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Health Benefits of Cabbage

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 02, 2020

Some people disagree on whether or not certain foods are truly healthy. This isn’t true for cabbage, which many people think of as one of the world's most nutritious foods. Low in calories and chock full of important vitamins and minerals, cabbage is also versatile enough to be used in a variety of tasty meals, including a wide array of regional specialties.

Part of the species Brassica oleracea, cabbage is closely related to kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. The round, heavy vegetable can be green, white, or purple. Its leaves may be smooth or crinkly.

Historians believe that cabbage was first grown in Europe before 1,000 B.C., but today, cabbage can be found in recipes all around the world. 

Health Benefits

Cabbage is low in calories and high in fiber. This makes it an excellent option for maintaining a healthy digestive tract. Additionally, cabbage contains a variety of antioxidant compounds that fight free radicals and reduce stress on your cells. Anthocyanin in particular has a number of benefits, including the protection of red blood cells.

Other health benefits of cabbage include:

Reduced Breastfeeding Discomfort

Many new mothers struggle with engorgement or mastitis while breastfeeding. Multiple studies suggest that applying cabbage leaves to your breasts may reduce both pain and breast hardness. This, in turn, could make you more likely to continue breastfeeding despite initial obstacles.

Reduced Risk of Diabetes

A diet high in leafy green vegetables like cabbage may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. While research agrees that all fruits and vegetables can help prevent diabetes, studies suggest that leafy green vegetables are the most effective.

Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Cabbage and related vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts contain high levels of a chemical known as indole-3-carbinol. Scientists believe this chemical may play an important role in preventing several types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.

Better Brain Health

Eating just one serving of leafy green vegetables per day can promote brain health and reduce your risk of developing dementia. Research has shown that older adults who eat at least one serving of cabbage or similar vegetables each day have “brain ages” an average of eleven years younger than those who rarely eat any.

Nutrition

Cabbage is rich in antioxidants such as choline and lutein. These important compounds limit oxidative stress and could play a role in preventing cancer.

Cabbage is also a wonderful source of:

Nutrients per Serving

A one-cup serving of chopped raw cabbage contains:

Things to Watch Out For

Like many vegetables from the Cruciferae family, cabbage can cause gas and bloating. If you’re prone to bloating, you should avoid eating large amounts of cabbage, especially alongside other gas-inducing foods. 

How to Prepare Cabbage

In general, cabbage is available in most regions throughout the fall, winter, and early spring — seasons in which finding fresh vegetables can otherwise be difficult. You can find it in grocery stores, co-ops, and farmer's markets. It's also grown in many gardens.

Cabbage lasts a long time if you keep it in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. Use plastic wrap to store partially used cabbage. 

When choosing heads of cabbage, don't be put off by the occasional wilted leaf or blotch. Damaged leaves can be peeled away to reveal a healthy cabbage. Instead, select cabbage based on whether it feels heavy for its size. Ideally, the leaves will be tightly packed in heavier cabbages.

Try these ideas to incorporate cabbage into your diet:

  • Use cabbage leaves as wraps to reduce your carbohydrate intake.
  • Include shredded cabbage in your favorite green salad. 
  • When nearing the end of cooking a stew, add a cup of chopped cabbage.
  • Add cabbage mixed with cilantro and lime to grilled fish tacos.
  • Enjoy chopped cabbage with toasted sesame oil and soy sauce in a savory Japanese pancake.
  • Toss chopped cabbage with lo mein noodles and chicken.
  • Throw cabbage leaves in the slow cooker with beef kielbasa and potatoes.
  • Blend cabbage with yogurt into a berry smoothie.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Neurology: "Will a Salad a Day Keep Memory Problems Away?"

BMJ: "Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."

F1000 Research: "Indole-3-Carbinol: A Plant Hormone Combatting Cancer."

JBI Library of Systematic Reviews: "The Effectiveness of Cabbage Leaf Application (Treatment) on Pain and Hardness in Breast Engorgement and its Effect on the Duration of Breastfeeding."

World's Healthiest Foods: "Cabbage."

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