander while the flavor of cabbage is sharper.
Lettuce is most often left raw and used in salads. Most lettuces, including romaine, Bibb, and leaf lettuce are tender, and they easily wilt when left out on the counter or when salad dressing is applied. Cabbage, on the other hand, because of its hardy texture, can withstand intense heat from stir-frying, long fermentation processes to make kimchi and sauerkraut, and still retains a pleasing texture.
Both cabbage and lettuce are heart-healthy foods with extraordinary nutrients and phytochemicals, including antioxidants that are associated with preventing coronary artery disease. Cabbage has an extra dose of health benefits—it is a cruciferous vegetable that has been shown to contain cancer-fighting phytonutrients, dietary fiber, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Is cabbage or lettuce better for you? Well, it depends. They each contain essential nutrients of varying degrees. Generally speaking, the greater variety of foods you eat—the more balanced your diet is. The best answer is to add both lettuce and cabbage to your diet to boost your health.
Cabbage vs. Lettuce: Health Benefits
If you’re deciding on cabbage vs. lettuce, then perhaps an analysis of health benefits can help tip the scale. Cabbage is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate, and manganese. Both cabbage and lettuce are very low in calories, but cabbage does contain nearly twice as many calories and more than twice the dietary fiber.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, white cabbage contains bioactive compounds such as glucosinolates, carotenoids, and polyphenols. The researchers of this study compared fresh organic cabbage to conventionally grown cabbage made into sauerkraut, and while the organic sauerkraut contained more flavonoids, the conventional sauerkraut juice was more efficient at fighting cancer cells in the human stomach.
We’ve talked until now just about white cabbage, as it is the most commonly consumed in the United States. However, if you want to add even more nutrients to your diet, then red or purple cabbage are your top choices. Red vibrant cabbage is most often embraced in Eastern European cuisines and Asian cuisines.
Red cabbage and white cabbage are actually two different varieties from the same botanical family, and red cabbage contains significantly more vitamin A and vitamin C than either white cabbage or lettuce. Taste wise, red cabbage has a bit more of a peppery flavor that complements a wide range of culinary applications.
The biggest difference between white cabbage and red cabbage is that the latter contains the powerful antioxidant anthocyanin. Research shows that anthocyanins may improve learning and memory, strengthen the immune system, and protect against certain types of cancer.
Lettuce Health Benefits
Romaine lettuce, one of the most commonly consumed here in the United States, is a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, thiamin, folate, iron, potassium, and manganese. Leafy green lettuces, not iceberg, have been shown to contain potent doses of antioxidants and even antifungal action.
Researchers from the Institute of Clinical Pathology, Medical University of Vienna in Austria have identified that extract from lettuce inhibits the growth of leukemia cells and MCF-7 breast cancer cells. In the study published in the journal Oncology Reports, the authors do note that when calculated for humans 3 kilograms, or 6.61387 pounds of lettuce, would be needed for each dose to create the required concentration in the extract.
So, if we have convinced you to add cabbage to your diet, here are two healthy cabbage recipes to try.
This is not the cabbage soup diet recipe! This is a delicious, hearty, almost stew-like cabbage treat. If you love cabbage rolls, you are going to adore this Cabbage Roll Soup from Dinner at the Zoo. Along with a healthy dose of cabbage, this soup contains carrots, long grain rice, and ground beef. This cabbage recipe is rich and perfect for a chilly winter’s night, even for the pickiest of eaters.
Red Cabbage Salad
This cabbage recipe is crunchy, sweet, peppery, and incredibly satisfying. From Happy Foods Tube comes this vibrant Detox Red Cabbage Salad loaded with vitamin C and vitamin A. This is truly a nutrient-dense salad that packs a punch of health benefits from the addition of carrots, mandarin oranges, and apples.
Lettuce Recipes: Beyond the Salad
If you want to add more lettuce to your diet, but you have tired of salads, here are two recipes to try.
Believe it or not, lettuce is a great ingredient to throw into a smoothie. You can easily replace spinach or kale with leaf lettuce, Bibb lettuce, or even romaine. In our Green and Glowing Avocado Smoothie you’ll find that your lettuce of choice blends beautifully into this creamy smoothie packed with healthy fats.
How about a guilt-free, gluten-free BLT for lunch? From Bon Appetit these BLT Lettuce Wraps are zesty and crunchy perfection. Enjoy this healthy BLT for lunch, or make smaller ones as appetizers at large gatherings.
A note about E. coli outbreaks and food recalls
In the last few years, there has been growing concern for food safety, especially when it comes to romaine lettuce and spinach. Multi-state outbreaks have sickened many people, resulting in hospitalization and even death. Remember, all fruits and vegetables you bring into the home should be washed thoroughly—even those that are prepackaged and labeled “pre-washed.”
E.coli is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of both animals and humans. While this type of bacteria is typically harmless, there are some that can cause severe complications, including kidney failure. E. coli is most often associated with mishandled foods, as is the case with lettuce and spinach, and it is often traced to the use of contaminated water.
Wash all of your fruits and vegetables thoroughly when you first bring them into your home. The easiest way is to fill a large stock pot full of cold water and add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. Dip lettuce leaves into the water and pat dry with paper towels before storing in your refrigerator. This water and vinegar solution will remove dirt and grime, and may help to remove viruses and bacteria.