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Sturdy, abundant and inexpensive, cabbage is a longstanding dietary staple throughout the world and is so widely cultivated and stores so well that it is available throughout the year. However, it is at its best during the late fall and winter months when it is in season.

Cabbage is round in shape with layers of superimposed leaves with the inner leaves often lighter in color than the outer leaves because they are protected from the sunlight. They belong to the Cruciferae family of vegetables along with kale, broccoli, collards and Brussels sprouts.


Health Benefits

Cancer Protection

Much research has focused on the beneficial phytochemicals in cabbage, particularly its indole-3-carbinole (I3C), sulforaphane, and indoles. These two compounds help activate and stabilize the body's antioxidant and detoxification mechanisms that dismantle and eliminate cancer-producing substances. I3C has been shown to improve estrogen detoxification and to reduce the incidence of breast cancer. In one small human study, researchers found that after I3C was given for 7 days, the rate at which estrogen was broken down through the liver's detoxification pathway increased nearly 50%. In addition, recent research is showing that it's not only how much estrogen a woman has that puts her at risk for breast cancer, but how her estrogen is metabolized. The route of estrogen metabolism via 2OH (2-hydroxylation), 4OH or 16OH pathways determines how active and possibly mutagenic a woman's estrogen actually is. I3C has been shown to promote the formation of the most benign estrogen metabolite, the 2OH form.

A recent case control study published in the journal Cancer Research confirmed that women who eat more Brassica family vegetables have a much lower risk of breast cancer. In this study of 337 women in Shanghai, China (where Brassica vegetables such as Chinese cabbage are frequently consumed), the women’s urinary levels of isothiocyanates (a type of beneficial compound found in Brassica vegetables) directly correlated with their breast cancer risk. Those women with the highest isothicyanate levels (i.e., those women consuming the most Brassica vegetables) had a 45% lower risk for breast cancer compared to those with the lowest levels of isothiocyanates.

This significant protective effect is not all that surprising considering that the isothiocyanates provided by Brassica vegetables, such as cabbage, are capable of numerous breast cancer-inhibiting actions including:

  • inducing the production of Phase II enzymes in the liver, which bind to potential carcinogens and remove them from the body
  • inducing apoptosis, the self-destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate old or cancerous cells
  • beneficially affecting the way in which steroid hormones, including estrogen, are metabolized and the way in which the estrogen receptors on cells respond to the hormone
  • and preventing excessive cellular proliferation.
(September 9, 2003)

Sulforaphane, potentially by altering gene expression, increases the production of antioxidants and detoxification enzymes, both of which help eliminate carcinogenic compounds, thus preventing tumors. In laboratory animals, sulforaphane has reduced breast tumor occurence by more than 40%. One of the ways in which sulforaphane works its protective magic is by stimulating the production of glutathione, one of the body's most important internally produced antioxidants which plays a signficant role in several liver detoxification pathways. A new study published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition shows sulforaphane even helps stop the proliferation of breast cancer cells in the later stages of their growth.(October 19, 2004)

Reviewing 94 studies that evaluated the relationship between brassica vegetables and cancer, researchers found that in 67% of the case control studies, eating these vegetables was associated with a reduced risk of cancer. In 70% of the studies, cabbage consumption was associated with a lower risk of cancer, especially of the lung, stomach and colon. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps protect cells from harmful free radicals.

Colon Cancer

New research has greatly advanced scientists’ understanding of just how Brassica family vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts help prevent colon cancer. When these vegetables are cut, chewed or digested, a sulfur-containing compound called sinigrin is brought into contact with the enzyme myrosinase, resulting in the release of glucose and breakdown products, including highly reactive compounds called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates are not only potent inducers of the liver’s Phase II enzymes, which detoxify carcinogens, but research recently conducted at the Institute for Food Research in the U.K. shows one of these compounds, allyl isothicyanate, also inhibits mitosis (cell division) and stimulates apoptosis (programmed cell death) in human tumor cells.

Cell replication (when the parent cell divides to form two daughter cells) occurs in a four-stage process. After the cell divides (the first stage), pole structures are created called spindles (the second or metaphase). If anything interferes with the construction and deconstruction of these spindles, the cell division process stops, and the damaged cells commit suicide. The IFR team, led by Ian Johnson, has shown that isothiocyanate disrupts the metaphase, thus preventing the cell division of the colon cancer cells. Their research will be published in the July 2004 issue of Carcinogenesis. (June 3, 2004)

Peptic Ulcer Treatment

Raw cabbage juice is well documented as being remarkably effective in treating peptic ulcers. In one study, 1 liter of the fresh juice per day, taken in diivided doses, resulted in total ulcer healing in an average of 10 days. The high content of glutamine, an amino acid that is the preferred fuel for the cells that line the stomach and small intestine, is likely the reason for cabbage juice's efficacy in healing ulcers.


Cabbage, a member of the Cruciferae family, is related to kale, broccoli, collards and brussel sprouts. Cabbage has a round shape and is composed of superimposed leaf layers.

There are three major types of cabbage: green, red and Savoy. The color of green cabbage ranges from pale to dark green while red cabbage has leaves that are either crimson or purple with white veins running through. Both green and red cabbage have smooth textured leaves. The leaves of Savoy cabbage are more ruffled and yellowish-green in color.

Because cabbage’s inner leaves are protected from the sunlight by the surrounding leaves, they are oftentimes lighter in color. Red and green cabbage have a more defined taste and crunchy texture as compared to Savoy cabbage’s more delicate nature.


Cabbage has a long history of use both as a food and a medicine. It was developed from wild cabbage, a vegetable that was closer in appearance to collards and kale since it was composed of leaves that did not form a head.

Wild cabbage is thought to have been brought to Europe around 600 B.C. by groups of Celtic wanderers. It was grown in Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations that held it in high regard as a general panacea capable of treating a host of health conditions.

While it's unclear when and where the headed cabbage that we know today was developed, cultivation of cabbage spread across northern Europe into Germany, Poland and Russia, where it became a very popular vegetable in local food cultures. The Italians are credited with developing the Savoy cabbage. Russia, Poland, China and Japan are a few of the leading producers of cabbage today.

Sauerkraut, a dish made from fermented cabbage, has a colorful legacy. Dutch sailors consumed it during extended exploration voyages to prevent scurvy. Cabbage and the traditional sauerkraut recipe were introduced into the United States by early German settlers. As a result of this affiliation, German soldiers, and people of German descent were often referred to as “krauts.”

How to Select and Store

Choose cabbage heads that are firm and dense with shiny, crisp, colorful leaves free of cracks, bruises and blemishes. Severe damage to the outer leaves is suggestive of worm damage or decay that may reside in the inner core as well.

There should be only a few outer loose leaves attached to the stem. If not, it may be an indication of undesirable texture and taste. Avoid buying precut cabbage, either halved or shredded, since once cabbage is cut, it begins to lose its valuable vitamin C content.

Keeping cabbage cold will keep it fresh and help it retain its vitamin C content. Put the whole head in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator. Red and green cabbage will keep this way for about 2 weeks while Savoy cabbage will keep for about 1 week.

If you need to store a partial head of cabbage, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Since the vitamin C content of cabbage starts to quickly degrade once it has been cut, you should use the remainder within a couple of days.

How to Enjoy

Tips for preparing cabbage:

Even though the inside of cabbage is usually clean since the outer leaves protect it, you still may want to clean it. Remove the thick fibrous outer leaves and cut the cabbage into pieces and then wash under running water.

If you notice any signs of worms or insects, which sometimes appears in organically grown cabbage, soak the head in salt water or vinegar water for 15-20 minutes first. To preserve its vitamin C content, cut and wash the cabbage right before cooking or eating it. Since phytochemicals in the cabbage react with carbon steel and turn the leaves black, use a stainless steel knife to cut.

To cut cabbage into smaller pieces, first quarter it and remove the core. Cabbage can be cut into slices of varying thickness, grated by hand or shredded in a food processor.

A few quick serving ideas:

Cabbage leaves are a great way to inspire leftovers. Spoon some leftovers such as rice salad or a vegetable mixture onto the center of a cabbage leaf and roll into a neat little package. Bake in medium heat oven until hot. Enjoy your easy and healthy version of stuffed cabbage, a traditional eastern European dish.

Braise red cabbage with a chopped apple and red wine. This is a child-friendly dish, since the alcohol (but not the flavor or the flavonoids) will evaporate.

Combine shredded red and white cabbage with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and seasonings such as turmeric, cumin, coriander and black pepper to make coleslaw with an Indian twist.

Sauté cabbage and onions and serve over cooked buckwheat for a hardy side dish.

Use shredded raw cabbage as a garnish for sandwiches.


Cabbage contains goitrogens, naturally-occurring substances in certain foods that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Individuals with already existing and untreated thyroid problems may want to avoid cabbage for this reason. Cooking may help inactivate the goitrogenic compounds found in cabbage.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that amount represents; the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Not all of our Daily Value standards are obtained from the FDA. In most instances, we used FDA Daily Values when available because they are widely recognized and apply to both men and women. However, when unavailable, we've used other science-based research to establish nutritional standards. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read more about our Food and Recipe Rating System.


Cabbage (shredded, boiled)
1.00 cup
33.00 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C 30.15 mg 50.3 27.4 excellent
dietary fiber 3.45 g 13.8 7.5 very good
manganese 0.18 mg 9.0 4.9 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.17 mg 8.5 4.6 very good
folate 30.00 mcg 7.5 4.1 very good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.17 g 6.8 3.7 very good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.09 mg 6.0 3.3 good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.08 mg 4.7 2.6 good
calcium 46.50 mg 4.7 2.5 good
potassium 145.50 mg 4.2 2.3 good
vitamin A 198.00 IU 4.0 2.2 good
tryptophan 0.01 g 3.1 1.7 good
protein 1.53 g 3.1 1.7 good
magnesium 12.00 mg 3.0 1.6 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

In Depth Nutritional Profile for Cabbage


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This page was updated on: 2005-01-15 15:06:51


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