The Health Benefits of Cabbage

My mother could bake a mean ham. She would cover it with pineapple, cloves, and brown sugar. It never failed to please the most discriminate of houseguests. Growing up, it was what followed the ham dinner that I loathed—boiled cabbage.

This pot began with the ham bone. After cooking it down, and picking the scraps of meat off, mom would add potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. She would cook this, literally, for hours. That health promoting sulfur would stink up the house for days—or so it seemed. And after all that boiling, the cabbage was reduced to such a slimy mess, it was all I could do to choke it down.

As an adult, however, I’ve learned the health benefits of cabbage and how to cook it properly so as to take advantage of those benefits. And, the best thing is that I now think it quite a tasty dish. As a discerning homemaker, I have found that cabbage returns the greatest nutritional benefit for my dollar than any other vegetable in the market.

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) comes in several varieties—green, red, and Savoy. Because different types provide different health promoting compounds, it pays to eat all kinds. For example, Bok Choy has a higher beta carotene and vitamin A content than other varieties. Also, the red coloring in red cabbage is from a high concentration of anthocyanin flavonoids. These compounds are known for their anti-oxidant properties. Red cabbage has almost 3,000 times more anthocyanins as green cabbage. Historical use as well as more recent studies have shown cabbage to be a virtual “miracle food” for promoting good health.

Following are the most popular benefits of eating this power-packed vegetable (or one of its cruciferous cousins) at least two to three times per week.

Certain nutrients in cabbage bind with bile acids in the intestine and pass out in the stool, rather than being absorbed into the blood. This causes the liver to draw upon your cholesterol stores to restore lost bile, thus lowering your cholesterol levels.One of the glucosinolates in this power-packed vegetable, Sinigrin, gives it its well-known cancer preventative properties.Very rich in fiber and having the distinct ability to retain water causes cabbage to bulk up the stool and thus relieve constipation.Historically, cabbage juice has been taken to heal stomach ulcers. More recent studies have shown it to not only heal ulcers, but promote the health of the entire digestive tract.The high sulfur content of cabbage makes it the vegetable of choice, along with onions and garlic of course, when your body is fighting infection.Overall, cabbage contains 92% of a person’s daily value of vitamin K, six to eight more times vitamin C than an orange, various B vitamins (including folic acid), and even a hefty helping of Omega 3 fatty acids for a vegetable.

In order to take advantage of these and most of the health benefits of cabbage, the vegetable must be short cooked or raw. Steaming or sautéing is the preferred method to enhance cabbage’s cholesterol-lowering abilities. In fact, steaming cabbage for as long as seven minutes is better than microwaving for two minutes.

My favorite way to serve cabbage? Slice into strands and sauté in some olive oil. Sprinkle with soy sauce and sesame seeds. I serve this frequently when the cabbage is fresh out of the garden. If you want to add it to soups, remove the soup from the stove, add the cut up cabbage and serve immediately. I never, ever boil it. Sorry, Mom.

Freelance writer Carol J. Alexander grows her own cabbages in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She typically writes about homesteading and homeschooling on her blog

Photo by dirk huijssoon

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