What's New and Beneficial About Cabbage
Did you know that cabbage was one of two vegetable types (the other type was root vegetables) found to be a mainstay for prevention of type 2 diabetes in a recent study of over 57,000 adults in the country of Denmark? In this very large-scale study, adults who closely followed the Healthy Nordik Food Index were found to have the lowest incidence of type 2 diabetes. Importantly, this key health benefit was linked to six food intake categories: (1) fish, (2) rye bread, (3) oatmeal, (4) apples and pears, (5) root vegetables, and (6) cabbage!
Researchers have now identified nearly 20 different flavonoids and 15 different phenols in cabbage, all of which have demonstrated antioxidant activity. This impressive list of antioxidant phytonutrients in cabbage is one key reason why an increasing number of studies link cabbage intake to decreased risk of several cardiovascular diseases. You can read more about these individual antioxidants in our Health Benefits section.
In terms of price per edible cup, a report by the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has shown cabbage to be the second most economical cooked vegetable in terms of price per edible cup. Only potatoes came out slightly less expensive. The relatively low economic cost of cabbage in comparison with most other vegetables makes this cruciferous vegetable a nutritional bargain, especially considering the 3 excellent, 6 very good, and 11 good rankings that it achieves in our WHFoods rating system.
There are literally hundreds of varieties of cabbage grown worldwide. But of special interest in recent research studies have been cabbage varieties that fall into the red-purple category. It is the anthocyanin antioxidants (and in particular, a subcategory of anthocyanins called cyanidins) that have been the focus of these research studies. Impressively, the anthocyanins in red cabbage are a major factor in the ability of this cruciferous vegetable to provide cardiovascular protection, including protection of red blood cells. Blood levels of beta-carotene, lutein, and total blood antioxidant capacity have been found to improve along with red cabbage intake, while oxidized LDL has been found to decrease. (This reduction in oxidized LDL is a good thing, since LDL-an abbreviation which stands for low-density lipoprotein-becomes a risk factor for blood vessel problems if excessively present in its oxidized form.
Cabbage turns out to be an especially good source of sinigrin. Sinigrin is one of cabbage's sulfur-containing glucosinolates that has received special attention in cancer prevention research. The sinigrin in cabbage can be also converted into allyl-isothiocyanate, or AITC. This isothiocyanate compound has shown unique cancer preventive properties with respect to bladder cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. It's also worth noting here that a second glucosinolate found in cabbage-glucobrassicin-can be converted into two cancer-protective compounds. These two compounds are indole-3-carbinol (or I3C, an isothiocyanate) and diindolylmethane (or DIM). DIM is an interesting sulfur-containing compound that can be produced in the stomach from I3C if the stomach juices are sufficiently acidic. Like AITC and I3C, DIM has been shown to have cancer-preventive properties for the specific cancer types listed above.
You'll want to include cabbage as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis if you want to receive the fantastic health benefits provided by the cruciferous vegetable family. At a minimum, we recommend 3/4 cup of cruciferous vegetables on a daily basis. This amount is equivalent to approximately 5 cups per week. A more optimal intake amount would be 1-1/2 cups per day, or about 10 cups per week. You can use our Veggie Advisor for help in figuring out your best cruciferous vegetable options.
Traditional methods of steaming or boiling make cabbage watery. Traditional methods of steaming or boiling make cabbage watery. To avoid this result and promote optimal flavor, we recommend Healthy Sautéeing cabbage. Slice cabbage into 1/8-inch slices and let sit for 5 minutes to enhance its health-promoting benefits before cooking. For more details see the Nutrient-Rich Way of Cooking Cabbage below.
Our Chinese Chicken Cabbage Salad recipe is a great example of how to enjoy the delicate flavor of napa cabbage in your favorite salad. It is a milder tasting variety of cabbage that boasts the highest concentration of folate.
Enjoy the mild flavor of bok choy by using our Healthy Sauté method of cooking. Our 4-Minute Healthy Sautéed Bok Choy recipe will give you great tasting bok choy in a matter of minutes!
While green cabbage is the most commonly eaten variety of cabbage, we highly recommend trying red cabbage because of its added nutritional benefits and its robust hearty flavor. We don't think you will be disappointed. The rich red color of red cabbage reflects its concentration of anthocyanin polyphenols, which bring along with them unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
While cardiovascular protection and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes have been areas of increased research interest with respect to cabbage intake, it is the area of cancer prevention that still offers the largest number of health-related studies for this cruciferous vegetable. To date, more than 475 studies have examined the role of this cruciferous vegetable in cancer prevention (and in some cases, cancer treatment). The uniqueness of cabbage in cancer prevention is due to the three different types of nutrient richness found in this widely enjoyed food. The three types are (1) antioxidant richness, (2) anti-inflammatory richness, and (3) richness in
Antioxidant-Related Health Benefits of Cabbage
Cabbage ranked in our WHFoods rating system as an excellent source of vitamin C and a very good source of manganese. But in terms of antioxidants in the newer, phytonutrient category, cabbage is impressive, even among cruciferous vegetables. Polyphenols rank at the top of the list for phytonutrient antioxidants in cabbage. In fact, one group of researchers has described polyphenols as the primary factor in cabbage's overall antioxidant capacity. Even white cabbage (a very lightly-colored form of green cabbage and the most commonly eaten variety of cabbage in the U.S.) provides about 50 milligrams of polyphenols in a half-cup serving. Red cabbage makes its own unique contribution in this area by providing about 30 milligrams of the red pigment polyphenols called anthocyanins in each half cup. (These anthocyanins qualify not only as antioxidant nutrients, but as anti-inflammatory nutrients as well.) The antioxidant richness of cabbage is partly responsible for its cancer prevention benefits. Without sufficient intake of antioxidants, our oxygen metabolism can become compromised, and we can experience a metabolic problem called oxidative stress. Chronic oxidative stress, in and of itself, can be a risk factor for development of cancer.
More than a dozen cabbage phenols have been shown to contribute to its antioxidant capacity. These phenols are now known to include: benzoic acid, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, coumaric acid, dimethylbenzoic acid, gallic acid, hydroxybenzoic acid, hydroxycinnamic acid, phenylacetic acid, rosmarinic acid, syringic acid, trimethylbenzoic acid, and vanillic acid.
Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Cabbage
Without sufficient intake of anti-inflammatory nutrients, regulation of our inflammatory system can become compromised, and we can experience the problem of chronic inflammation. Especially when combined together with oxidative stress, chronic inflammation is a risk factor for development of cancer.
The anthocyanins found in red cabbage are well-documented anti-inflammatory compounds and make red cabbage a standout anti-inflammatory food for this reason. However, all types of cabbage contain significant amounts of polyphenols that provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Anthocyanins are also compounds that fall into the general category of polyphenols known as flavonoids, and they are definitely not the only important flavonoids provided by cabbage. Included in the list of cabbage flavonoids are the following anti-inflammatory compounds: artemetin, betanidin, butein, equol, hydroxyflavone, kaempferol, luteolin, malvidin, naringenin, pelargonodin, purpurogalin, quercitol, and tetrahydrochalcone.
Glucosinolates and Cancer Prevention from Cabbage
Given the roles of oxidative stress and chronic inflammation as risk factors for cancer, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory richness of cabbage would provide anti-cancer health benefits without the addition of cabbage's glucosinolates. But glucosinolates are cabbage's trump card with regard to "anti-cancer" benefits. The glucosinolates found in cabbage can be converted into isothiocyanate compounds that are cancer preventive for a variety of different cancers, including bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
Digestive Tract Support of Cabbage
Long-established in health research is the role of cabbage juice in helping heal stomach ulcers (called peptic ulcers), but more recent studies on cabbage have looked at the overall health benefits of this food for the stomach and digestive tract as a whole. Present-day studies make it clear that cabbage contains a variety of nutrients of potential benefit to our stomach and intestinal linings. These nutrients include glucosinolates (and the anti-inflammatory isothiocyanates or ITCs made from them), antioxidant polyphenols, and the amino acid-like substance called glutamine. In the case of ITCs, digestive tract benefits include proper regulation of bacterial populations of Helicobacter pylori inside the stomach. These bacteria are normal stomach inhabitants, but their populations can become too large and they can latch onto the stomach lining in an undesirable way. The ITCs made from cabbage's glucosinolates can lower the risk of these unwanted stomach events.
It would also be wrong to move on from this issue of digestive support without mentioning the very good fiber support provided by cabbage. At nearly 4 grams per cup and only 44 calories, cabbage provides nearly 1 gram of fiber for every 10 calories! This "fiber density" of cabbage actually ranks it above some our WHFoods legumes, including our beans, lentils, and dried peas. This very low "calorie cost" of cabbage fiber makes it easy to add fiber to your diet without adding calories. And this added fiber can be very helpful in improving digestion of food.
Cardiovascular Support from Cabbage
Recent studies on cabbage intake-especially studies on intake of red cabbage-have looked carefully at the potential for cardiovascular support from this vegetable. The results have been encouraging. Blood levels of beta-carotene, lutein, and total blood antioxidant capacity have been found to increase along with increasing intake of red cabbage intake. At the same time, total cholesterol, total LDL cholesterol, and total oxidized LDL have been found to decrease. Reductions in oxidized LDL are a particularly noteworthy finding since oxidized LDL is a known risk factor for development of atherosclerosis. One of the ways in which cabbage intake can lower your total and LDL cholesterol is through the process of binding with bile acids. Your liver uses cholesterol as a basic building block to produce bile acids. Bile acids are specialized molecules that aid in the digestion and absorption of fat, and when they are present in your digestive tract, fiber-related nutrients in cabbage can bind together with them for eventual excretion. Whenever this process takes place, your liver needs to replace the excreted bile acids by drawing upon your existing supply of cholesterol, and as a result, your cholesterol level drops down.