Cabbage: Natural Weight-Loss Food

Cabbage is a vegetable few people really appreciate, but it's truly a dieter's friend. It's strong-flavored, but it's this feature that makes it enjoyable in certain dishes.

This leafy vegetable ranks right up there with broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts with a reputation for fighting cancer. It's also a good source of vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and other nutrients. Cabbage also offers a major payoff -- the fewest calories and least fat of any vegetable. This powerful veggie is a must for dieters trying to lose weight.


Health Benefits

From green cabbage you'll enjoy a fiber boost and a respectable amount of vitamin C. Two types of cabbage, savoy and bok choy, provide beta-carotene -- an antioxidant that battles cancer and heart disease. For those who don't eat dairy products, bok choy is an important source of calcium, which may help prevent osteoporosis and aid in controlling blood pressure.

The phytochemicals in cabbage, called indoles, are also being studied for their ability to convert estradiol, an estrogenlike hormone that may play a role in the development of breast cancer, into a safer form of estrogen -- powerful incentives to add cabbage to your diet.


Selection and Storage

There are literally hundreds of varieties of cabbage. Green cabbage is the most familiar kind, with Danish, domestic, and pointed being the top three picks of the cabbage family. All sport the familiar pale green, compact head; are similar nutritionally; and shine in fiber.

Red cabbage, a cousin of the green, has a bit more vitamin C, but the most nutritious is savoy cabbage, which has a pretty, dark-green, round head that's loose, ruffly, and prominently "veined." It is much higher in beta-carotene -- about 10 times more -- than green or red cabbage.


Napa cabbage, also known as celery cabbage or pe-tsai, is often incorrectly called Chinese cabbage. Nutritionally, it's equivalent to green cabbage.

Bok choy, or pak-choi, is true Chinese cabbage. As its dark green color suggests, it's rich in beta-carotene. It's also a good source of potassium and a particularly well-absorbed nondairy source of calcium, providing about 10 percent of a day's requirement. It only falls short in the fiber category.

When choosing green and red cabbage, pick a tight, compact head that feels heavy for its size. It should look crisp and fresh, with few loose leaves. Leafy varieties should be green, with stems that are firm, not limp. Store whole heads of cabbage in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. If uncut, compact heads keep for a couple of weeks. Leafy varieties should be used within a few days.


Preparation and Serving Tips

Discard outer leaves if loose or limp, cut into quarters, then wash. When cooking quarters, leave the core in as this prevents the leaves from tearing apart. If shredding cabbage for coleslaw, core the cabbage first. But don't shred ahead of time; once you do, enzymes begin destroying vitamin C.

Forget old-fashioned corned beef and cabbage recipes. More nutrients will be preserved and the cabbage will taste better if it is cooked only until slightly tender, but still crisp -- about 10 to 12 minutes for wedges, five minutes if shredded. Red cabbage takes a few minutes more; leafy varieties cook faster. To solve cabbage's notorious stink problem, steam it in a small amount of water for a short time and do not cook it in an aluminum pan. Uncover briefly, shortly after cooking begins, to release the sulfur smell.


Combine red and green cabbage for a more interesting cole slaw. Keep the calories down with a dressing of nonfat yogurt laced with poppy seeds. Bok choy and napa cabbage work well in stir-fry dishes. Savoy is perfect for stuffing. In place of the meat in traditional stuffed-cabbage recipes, use a grain like bulgur, quinoa, or buckwheat.

Cabbage is packed with good stuff. Its leaves are rich in vitamin A and vitamin C. Cabbage is like a health food weight-loss store in a compact edible package.

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