The #1 way to reap the 5 best health benefits of an oft-ignored leafy green
Cabbage does something that few other foods can do: It packs extraordinary amounts of nutrition and health benefits per serving, and it does so with minimal calories.
But for as much nutritional punch as it packs, cabbage also carries the stigma of being a dull, flavorless, and a little bit funky.
This cancer-fighting, inflammation cooling, eyesight-improving, digestion-regulating vegetable can be just as delicious as it is healthy.
Yes, I really did say that cabbage is a cancer fighter!
Why that is not common knowledge, I don’t know. In fact, I’d be willing to wager that most people don’t know all of the health benefits of cabbage simply because there are so many!
So here’s our list of Top 5 ways cabbage supercharges your health and the #1 way to prepare it.
Top 5 cabbage health benefits
While this is not an exhaustive list of all the health benefits of cabbage, here’s a rundown of the top 5 reasons we recommend adding cabbage into your vegetable rotation.
1) It can literally make cancer cells explode
In addition to the many vitamins, minerals, and fiber in these vegetables, they also contain a group of substances called glucosinolates. When glucosinolates are broken down during chewing and digestion, they form a variety of compounds including isothiocyanates and indoles.
Studies have shown that these compounds decrease inflammation and inhibit enzymes that activate carcinogens. Meanwhile, they also stimulate enzymes that de-activate carcinogens.
Studies also show that these compounds slow cancer cell growth and initiate a process by which cancer cells self-destruct! Cancer cells, meet cabbage. BOOM!
In layperson’s terms, they clean out the cancer-causing gunk in the body.
Here are the exact words from one of the studies: “The present analysis confirms that cruciferous vegetables have a beneficial role on the risk of various common cancers, in particular, those of the upper digestive tract, colorectum, breast, and kidney.”
2) It’s an anti-inflammation powerhouse
As mentioned earlier, cabbage is not just an anti-inflammatory, it’s a really good one. It contains an amino acid that can reduce many forms of inflammation that cause allergies, joint pain, fever, and a variety of skin disorders.
3) Cabbage keeps things moving
Fiber-rich cabbage can clean out your digestive tract by speeding up the movement of waste for improved digestive health. The aforementioned isothiocyanates can help your stomach by regulating the bacterial population of Helicobacter pylori, which are bacteria that cause infection and inflammation.
4) Keeps your eyes sharp much longer
Carrots are given all the credit for being the vegetable that helps our vision, but cabbage deserves to share that title. That’s because both carrots and cabbage are rich sources of beta-carotene. When converted by the body into vitamin A, beta-carotene can help prevent early stages of cataract formation and macular degeneration.
5) Protects bones and makes them stronger
Vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, and potassium are the foundations of good bone health. They protect the bones from gradually withering and weakening. All are present in cabbage, which makes it a great food to ward off the onset of osteoporosis.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
For some, eating too much cabbage can have an adverse effect on your digestive health—listen to your body and reduce your cabbage intake if you start experiencing excess gas or diarrhea.
In rare cases, too much cabbage can have a negative effect.
As mentioned earlier, cabbage contains high amounts of vitamin K, which helps your blood clot. So, eating too much cabbage can interfere with the effectiveness of blood-thinning medication.
A normal size serving of cabbage (2 cups) should not interfere, but consult your doctor if you plan to eat more of any food containing high amounts of vitamin K.
#1 Way to Prepare Cabbage for Maximum Health Benefits
How you prepare cabbage affects not only its taste but also the above-mentioned health benefits.
If you shred it and smother it in mayonnaise and sugar to make coleslaw, you are effectively cancelling out every health benefit with fat, calories, and sugar.
Boiling cabbage may be a quick way to soften those tough leaves, but it also can drastically cut cabbage’s nutritional content.
Instead, try simmering sliced cabbage leaves in lightly salted water until tender. Drain then toss with black pepper and a touch of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Sautéing cabbage is also a great way to extract its flavor and maximize its nutritional content. It cooks well with other foods, especially when cooked in a wok with other vegetables (especially cruciferous ones!).
One of my favorite ways to prepare and eat cabbage is to ferment it into sauerkraut. The fermentation process maximizes cabbage’s nutritional capacities while adding natural probiotics.
Make Your Own Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is ridiculously easy to make. See the recipe below. to maximize its many nutrients (without being dull or flavorless).
- 1 medium head green cabbage
- 1 ½ tablespoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds (optional)
- 2 garlic cloves (optional)
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
- Sterilize one 16 oz. glass mason jar with a wide mouth and lid.
- Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and set aside.
- Quarter and remove the core of the cabbage. Shred it by hand or with food processor.
- Place the cabbage in a mixing bowl and sprinkle sea salt, black pepper, and optional seasonings if you are using them. Mix well.
- Add handfuls to the jar. Use your fist, a muddler, or the end of a rolling pin to pack each handful down tightly. This should force the water out of the cabbage to create a brine. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of water (you want the cabbage to be covered with liquid).
- To create an inch of head space in the jar, take the reserved outer leaves of the cabbage, roll them up, and wedge them into the jar so that the chopped cabbage is complete submerged under the brine.
- Seal the jar with a cheesecloth and an elastic band.
- Leave the jar on the counter at room temperature for 1 to 5 days. Place a plate underneath it to catch any liquid that might bubble over and seep out of the top. Check the jar every 24 hours. When you see the mixture bubbling, it is ready to be sealed with a lid and stored in the refrigerator.
If you crave a more international flair, consider Kimchi. One of Korea’s most famous foods, Kimchi is made from salted and fermented cabbage and radishes in addition to a handful of many other spices.
But, unlike sauerkraut, Kimchi is not as easy to make for amateur cooks. So, if you buy it, be sure to watch out for unnatural preservatives and high sodium content.
Cabbage, as you can see, is a power player among cruciferous vegetables— like cauliflower, kale, arugula, turnip, collard greens, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and rutabaga.
To us, they’re the Marines of vegetables. They’re lean. They’re mean. And their nutrients work wonders upon entering your blood stream.
Be sure to add them to grocery list and become a staple of your healthy eating plan.
Take good care.
- Bosetti, C., et al. “Cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk in a network of case–control studies.” Annals of Oncology, Volume 23, Issue 8, 1 August 2012, Pages 2198–2203.
- Kerns, Michelle. “The Advantages of Eating Cabbage.” San Francisco Gate.
- “AICR’s Foods That Fight Cancer: Broccoli & Cruciferous Vegetables” American Institute for Cancer Research.
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Last Updated: August 13, 2020
Originally Published: September 20, 2017