The Humble Cabbage Deserves a Second Look

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Five good reasons to add this cancer-fighting veggie to your diet


(See recipe for Indian Cabbage Stir Fry)

Every Thursday at school, we used to have beef and cabbage stew for lunch. It was always ruined, because the cabbage was bland and overcooked. It was enough to put a child off the vegetable for life.  

Years later, as I learn more and more about a plant-based, whole food way of cooking for my family, I wonder at the versatility of this leafy vegetable. According to research, the humble cabbage is endowed with essential nutrients and powerful antioxidants that can help fight disease. 

It took me a long time to “get” cabbage. But it’s now one of my favourite comfort foods – and one of the healthiest green vegetables you can eat.

Cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and several other vegetables all come from the plant species known as Brassica oleracea. Cabbage can be sautéed, steamed, stuffed or eaten raw, although it shouldn’t be cooked for too long if you want to get the most nutritional value. Crunchy cabbage with minimal cooking, such as stir-fry, is one of the best ways to get the most health benefits: keep it simple, the Asian way, with just a bit of garlic and some herbs.  

Today, my family also enjoys sauerkraut as a colourful addition to our winter meals and summer salads. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage – yet another method of preparing the versatile vegetable. Based on an ancient method of preserving food, sauerkraut’s friendly bacteria are healthy and helpful for our gut systems.

Here are five good reasons you should consider adding more cabbage to your diet.

1. Cabbage for weight loss

Cabbage is low in calories and has a high water content – the main reason cabbage soup became a trend in the 80s. It offered a quick fix for rapid weight loss. Although the plan was appealing – consume unlimited cabbage soup for a week and lose up to 15 pounds – you can’t eat cabbage soup week after week. What you can do is add a cup of cabbage to your homemade vegetable soup: one cup of cooked cabbage contains only 33 calories, ideal for weight loss.

There are, however, more important health reasons to include the vegetable in our diets.

2. Cabbage is good for our digestive systems

Cabbage is loaded with dietary fibre, or “roughage.” By consuming vegetables with fibre, we help keep things moving in our guts. Fibre eases bowel movements, thus accelerating the movement of waste. If the digestive system does not have enough roughage, it messes with the flow, causing constipation and a delay in the excretion of toxins. Bear in mind, though, that the cabbage family is often referred to as the flatulence family; so here’s a tip: lightly cook cabbage to reduce gas formation.

3. Cabbage provides vital vitamins and nutrients

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, half a cup (75 grams) of shredded, cooked cabbage provides 30-35% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin C. It also provides nearly a full day’s requirement of vitamin K and respectable amounts of many other nutrients. But it’s cabbage’s phytonutrients that really make it shine.

4. Cabbage for cancer prevention

Cabbage contains antioxidant phytonutrients which, researchers say, may reduce our risk for certain types of cancer. A literature review in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention examined the anticarcinogenic (cancer-fighting) properties of brassica vegetables and found substantial evidence of cancer preventive effects. Here are some of the researchers’ findings: 

Brassicas all contain a high concentration of glucosinolates. These compounds have a strong anticarcinogenic effect.

In long-term studies of people’s eating habits, consuming cabbage (or other brassica vegetables) had a strong association with decreased risk of lung cancer. Brassica consumption also appeared to reduce the risk of stomach cancer.

Of all the brassicas, cabbage showed the greatest protective effect against cancer. In a whopping 70 percent of case-control epidemiological studies, people who ate lots of cabbage were less likely to get cancer than those who ate little or none. 

5. Cabbage for beautifying the body

Did you know you can eat cabbage for its beautifying effects? Cabbage contains the mineral sulphur, often referred to as “the beauty mineral.” You don’t hear much about this nonmetallic mineral, but sulphur is vital for producing keratin, an essential protein for healthy hair, skin and nails.

Cabbage’s abundance of vitamin C is vital for the health – and attractiveness – of our connective tissues, teeth and gums. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body from damage caused by free radicals, including wrinkles and skin damage.  

Granted, cabbage may not be the most glamorous or exotic vegetable, but it is inexpensive, available all year round and goes well with most meat (especially pork) and plant-based proteins, from chick peas to veggie ground beef. 


Writer Alice Alech lives in Provence, South of France  where she writes on  food, olive oïl and wine. She is co-author of the non fiction book 7 Wonders of Olive Oil. Find her at




Indian Cabbage Stir Fry

One of my favourite ways of preparing cabbage is to season it with Indian spices in a stir fry. This is great as a side dish when served with a vegetable or meat curry as your main course. Quick and easy to prepare, you can save even more time you by chopping up the cabbage in a food processor. 


1/2 head of a small green cabbage, cored and shredded for easy cooking

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or mustard oil

1 tablespoon black mustard seeds

1 finely sliced red onion

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon garam massala 

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger

Fresh coriander leaves 

Heat the oil in a large skillet (uncooked cabbage takes up a lot of volume) over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds, let them pop, then add the onions and sauté for two minutes. Add the ginger and spices. Continue cooking until you get a nice aromatic mix. Add the cabbage and salt. Mix well and stir-fry until tender. Check and adjust seasoning to taste, then top with chopped coriander before serving.



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