From improving your gut health to boosting your immune system.
Cabbage probably isn’t going to win any awards for “hottest vegetable” anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean you should stick your nose up at the cruciferous veggie when it’s offered to you. In fact, it may actually be a boon to your diet (and help you get out of a vegetable rut).
The vegetable—which comes in both red, green, and white forms—is a member of the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts among others. But while it comes with loads of health benefits (more on that later), its crucial that you prepare it the right way to reap them, Maxine Smith, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition, tells Health.
“You want to avoid long cooking methods and boiling,” Smith says, explaining that those ways can rob the food of its nutrients. Instead, stick to quicker-cooking methods, like stir-frying or chopping up the veggie and eating it fresh in a salad or slaw. If you need a bigger nudge to grab some cabbage during your next grocery run, registered dietitians weighed in on all the health benefits of cabbage and why you should incorporate it into your diet.
It’s rich in vitamin C
Oranges aren’t the only way for you to get your vitamin C—cabbage can also provide a huge amount of the nutrient if you need to add more to your diet. “Cabbage is high in the antioxidant vitamin C, specifically providing 70% of the RDA [recommended dietary allowances],” Keri Gans, a New York-based RDN, tells Health.
Making sure you get enough vitamin C each day is important, since our bodies don’t make the vitamin naturally (so, we must get it from food). Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron from the plant-based foods you eat, makes collagen to help wounds heal, and bolsters your immune system to help protect you from disease, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). “The cabbage family has been associated with having immune benefits so it helps our cells attack invaders such as viruses,” Smith says.
It’s a good source of fiber
If you want to get more fiber in your diet—whether your doc recommended it, or you feel like you need a little help going to the bathroom—cabbage can help. According to the USDA, two cups of chopped cabbage packs nearly 5 grams of fiber. (FYI: The recommended daily intake is 25 grams for women aged 19 to 50, per medlinePlus).
“Cabbage is a good source of fiber [and] fiber may help alleviate constipation, balance blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels and improve digestive health,” Gans says.
It can help improve bone health
Cabbage contains a nutrient hugely important to both bone health and healthy blood clotting functions in the body: vitamin K, Gans says. There’s about 68 micrograms of vitamin K in just one cup of cooked cabbage, according to the USDA. For reference, the ODS recommends 120 micrograms each day for adult men, and 90 microgram per day for women.
While vitamin K deficiencies are rare, some people with certain medical conditions—cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis—may be more at risk for lower-than-usual levels of vitamin K. Too little of the vitamin can lead to reduced bone strength, an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, and in rare circumstances, bruising and bleeding problems, per the ODS.
It’s a great low-calorie option
If you’t looking to lose weight, one thing that can help immensely is replacing calorie-dense foods with ones that don’t pack as much of a caloric punch—and cabbage is a great option for that. “Cabbage is very low in calories. One cup of cooked cabbage is only 34 calories, making it an excellent option for weight management,” Gans says.
Another pro: While lots of healthy, nutrient-packed foods can be on the more expensive side, cabbage is an extremely inexpensive food. (The USDA says white or green cabbage costs just $0.62 per pound).
It’s good for your heart
You might not immediately think of cabbage as a heart-healthy food, but you may want to add it to your diet if you’re trying to be more conscious of the health of your ticker. “Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits, therefore recommended for those individuals who are at risk for heart disease,” Gans says.
The research is there, too: According to a 2021 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, women who ate more cruciferous veggies—like cabbage, but also Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli—were 46% less likely to have something known as abdominal aortic calcification, which is can be a predictor of future cardiovascular events. The study concluded that eating more cruciferous veggies can protect against that buildup of calcium and ultimately benefit heart health.
It may help fight cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute, cruciferous vegetables, like cabbage, contain compounds called glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals (they’re responsible for the bitter taste lots of cruciferous veggies have). During food prep, chewing, and digestion, those glucosinolates are then broken down into certain compounds that have been examined for their anti-cancer benefits. “The glucosinolate content in cabbage gives it its reputation as having anti-cancer benefits. [It] has been related to decreased risk for various types of cancer,” Smith says.
That’s good news, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that loading up on cabbage will entirely ward off cancer. Experts say much more research needs to be done on the cancer-fighting benefits of cruciferous veggies. But they’re still a very healthy addition to any diet, so incorporating them into your meals is never a bad idea.