Despite its impressive nutrient content, cabbage is often overlooked. While it may look a lot like lettuce, it actually belongs to the Brassica genus of vegetables, which includes broccoli, cauliflower and kale (1). It comes in a variety of shapes and colors, including red, purple, white and green, and its leaves can be either crinkled or smooth.
This vegetable has been grown around the world for thousands of years and can be found in a variety of dishes, including sauerkraut, kimchi and coleslaw. Additionally, cabbage is loaded with vitamins and minerals.
This article uncovers 9 surprising health benefits of cabbage, all backed by science.
1. Cabbage Is Packed With Nutrients
Even though cabbage is very low in calories, it has an impressive nutrient profile. In fact, just 1 cup (89 grams) of raw green cabbage contains (2):
Protein: 1 gram
Fiber: 2 grams
Vitamin K: 85% of the RDI
Vitamin C: 54% of the RDI
Folate: 10% of the RDI
Manganese: 7% of the RDI
Vitamin B6: 6% of the RDI
Calcium: 4% of the RDI
Potassium: 4% of the RDI
Magnesium: 3% of the RDI
Cabbage also contains small amounts of other micronutrients, including vitamin A, iron and riboflavin.
As you can see in the list above, it is rich in vitamin B6 and folate, both of which are essential for many important processes in the body, including energy metabolism and the normal functioning of the nervous system. In addition, cabbage is high in fiber and contains powerful antioxidants, including polyphenols and sulfur compounds (2). Antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that have an odd number of electrons, making them unstable. When their levels become too high, they can damage your cells. Cabbage is especially high in vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that may protect against heart disease, certain cancers and vision loss (3, 4, 5).
SUMMARY: Cabbage is a low-calorie vegetable that is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
2. It May Help Keep Inflammation in Check
Inflammation isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, your body relies on the inflammatory response to protect against infection or speed up healing. This kind of acute inflammation is a normal response to an injury or infection. On the other hand, chronic inflammation that occurs over a long period of time is associated with many diseases, including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (6). Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage contain many different antioxidants that have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation (7). In fact, research has shown that eating more cruciferous vegetables reduces certain blood markers of inflammation (8). One study including over 1,000 Chinese women showed that those who ate the highest amounts of cruciferous vegetables had considerably lower levels of inflammation, compared to those who ate the lowest amounts (9). Sulforaphane, kaempferol and other antioxidants found in this remarkable group of plants are likely responsible for their anti-inflammatory effect (10, 11).
SUMMARY:; Cabbage contains powerful antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation.
3. Cabbage Is Packed With Vitamin C
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that serves many important roles in the body. For instance, it’s needed to make collagen, the most abundant protein in the body. Collagen gives structure and flexibility to the skin and is critical for the proper functioning of the bones, muscles and blood vessels (12). Additionally, vitamin C helps the body absorb non-heme iron, the type of iron found in plant foods. What’s more, it’s a powerful antioxidant. In fact, it has been extensively researched for its potential cancer-fighting qualities (13).Vitamin C works to protect the body from damage caused by free radicals, which has been associated with many chronic diseases, including cancer (14).
Evidence suggests that a diet high in vitamin-C-rich foods is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers (13, 15, 16). In fact, a recent analysis of 21 studies found that the risk of lung cancer decreased by 7% for each daily 100-mg increase in vitamin C intake (17). However, this study was limited because it could not determine whether the decreased risk of lung cancer was caused by vitamin C or other compounds found in fruits and vegetables. While many observational studies have found a link between higher vitamin C intake and a reduced risk of certain cancers, results from controlled studies remain inconsistent (18, 19, 20).
Even though more research is needed to determine this vitamin’s role in cancer prevention, it’s certain that vitamin C plays a key role in many important functions in the body. While both green and red cabbage are excellent sources of this potent antioxidant, red cabbage contains about 30% more. One cup (89 grams) of chopped red cabbage packs in 85% of the recommended intake for vitamin C, which is the same amount found in a small orange (21).
SUMMARY: Your body needs vitamin C for many important functions, and it is a potent antioxidant. Red cabbage is particularly high in this nutrient, providing about 85% of the RDI per cup (89 grams).
4. It Helps Improve Digestion
If you want to improve your digestive health, fiber-rich cabbage is the way to go. This crunchy vegetable is full of gut-friendly insoluble fiber, a type of carbohydrate that can’t be broken down in the intestines. Insoluble fiber helps keep the digestive system healthy by adding bulk to stools and promoting regular bowel movements (22). What’s more, it’s rich in soluble fiber, which has been shown to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is because fiber is the main fuel source for friendly species like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli (23). These bacteria perform important functions like protecting the immune system and producing critical nutrients like vitamins K2 and B12 (24, 25). Eating more cabbage is an excellent way to keep your digestive system healthy and happy.
SUMMARY: Cabbage contains insoluble fiber, which keeps the digestive system healthy by providing fuel for friendly bacteria and promoting regular bowel movements.