Health Benefits of Red Cabbage

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Red cabbage is a nutrient-rich, cruciferous or Brassica vegetable that’s related to broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. It’s sometimes called purple cabbage because its leaves are a dark purple-reddish color. Red cabbage is usually a little smaller and denser than green cabbage, and it has a more peppery taste.

This type of cabbage gets its purple-reddish color from the plant compound anthocyanin and the acidity level of the soil where it’s grown. Like most colorful vegetables, it has many health benefits.

Some people disagree on whether 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 dishes, including many regional specialties.

Cabbage comes in white varieties as well as red and green. Its leaves may be smooth or crinkly.

Like other cruciferous vegetables, red cabbage contains many nutrients that your body needs.

Some of the benefits of all types of cabbage include:

Bone health. Cabbage contains several nutrients that are important for bone health. While most people know that vitamin D and calcium are critical to their bone health, other nutrients essential to your bones include vitamin K and magnesium.

Unfortunately, people who eat a typical American diet may not get as much of these nutrients as they need. Cabbage, especially green cabbage, is a good source of vitamin K. It also provides small amounts of calcium, magnesium, and zinc, which can help build and maintain healthy bones.

Digestive health. All cabbages are high in fiber. Fiber helps keep food moving through your digestive system and reduces constipation. The soluble fiber in cabbage can help the healthy bacteria in your gut. It may help maintain a healthy balance of prebiotics in your digestive system, though we need more research into this benefit. Prebiotics are foods that help feed “good” gut bacteria.

Fermented cabbage may also help promote the balance of microbes and probiotics in your digestive system. This can help strengthen your intestines.

Weight control. Cabbage may also help with weight loss because it’s low in calories, has a high water content, and is a good source of dietary fiber. These things help you feel full without too many calories.

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.

Other benefits of cabbage

As a green, leafy vegetable, green cabbage has some particular health benefits, including:

Reduced breastfeeding discomfort. If you have engorgement or mastitis while breastfeeding, applying green cabbage leaves to your breasts may reduce both pain and breast hardness. This could make you more likely to continue breastfeeding.

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

Brain health. Eating just one serving of leafy green vegetables per day can promote brain health and reduce your risk of developing dementia. Research shows that older people who eat at least one serving of cabbage or similar vegetables each day have “brain ages” that are an average of 11 years younger than those who rarely eat green veggies.

Like all cabbage varieties, red cabbage is rich in vitamin Cvitamin K, and fiber. Red cabbage also contains other vitamins and minerals, such as:

  • Vitamin A
  • Folate
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin E
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Zinc
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamin

Nutrients per serving

A one-cup (89-gram) serving of raw, chopped red cabbage contains:

  • Calories: 28
  • Protein: 1.27 grams
  • Fat: 0.1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 6.56 grams
  • Fiber: 1.87 grams
  • Sugar: 3.41 grams
  • Vitamin K: 34 micrograms or 28% of the daily value
  • Vitamin C: 50.7 milligrams or 56% of the daily value
  • Folate: 16 micrograms or 4% of the daily value

Nutrition in other types of cabbage

Red cabbage may have the edge in antioxidants, but other types of cabbage have benefits of their own. Green cabbage is especially rich in vitamin K.

Nutrients per serving

A one-cup serving of chopped raw green cabbage contains:

  • Calories: 22
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: Less than 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 5 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 3 grams
  • Vitamin K: 53.4 micrograms or 85% of the daily value
  • Vitamin C: 32.6 milligrams or 54% of the daily value
  • Folate: 38.27 micrograms or nearly 10% of the daily value

Some people prefer to get their cabbage in the form of juice. Juicing removes fiber, but it delivers the nutrients of the vegetable in a concentrated form.

One head of cabbage makes about 3 cups of juice.

Nutrition information

One serving of cabbage juice gives you half the vitamin C your body needs for the day. A 1/2 cup serving of cabbage juice has:

  • 22 calories
  • No fat or cholesterol
  • 5 grams of carbohydrates
  • 3 grams of sugars

Other nutrients in cabbage juice include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Calcium
  • Iron

Cabbage Side Effects

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

How to Prepare Cabbage

Cabbage is available in most regions throughout the fall, winter, and early spring—seasons in which finding fresh vegetables may otherwise be difficult. You can find it in grocery stores, co-ops, and farmer’s markets. It’s also grown in many home 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 firm and heavy for its size. When selecting a red cabbage, the color should be vibrant.

You can add this versatile vegetable to soups, stews, salads, and coleslaw. It’s delicious raw, steamed, sautéed, or fermented. It retains the most nutrients when it’s eaten raw but is still highly nutritious when cooked. The flavor becomes a little milder when you cook it.

Try these ideas to incorporate cabbage into your diet:

  • Lightly steam it for an easy side dish.
  • Use cabbage leaves as wraps to reduce your carbohydrate intake.
  • Include shredded cabbage in your favorite green salad or coleslaw.
  • 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.
  • Throw cabbage leaves in the slow cooker with beef kielbasa and potatoes.
  • Blend cabbage with yogurt into a berry smoothie.
  • Roast cabbage with bacon.
  • Add red cabbage to a potato hash to add additional color and nutrients.
  • Braise or simmer red cabbage with apples and spices for a delicious side dish.

Credits:

Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology: “Brassica vegetables and cancer prevention. Epidemiology and mechanisms.”

Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics: “Review article: Prebiotics in the gastrointestinal tract.”

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: a prospective study in postmenopausal women,” “Higher anthocyanin intake is associated with lower arterial stiffness and central blood pressure in women.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Fermented foods can add depth to your diet.”

NIH National Cancer Institute: “Brassica vegetable.”

NutritionData: “Cabbage, Raw Nutrition Facts & Calories.”

The Open Orthopaedics Journal: “Essential nutrients for bone health and a review of the availability in the average North American diet.”

World Journal of Gastroenterology: “Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis.”

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.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology: “The Safety of Cruciferous Plants in Humans: A Systematic Review.”

PLOS One Journal: “Sulforaphane Bioavailability from Glucoraphanin-Rich Broccoli.”

California Medicine: “Vitamin U Therapy of Peptic Ulcer.”

Archives of Gastroenterology: “Evaluation of antiulcerogenic activity of aqueous extract of Brassica oleracea var. capitata (cabbage) on Wistar rat gastric ulceration.”

Current Pharmacology Reports: “Dietary Glucosinolates Sulforaphane, Phenethyl Isothiocyanate, Indole-3-Carbinol/3,3′-Diindolylmethane: Anti-Oxidative Stress/Inflammation, Nrf2, Epigenetics/Epigenomics and In Vivo Cancer Chemopreventive Efficacy.”

Antioxidants & Redox Signaling: “Dietary Sulforaphane in Cancer Chemoprevention: The Role of Epigenetic Regulation and HDAC Inhibition.”

Cleveland Clinic: “5 Health Benefits of Anthocyanins,” “8 Benefits of Cabbage.”

University of Rochester Medical Center Health Dictionary: “Cabbage, raw, 1 cup, chopped.”

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