With St. Patrick’s day approaching, boiled cabbage will no doubt accompany corned beef on many dinner tables. And while some may wrinkle their noses at the thought (or smell) of this cruciferous vegetable, it turns out the humble head has a dense nutritional profile that should grace your plate more often than just once a year.
Cabbage is a leafy vegetable of the Brassica family, which also includes broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, and it’s one of the oldest known vegetables, dating as far back as 4,000 B.C. in China. It comes in several varieties — green, red, and savoy — which can be eaten raw* or cooked, thrown in a soup, tossed in a salad or stir fry, topped on fish tacos, or simply just steamed by itself.
The health benefits (and inexpensiveness) of cabbage earned it its nickname “drug of the poor” during the Middle Ages. If you are truly trying to improve your diet, adding this cruciferous vegetable to your meal plan is a good place to start. Here are 13 good reasons why:
- Improved Digestion: You’ve heard “eat your roughage” and cabbage is a healthful source. Its fiber and water content can help to prevent constipation and maintain a healthy digestive tract. Eating cabbage in fermented form (sauerkraut) also gives you a boost of probiotics, one of the best things for a healthy digestive system and gut.
- Weight Loss: With a mere 33 calories per cup, cabbage is high in fiber and contains zero fat. Cabbage is frequently recommended to people who want to lose weight, since it is packed with so many nutrients and its high fiber content makes it quite filling.
- Lowers Cholesterol: Cabbage can also be used to help lower your cholesterol. Its fiber and nutrients bind with bile acids in the intestine and pass out in the stool, rather than being absorbed into the blood. Eating it steamed gives it more cholesterol-lowering power.
- Immune Booster: Cabbage is an excellent source of the ever-so-important vitamin C, crucial for maintaining a strong immune system.
- Cancer Fighter: It has been known for years that consumption of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a lower cancer risk. The sulfur-containing compound, sulforaphane, which give these vegetables their bitter taste, is also what specifically gives them their cancer-fighting power. Sulforaphane has been shown to inhibit the progression of cancer cells. Anthocyanins, the powerful antioxidants that give red cabbage its vibrant color, have been shown to slow the formation and even kill already-formed cancer cells.
- Reduces Inflammation: Inflammation causes unnecessary pain and discomfort and can also lead to a host of other diseases and ailments. Glutamine, an amino acid found in cabbage, is a strong anti-inflammatory agent, helping to reduce joint pain, arthritis, and ease allergies. Cabbage is considered one of the top 10 best food sources of glutamine.
- Improves Brain Health: Cabbage is a powerful brain food, particularly the red variety. It contains vitamin K, and the antioxidant anthocyanin, which boosts mental function and concentration. Vitamin K, an often forgotten vitamin, can also improve your defense against conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Anthocyanin is also effective at reducing plaque on the brain, preventing the deterioration of short- and long-term memory.
- Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease and Strokes: Researchers have identified nearly twenty different flavonoids and fifteen different phenols in cabbage, all which demonstrate antioxidant activity. These antioxidant nutrients play a role in decreasing your risk of several cardiovascular diseases. Cabbage also contains the beneficial minerals calcium and potassium, which help regulate blood pressure.
- Heals Ulcers: Cabbage has been historically known to heal ulcers due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have found that drinking cabbage juice is very effective in preventing ulcers.
- Clears Skin: Antioxidants play a major role in the health of your skin. Free radicals are an underlying cause of wrinkles, skin discoloration, and other conditions. Cabbage contains a wealth of different antioxidants that can turn around the aging process of your skin.
- Energy Booster: Cabbage is high in energy-boosting B vitamins, including B1. B2, and B6. Next time you feel sluggish, swap out that cup of afternoon sugary coffee for a serving of cabbage — cole slaw might make the perfect snack! Try this recipe!
- Hangover Cure: Cabbage has been used for relief from hangovers since the Roman times. It is thought to clear the body of congeners, by-products of the fermentation process. In addition, the high fiber content of cabbage helps to absorb the alcohol acetaldehyde. The next time you wake up after having had a few too many, do as a the Ancient Greeks did and boil up some cabbage and save the juice for drinking.
- Eases Headaches: Try relieving a headache or migraine by making a compress out of cabbage leaves. Crush a few of the inner leaves to make a paste, then place the paste in a cloth, and apply to your forehead until dry. Or try drinking raw cabbage juice (1-2 oz) to bring some relief.
Fun Fact: One cup of shredded raw cabbage contains 190% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.
Cabbage is the second most economical cooked vegetable in terms of price per edible cup (second only to potatoes). This relatively low economic cost makes this cruciferous vegetable a nutritional bargain.
*If you have thyroid issues, talk to your doctor about consuming raw cruciferous vegetables.