Cabbage isn’t the most glamorous offering in the produce aisle, but this humble vegetable hides a wealth of important nutrients and disease-fighting superpowers. Studies show cabbage can help prevent cancer, reduce cholesterol, and heal ulcers.
Cabbage Patch — Why It’s Super
Brassica vegetables (the plant family that includes cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli, to name a few) are healthy eating power players! Cabbage in particular provides unique health benefits and comes in many varieties. Savoy, spring greens, green, red, and white cabbages are the most common types found in grocery stores. Cabbage is often considered a “health food” because of the infamous cabbage soup diet, a strict (and unsustainable!) plan where participants eat unlimited amounts of cabbage soup to lose as much as 10 to 15 pounds in a single week. Although cabbage may be good for weight loss because of its high water content, it has many other (more important) advantages, too. Here’s a quick look at its beneficial qualities:
- Fiber: Cabbage is a stomach's best friend. Like its trendier cousins brussel sprouts, broccoli, and kale, cabbage is an amazing source of fiber. Raw cabbage has also been shown to help cure stomach ulcers Rapid healing of peptic ulcers in patients receiving fresh cabbage juice. Cheney G. California Medicine. 1949 January; 70(1): 10-15..
- Antioxidants: Red cabbage is chock full of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant commonly found in blue, purple, and red plants The change of total anthocyanins in blueberries and their antioxidant effect after drying and freezing. Lohachoompol V, Srzednicki G, Craske J. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. 2004 December 1; 2004 (5): 248-252.. Studies show antioxidants can reduce inflammation, provide cancer protection, and boost brain function.
- Lowers cholesterol: Look to this superfood for a natural and effective cholesterol reducer. Cabbage prevents bile from absorbing fat after a meal, which lowers the overall amount of cholesterol in the body Suppression of hypercholesterolemia in hepatoma-bearing rats by cabbage extract and its component, S-methyl-L-cysteine sulfonide. Komatsu W, Miura Y, Yagasaki K. Department of Applied Biological Science, Tokyo Noko University, Fuchu, Japan. Lipids. 1998 May; 33 (5): 499-503..
- Glucosinolates: Cabbage contains sulfur-based compounds called glucosinolates that have anti-carcinogenic properties Bioactive organosulfur phytochemicals in Brassica oleracea vegetables – a review. Stoewsand GS. Department of Food Science and Technology, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Cornell University, Geneva 14456, USA. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 1995 Jun; 33 (6): 537-43.. In the body, glucosinolates become compounds called isothiocyanates, which some studies suggest inhibit the growth of cancer cells Hydrolysis of glucosinolates to isothiocyanates after ingestion of raw or microwaved cabbage by human volunteers. Rouzaud G, Young SA, Duncan AJ. Macaulay Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2004 Jan; 13 (1): 125-31..
Crunch Time — Your Action Plan
Red cabbage boasts more impressive health benefits than the green variety, so consider substituting more colorful bulbs for green cabbage in recipes. In general, vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables (think berries, dark greens, red peppers, carrots) are richer in antioxidants than paler produce.
Take full advantage of this superfood by cooking it minimally or not at all. Heat breaks down the chemical compounds that give cabbage some of its nutritional superpowers, so get the most out of every bite by keeping the leaves crunchy. Subjecting cabbage to heat for long periods of time has been proven to break down glucosinolates. Try eating cabbage raw, steamed, or lightly sautéed instead to maximize health benefits Hydrolysis of glucosinolates to isothiocyanates after ingestion of raw or microwaved cabbage by human volunteers. Rouzaud G, Young SA, Duncan AJ. Macaulay Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2004 Jan; 13 (1): 125-31..
Cabbage is an economical winner, too. It’s inexpensive, stores well, and is available throughout the year from late summer through winter. The best bulbs are tightly packed, heavy, and vividly colored. A whole cabbage will keep in the refrigerator for one to two weeks, and five or six days when chopped.
Although it may be tempting, don’t get too gung ho about including raw cabbage with every meal. Despite its nutritional advantages, too much cabbage can be a bad thing! Cabbage is a “goitrogen” that can lead to goiters — a condition where the thyroid gland becomes enlarged, often due to a hormonal imbalance or iodine deficiency Psychological effects of cabbage with reference to its potential as a dietary cancer-inhibitor and its use in ancient medicine. Albert-Puleo M. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 1983 Dec; 9) 2-3):261-72.. A cabbage-heavy diet can contribute to the onset of goiters because cabbage inhibits the body’s ability to absorb iodine. (But don’t worry, this condition is pretty rare in developed countries, and it would take a lot of raw cabbage to start seeing negative effects.) Luckily, this drawback is largely neutralized when cabbage is cooked.
Step away from the ‘slaw! Here are some fresh new cabbage recipes from around the web:
Breakfast: Red Berry, Cabbage and Almond Smoothie via The New York Times
Breakfast: Braised Cabbage and Onion with Poached Egg via Culinate
Lunch: Grilled Red and Green Cabbage Slaw via Epicurious
Lunch: Asian Cabbage Salad via Sweet Peony
Dinner: White Beans with Cabbage via The New York Times
Dinner: Rice-Stuffed Cabbage via Martha Stewart
What are your favorite ways to enjoy cabbage? Tell us in the comments below!