For some reason cabbage does not excite foodies the way kale or other members of the Cruciferae family do (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc.), but it should! Cabbage contains the highest amount of some of the most powerful antioxidants found in cruciferous vegetables, along with ample stores of vitamins K, C, B6, B1, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and much more. This veggie may lack pizzazz, but it is a veritable health treasure chest!
Cabbages have been around for over 4,000 years, but were first domesticated before 1,000 B.C. by the Celts of central and western Europe. The Romans considered it a luxury and the best of all vegetables. They also used it medicinally for relief of gout, headaches and poisonous mushroom ingestion. It was introduced to America in 1541-42 in Canada by French explorers (who called it caboche, meaning “head”), and spread rapidly to the early colonists. In the 1800s, cabbage became a staple on long ocean journeys because of its high amounts of Vitamin C which prevent scurvy. Ship doctors also used sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) to treat wounds of sailors and prevent gangrene.
The list of things cabbage is good for is so long that it might be easier to say, what isn’t it good for? Here’s just a smattering of impressive benefits:
Cancer Prevention. – Powerful antioxidants like vitamins A and C and phytonutrients like lutein, zeaxnthon, isothiocyanates and sulforaphane are abundant in cabbage. These stimulate detoxifying enzymes which, studies show, protect against breast, colon and prostate cancers. Sulforaphane also selectively targets cancer stem cells, thus effectively preventing the cancer from spreading and/or recurring. Antioxidants also help protect the body from oxidative stress which can be a risk factor for cancer development.
Chronic inflammation is linked to cancer and many other diseases. Cabbage contains a bounty of anti-inflammatory nutrients, including anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol particularly plentiful in red cabbage, though all types of the vegetable have good amounts of anti-inflammatory polyphenols.
Glucosinolates in cabbage are phytochemicals that break down into idoles, sulforaphane and other cancer-preventive substances. For instance, indole-3-carbinol, blocks the cell cycle in breast cancer cells without killing the cells. It does this by turning off a gene for an enzyme necessary in the cell’s growth cycle. Different kinds of cabbage possess different configuration of glucosinolates, so it’s a good idea to try to eat a variety of types (e.g., green, white, red, savoy, napa, bok choy, etc.) to get the best health effects. Glucosinolates in cabbage can be converted to isothiocyanate compounds that are preventative for a range of cancers, including bladder, breast, colon and prostate.
Alzheimer’s Prevention. – Just one serving of cabbage can supply 85% of the body’s daily need for vitamin K1, which many people are deficient in. K1 is a fat-soluble vitamin most important for its role in blood clotting and bone metabolism and also known for Alzheimer’s disease prevention by helping to limit neuron damage to the brain. Copious supplies of B vitamins in cabbage, including folate, vitamin B6, B1, B5, are important for energy, but also may slow brain shrinkage by as much as 7-fold in brain regions known to be most affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Digestive and Ulcer-Healing properties. – Raw cabbage juice is an excellent source of vitamin U (actually not a vitamin, but an enzyme S methylmethionine) one of the most healing nutrients for rapid peptic ulcer repair.
Cabbage juice is also one of the strongest stimulants for stomach acid production, which is a good thing. Many people, especially with aging, have low stomach acid which can cause serious digestive problems and will significantly increase the risk of infection. Thus, a good habit would be to take a few teaspoons of cabbage juice or, even better, fermented cabbage juice from sauerkraut, before a meal. Over time this will improve digestion tremendously. Other compounds in cabbage also are beneficial to the stomach and intestinal lining, which helps resist acid attacks. These include glucosinolates, isothiocyantes, antioxidant polyphenols and glutamine, an amino acid-like substance.
Research has found that a European remedy for stomach ulcers — drinking just 1 cup of cabbage juice a day — showed complete healing in 10 days. A few swigs of cabbage juice can also help relieve constipation; 1-2 oz daily for chronic headaches. Pharmaceutical drugs for digestive discomfort are among the biggest sellers of all synthetic drugs; frequent consumption of cabbage should eliminate the need for these unnatural products.
Headaches. – 1-2 oz. of cabbage juice daily helps relieve chronic headaches and reduce hangovers from heavy drinking.
Healthy skin and hair. – Cabbage juice contains potassium which helps purify the body and skin. High levels of vitamin A and E rejuvenate tissues and sulfur, “the beauty mineral,” fights infection. Sulfur is also vital for the synthesis of keratin, a protein substance essential for healthy hair, nails and skin, and also facilitates cleansing of the blood and removing bacteria and toxins from the body.
Cabbage in the Kitchen
In order to preserve its many nutrients, cabbage is best eaten as close to raw as possible, referred to as tender-crisp. Studies have shown that short-cooked (e.g., lightly steamed) and raw cabbage were the only kind that had significant measureable cancer-preventive benefits. Microwave is a definite no-go — just 2 minutes destroys many of the enzymes needed to convert the glucosinolates into cancer-preventive compounds.
Choose a cabbage that feels heavy for its size. The leaves should be tight and firm — loose leaves indicate an older cabbage. Store in the fridge up to 2 weeks.
Try to make cabbage a “regular” in your diet, including different varieties of which there are many – over 400 throughout the world, from round to conical in shape, with flat or curly, tight or loose leaves, in green, white, red and purple colors. In vegetable dishes, steam or sauté sliced cabbage quickly, or eat it raw in coleslaw and salads. Add chopped cabbage to any soup or stew near the end of cooking. Juiced raw cabbage is restorative for the whole digestive system, and fermented cabbage, as in sauerkraut, provides excellent amounts of beneficial bacteria for gut health. Sauerkraut juice is also available in the U.S., online and around the world from the Swiss company Biotta, which has been producing top quality organic vegetable and fruit juices for over 60 years. Or, you can make your own. See “Drinks & Shakes” on our Recipe page.
“The Health Benefits of Cabbage” — Medical News Today
“What is Cabbage Good For?” — Dr. Mercola
“Of Cabbage and Celts” — Aggie Horticulture
“History of Cabbage — Where does Cabbage come from?” — Vegetable Facts
“Superfood: Cabbage” — Greatest.com
“9 Reasons You Should Eat Cabbage” — EcoWatch” – Healthline