Cabbage: why it’s worth its space on your plate
Cabbages are in season so what better time to remind ourselves of the important contribution this humble vegetable can make to our general wellness. Available in all shapes, colours and sizes, there are some 400 different varieties to be found around the world. Savoy, kale, red cabbage, white cabbage and green cabbage are amongst the most common, with broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts belonging to the same clan. An inexpensive and versatile vegetable, widely available, it can be eaten raw or cooked, added to soups and stews, and is great for pickling. It also works well in stir-fries, salads and obviously in coleslaw.
Highly nutritious, cabbage has long been known to be good for us. Indeed, one of the most famous pickled varieties, Sauerkraut, as well as being a probiotic, is so packed with nutrients it helped keep 17th Century Dutch, Scandinavian and German sailors healthy and free of scurvy.
Hailing from a group of plants that has been shown to possess strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidative abilities – the cruciferous plants of the Brassica genus – some cruciferous plants may even serve as preventive treatments for several medical conditions.
Cabbage, a food with so many hidden benefits
- Vitamins C and K. Regular consumption of foods high in vitamin C helps the body protect against infectious agents and pro-inflammatory free radicals, with vitamin K important for healthy bones. Vitamin K has also been linked to helping Alzheimer’s patients by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.
- All cabbages can be great for cancer prevention due to their nutrient density in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory richness. Filled with phytonutrients, these are powerful antioxidant compounds, which can help protect against breast, colon and prostate cancer.
- Glucosinolates are cabbage’s “ace” for cancer prevention. A natural sulphur containing compound found in cruciferous vegetables, glucosinolates are what gives these vegetables their distinctive bitter flavour and pungent aroma. It seems that glucosinolates enhance the elimination of carcinogens before they can damage our DNA, and they may also alter the metabolism or activity of hormones such as oestrogen that could inhibit the development of hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast and prostate. Cabbage is a good source of the glucoinolate sinigrin, which has displayed unique prevention properties for colon, bladder and prostate cancer. The top three cabbages for glucosinolates are:
- red cabbage
- savoy cabbage
- green cabbage
- Red cabbage is also a great source of anthocyanin flavonoid, which gives the vegetable its distinctive colour and makes it one of the most nutritious of all, but as different cabbages contain different patterns of glucosinolates, eat a wide variety for optimal health benefits.
Sufficient intake of antioxidants is important to our metabolism, because without them it can be compromised and we can experience oxidative stress, a risk factor for cancer. Without anti-inflammatory nutrients we could experience chronic inflammation, another factor for cancer. Simply adding cabbage to your diet can help reduce the risks. To extract the maximum nutrition from these vegetables steam lightly rather than boil.
For additional variety, Savoy and Bok choy cabbage also provide beta carotene, whilst Bok choy (the most consumed vegetable in China) is an important source of calcium, which may help in the prevention of osteoporosis and aid in controlling blood pressure.
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