Cabbage (brassica oleracea var. capitata) is a unique vegetable that is part of the cruciferous vegetable (Brassicaceae) family. Other vegetables in this family include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower.
There are different kinds of cabbage, including white, red, green, savoy, napa, and more. Both taste similar, however, the purple variety has been noted to have more health benefits.
Keep reading to find out about the history of cabbage, nutrition facts, ways to consume it, potential risks, and more!
Fun Fact: Cabbage is considered Russia’s national food. Russians eat more than seven times as much cabbage as the average North American.
Table of Contents
- Nutrition Facts
- Health Benefits
- Ways to Consume Cabbage
- Potential Risks
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Cabbage is mentioned in texts as early as the 4th century BC by the Greeks. It is considered one of the oldest vegetables in existence. It made its way across countries and was later noted to be consumed in several different areas of the world. Some say that Romans would eat a large amount of cabbage before a night of drinking which somehow allowed them to drink more.
It is theorized that cabbage was then domesticated in Europe at least 3,000 years ago. This is due to how well the cabbage can retain water which allowed them to survive in cold places while maintaining water. It was also used for medicinal purposes for relief of certain symptoms like gout, headaches, and ingesting poisonous mushrooms.
Later on, this versatile vegetable was known to be used by doctors on ships coming to America in the 1500s for preventing scurvy. This is due to the high amount of vitamin C it contains (1). Doctors would also use it for sauerkraut to treat sailor’s wounds and to help prevent gangrene.
Summary: Cabbage has been around for ages, and consumed for a variety of different traditional uses in medicine.
Cabbage contains tons of nutrients that are supportive of overall health. Can you guess all of the different macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals one serving contains?
In just one serving (one cup) of raw chopped cabbage, there is (1):
- Calories: 22 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 1.14 grams (g)
- Carbohydrates: 5.16 grams (g)
- Fat: 0.09 grams (g)
- Fiber: 2.22 grams (g)
As you can see, cabbage is a nutrient-dense vegetable. This means that in relation to its weight, cabbage is low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat and high in fiber.
There are around 2.22 grams of fiber in one cup of raw cabbage, which is around 8% of an average adult’s fiber needs (2). Since fiber is a difficult nutrient for Americans to get enough of, cabbage is a good choice since it is high in fiber. Individuals who consume an overall high amount of fiber daily are more likely to have a lower risk for health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and gastrointestinal diseases (3).
Vitamins & Minerals
Another reason that cabbage is nutrient-dense is mainly due to all of the nutrients it contains. Check them out here (4):
- Vitamin A: 87.2 IU (10% of the reference daily intakes (RDI) for adults)
- Vitamin C: 32.6 milligrams (mg) (36% of the RDI for adults)
- Vitamin K: 67.6 micrograms (mcg) (56% of the RDI for adults)
- Folate: 38.3 micrograms (mcg) (10% of the RDI for adults)
- Calcium: 35.6 milligrams (mg) (3% of the RDI for adults)
- Potassium: 151 milligrams (mg) (3% of the RDI for adults)
- Choline: 9.52 milligrams (mg) (1.7% of the RDI for adults)
- Beta carotene: 37.4 micrograms (mcg)
- Lutein + Zeaxanthin: 26.7 micrograms (mcg)
Cabbage is a great source of antioxidants, including vitamin C, carotenoids, and flavonoids. Additionally, it contains a high amount of important vitamins like vitamin A, Vitamin K, and nutrients like folate (5).
Summary: It is evident that cabbage is a nutrient-dense vegetable, full of nutrients. It is high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and antioxidants.
Research continues to find impressive health benefits of cabbage. Below are just a few of them.
It May Promote Brain Health
Cabbage contains flavonoids, which are types of natural substances present in things like plants, fruits, vegetables, and more (6). The main type of flavonoid that cabbage contains is called quercetin. Quercetin may help improve memory and mental deficits and even plays a possible role as a treatment option for Alzheimer’s Disease (7).
Other studies suggest that cabbage, in addition to other vegetables in the cruciferous vegetable family, may contain phytochemicals that have neuroprotective effects on the brain such as sulforaphane(8). It is a potent compound that has been shown to have neuroprotective effects on the brain. Furthermore, sulforaphane has been shown to help treat neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s disease (9).
Summary: Cabbage contains compounds like flavonoids, quercetin, and sulforaphane. All of these chemicals have may help to promote brain health and treat neurological conditions and diseases.
It May Help Prevent Cancer
Studies of this potent vegetable have shown that consuming cabbage reduces the risk of certain cancers like lung cancer (10). Quercetin in cabbage has also been shown to have several anticancer properties as well as being a cancer-preventing agent (11).
Cruciferous vegetables, like cabbage, have been proven in research to contain chemicals that may be effective in preventing and even fighting cancer (12). Sulforaphane is an active ingredient in cruciferous vegetables. Growing evidence from research has shown sulforaphane may prevent and treat cancers including prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, skin cancer, urinary bladder cancer, and oral cancer (13). In the research world, it has even been named “green chemoprevention” (14).
The components glucosinolates, in addition to other phytochemicals that are present in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, have also been shown to have anti-cancerous properties for gastrointestinal cancers such as colorectal, liver, and stomach cancer (15).
Summary: Some of the elements in cabbage like quercetin, sulforaphane, and glucosinolates have all been suggested to play a role in decreasing the risk and preventing several types of cancer.
It May Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
In addition to its other many functional properties, cabbage may also play a role in preventing and/or managing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes (16). All types of cabbage, including green, white, and red have been identified as food to have a variety of benefits concerning type 2 diabetes.
Research suggests that consuming cabbage regularly may help to regular blood sugar and promote the health of organs like the kidneys and liver that are impacted by type 2 diabetes (17). Furthermore, cabbage has been suggested as food for decreasing oxidative stress and obesity, which are both risk factors for type 2 diabetes (18).
Summary: Research suggests that cabbage plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels and decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Ways to Consume Cabbage
If you don’t already know, there are a ton of different ways that cabbage can be consumed. Studies suggest that having cabbage as fresh-cut salad may be the best way to maintain the highest nutrition content (19). Moreover, fermented cabbage has been shown to preserve antioxidant activity and increase vitamin C content. Here are some ideas if you’re looking for ways to try consuming cabbage:
- Add it to a crunchy coleslaw
- Roast it in the oven alone or with other vegetables
- Add to your favorite stew
- Slice it or chop it and then grill it for a smoky flavor
- Sauté it
- Add it as a side dish to your favorite entrees
- Eat it fermented as kimchi or sauerkraut
- Steam it
- Add it to your favorite sandwiches like Reubens
It is important to note that when trying these methods, cabbage will lose some of its nutrient value once it is cooked. For example, when you stir fry or boil it, the levels of vitamin C reduce significantly (20). The vitamin C levels in cabbage are the least impacted when it can be served fresh cut, microwaved, or steamed (21).
Summary: There are several ways to consume cabbage. To get the most of its benefits and nutrients, it is best to consume it raw or lightly steamed.
Overall, cabbage is a great addition to an overall healthy diet. However, there are some things to keep in mind when eating cabbage.
It May Decrease the Effects of Certain Drugs
If you are on blood thinning medications like coumadin or warfarin, ask your doctor before consuming cabbage (22). Due to the high amount of vitamin K that is in cabbage, consuming considerable amounts of it can work against these types of medications (23).
It May Cause Digestive Distress
Because cabbage contains a relatively high amount of fiber, it can cause uncomfortable GI symptoms in some people like bloating, stomach cramping, and gas. For those who have gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome, or are on a FODMAP diet, eating cabbage may worsen these symptoms.
Summary: Overall, cabbage is a great vegetable part of a balanced diet. However, some people who are on drug-thinning medications or who have gastrointestinal issues may need to avoid cabbage.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What’s the difference between cabbage and lettuce?
Although cabbage and lettuce may look similar, they are opposite types of vegetables. They have different tastes and nutrient profiles. Cabbage is in general much higher in the variety of nutrients it contains, including fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, and folate. Taste-wise, lettuce has more of a bland and watery taste while cabbage has a tougher texture and is typically pepper in flavor.
How much does cabbage cost?
You can find fresh green cabbage at grocery stores these days for around $0.62 per pound per the most recent data from the USDA. Fresh red cabbage is costing around $1.02 per pound depending on where you buy it. Sauerkraut is a few cents more pricey, costing around $1.15 per pound. Pre-bagged cabbage will cost a little more, anywhere from $2.50 to $8.00 depending on where you shop.
What is the best way to store cabbage?
If stored properly, cabbage can last 3 weeks up to 2 months in the refrigerator. It is best to keep it whole, un-rinsed, and cold until you are ready to use it. One of the most common ways to store it is to place it in a plastic wrap, ziplock bag, or airtight container, with minimal to no air in it. If you can place it in the veggie drawer that doesn’t have a lot of airflow or oxygen, even better. If the leaves have turned soft and discolored, if it has an off odor, or if it contains black spots, it is probably best to throw it out. When in doubt, throw it out.
Did You Know?: Cabbage has been used for many years for women who are having breastfeeding problems to help with pain and inflammation.
Cabbage is a nutrient-rich vegetable that is easy to eat as part of a balanced diet.
Not only is it high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, it has several health benefits such as promoting brain health, decreasing the risk of cancer, and decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Cabbage is easy to incorporate into foods in the kitchen and can last in the refrigerator for a long while if stored properly.
At your next grocery haul, pick up one of the several different types of cabbage there are available and see for yourself all of the goodness it can bring to your diet.