8 Health Benefits of Cabbage That Prove This Underrated Veggie Deserves More Love

Hint: it reduces inflammation.

<p>Isabelle Rozenbaum/Getty Images</p>

Isabelle Rozenbaum/Getty Images

If you’ve overlooked cabbage at the grocery store, you’re not alone. Between its mild flavor and funky smell when cooked, the cruciferous vegetable tends to get a bad rap—even though it’s related to popular produce like kale and cauliflower. However, cabbage deserves a chance to shine, as it’s chock-full of essential nutrients. Not convinced? Read on to learn about the impressive health benefits of cabbage, plus ways to incorporate more cabbage into your diet.

Related: A Favorite Cabbage Recipe: Creamy Potato-Cabbage Soup

Cabbage Nutrition Facts

According to the USDA, a one-cup serving of shredded raw cabbage contains approximately 17.5 calories, less than a gram of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrates, as well as 1.8 grams of fiber and 2.2 grams of natural sugars.

The cruciferous vegetable also boasts antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, zinc, potassium, and calcium.

Related: Make It: Salmon With Roasted Cabbage

Health Benefits of Cabbage

It pumps the brakes on oxidative stress.

Nosh on cabbage and you’ll get plenty of antioxidants, aka compounds that protect cells from oxidative stress. A quick explainer: Oxidative stress is caused by high levels of free radicals, which damage cells and alter DNA, says Laura Iu, RD, CDN, CNSC, a New York–based registered dietitian. It’s normal for the body to make some free radicals during basic bodily processes (think metabolism), but high levels increase the risk of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. This can happen due to internal factors (like mental stress and physical overexertion) or external sources (like cigarette smoke or air pollution).

That’s where cabbage comes in. The cruciferous vegetable is teeming with antioxidants, particularly polyphenols and glucosinolates. Red cabbage is also a noteworthy source of anthocyanins, or powerful antioxidant plant pigments that give the vegetable its iconic red-purple color. According to Iu, these antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals, ultimately defending the body against oxidative stress.

It reduces inflammation.

As the antioxidants in cabbage fight oxidative stress, they also quell inflammation. That’s because oxidative stress and inflammation are connected, meaning they fuel each other. This is key because inflammation, like oxidative stress, is involved in pain, swelling, and myriad chronic diseases like arthritis, cancer, and cognitive disorders. What’s more, sulforaphane—a compound found in cabbage—reduces inflammation by acting on pro-inflammatory pathways in the body. Research has also shown that sulforaphane may regulate anti-inflammatory genes and lower pre-inflammatory proteins.

It contains immune-boosting nutrients.

For a natural way to support your immunity, add more cabbage to your plate. It’s packed with vitamin C, an essential nutrient that “supports [the] body’s defense mechanisms by boosting the production of white blood cells, which are crucial for fighting off infections,” says Iu. “It also acts as an antioxidant, fighting off free radicals that can weaken [the] immune system,” she adds. For context, a one-cup serving of red cabbage boasts about 40 milligrams of vitamin C, more than half the daily recommended amount for women (75 milligrams). Cabbage also contains other vital nutrients for the immune system, including vitamin A and zinc.

It keeps your eyes healthy.

As a source of lutein and zeaxanthin, cabbage is excellent for your eyes. According to Valerie Agyeman, RD, registered dietitian and host of women’s health podcast, Flourish Heights, both compounds are antioxidants that protect the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light. This is key because UV light can cause oxidative stress in the retina (i.e., the layer of cells that absorb light and helps you see), increasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration and vision issues. 

It contains fiber for a healthy gut.

Cabbage is a stellar source of fiber, an essential nutrient for top-notch digestion. Specifically, this includes both soluble and insoluble fiber, which are both needed for optimal gut health. According to Iu, soluble fiber (which dissolves in water) acts as a prebiotic, meaning it “feeds” good bacteria in the gut. Meanwhile, insoluble fiber (which doesn’t dissolve in water) adds bulk to stool, helping promote regular bowel movements and reducing constipation. Together, both fibers pave the way for more comfortable number twos and a healthier gut microbiome.

It's good for the heart.

When it comes to heart-healthy foods, cabbage gets the green light. For starters, it contains soluble fiber, a nutrient that helps your body excrete cholesterol. This reduces the absorption of cholesterol in the blood, potentially preventing high blood cholesterol, a major risk factor for heart disease. Cabbage also contains potassium, an essential mineral that regulates blood pressure, says Iu. Potassium works by counteracting the effects of sodium—a mineral that can increase blood pressure when consumed in high amounts—and relaxing the blood vessels, as noted by the American Heart Association. This can stave off high blood pressure, another heart disease risk factor. What’s more, cabbage antioxidants work against inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can fuel the development of heart disease.

It strengthens the bones.

Another cabbage health benefit involves the bones. According to Agyeman, the cruciferous vegetable provides vitamin K, a nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium—i.e., the main mineral needed to build strong bones. It’s also needed to form “bone proteins, which keep bones strong and reduce the risk of fractures,” says Agyeman. 

It has key nutrients for pregnant people.

Thanks to its high content of folate, also known as vitamin B9, cabbage can support healthy pregnancies. That’s because the nutrient is needed to make red and white blood cells, as well as DNA. It also aids the development of the central nervous system in a growing fetus, which can prevent neural tube defects—i.e., serious birth defects that affect the brain, spine, or spinal cord.

Side Effects & Risks of Eating Cabbage

“Cabbage is generally safe to eat for most people,” says Agyeman. The exception is if you’re taking blood-thinning medications, as the vitamin K in cabbage can interfere with the drug, notes Iu. Additionally, if you’re new to cabbage and have a history of food allergies (particularly cruciferous vegetables), use caution when eating cabbage. If you’re unsure, chat with your doctor before adding it to your plate.

Some people might also have a hard time digesting cabbage, especially when it’s raw, says Iu. This is due to its indigestible carbohydrates that ferment in the gut, leading to bloating or gas, notes Agyeman. If you’re prone to either symptom—or if you don’t typically eat a lot of vegetables—start with a small amount of cabbage and increase your intake slowly, suggests Iu. It might also help to cook cabbage first, which is easier to digest.

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