Health Benefits Of Red Cabbage

What is red cabbage

Red cabbage is a staple in many kitchens and is also known as purple cabbage, red kraut, or, after going through the process of cooking, blue kraut. It is considered a superfood, and this article will explore all red cabbage has to offer to our health.

Red cabbage has a compact, rounded head and waxy, purple, or violet-coloured leaves. It is  from the Brassicaceae oleracea family, which also includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts.1 

Its vibrant, purple colour comes from two primary sources: the soil's pH levels and the anthocyanins that give the cabbage its richpigment.

It originates from coastal areas of the Mediterranean but is now grown in the Northern parts of Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa. It is a versatile plant and can be planted and harvested all year long.1,2

Health benefits of red cabbage

The list of health benefits of including red cabbage in your diet vast. Some of the most common benefits include effects on the immune system, digestion, cardiovascular health and cancer prevention.

Red Cabbage and the Immune System Health

Red cabbage is known to be a great immune booster, owing to the presence of antioxidants. Antioxidants are extremely useful in eliminating free radicals and oxidative stress species that are known to contribute to chronic illnesses.3 

Antioxidants also help to protect the body against cell damage and help to restore DNA. A study listing more than 3100 foods, beverages, herbs, supplements and spices specified red cabbage as one of the most antioxidant-dense food types per unit. Red cabbage juice also increases levels of antibodies in the blood and supports the development of immunity based on exposure to pathogens in blood.4

Red cabbage microgreens (seedlings harvested after one true set of leaves develop) pack even up to five times more nutritional value than matured red cabbage. Red cabbage microgreens carry a wealth of protective compounds, for example, vitamin C, flavonoids, carotenoids, and earlier-mentioned anthocyanins.5

Red Cabbage and Digestive Health 

Red cabbage contains a large quantity of anthocyanins, which qualify not only as antioxidant compounds, but also as anti-inflammatory ones. These are especially useful when it comes to combatting gut inflammation. The mechanism behind anti-inflammatory properties of purple cabbage is through fighting pro-inflammatory enzymes and stopping the formation of highly reactive oxygen species (that damage cells).6,7

Red cabbage also contains high levels of glutamine (an amino acid) that is said to have anti-inflammatory properties. Owing to high levels of sulphur and similar cleansing agents, it provides aid in indigestion and constipation.8         

Around 70% of fibres in cabbage are insoluble, meaning that they cannot be digested and they go through the body, forming a healthy stool and assisting with constipation.9 

The remaining 30% of dietary fibre is used as a support for healthy gut and gut bacteria. Moreover, juice from raw cabbage has been proven to help in the process of supporting the stomach lining, healing gut ulcers and even managing IBS.10 

Red Cabbage and Cardiovascular Health

Red cabbage is an abundant source of anthocyanins (antioxidants) which help to prevent oxidative stress (cell damage) that can lead to cardiovascular illnesses.12

More antioxidant activity was also recorded from the purple variation of cabbage than from green cabbage, due to the fact that red cabbage has more beneficial phenoliccompounds (including  anthocyanins). They are also the main compounds contributing to red cabbage helping decrease blood cholesterol levels.

Phenolic compounds such as anthocyanins can be used alongside vitamin C to fight against inflammatory substances and predictors of heart disease. Additionally, red cabbage contains carotenoids (a sub-type of vitamin A) - bright red and orange pigmented compound that helps with the protection of cell membranes from free radicals.

Red Cabbage and Cancer Prevention

Red cabbage can be called a superfood, thanks to the abundant mixture of antioxidising and anti-inflammatory substances. The red cabbage variety also contains a type of plant nutrient called glucosinolates that supports healthy metabolism, mediates the cell stress response and provides antimicrobial properties. With all of these benefits combined, red cabbage's contents can greatly help prevent or fight chronic diseases such as cancer.

Moreover, red cabbage helps regulate the genes and proteins that are responsible for cell survival. Both mature red cabbage and cabbage microgreen juices have great anti-tumour abilities - they prevent the development of tumours and can destroy cancer cells in many different ways.

Cancer prevention can also be performed by other red cabbage nutrients, including: 

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E (α-tocopherol)
  • β-carotene 
  • Lutein 
  • Anthocyanins15

New research even supports that eating mature red cabbage stops the development of and kills cancer cells involved in prostate cancer.16 

Other health benefits

Other health benefits of consuming red cabbage as part of a healthy, balanced diet include:

  • Life prolonging - scientists theorise that antioxidants, which red cabbage is full of, can help you increase your lifespan17
  • Bone health - owing to its high content of minerals (such as calcium, zinc and magnesium) red cabbage’s nutrients help in bone formation, support quick bone healing and can play an important role in strengthening and keeping bones intact (especially in osteoporosis prevention) due to being rich in Vitamin K18
  • Weight loss and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes - consuming purple cabbage can reduce body weight and BMI can be reduced with purple cabbage in the diet, circulation and absorption of glucose and fats is also reduced.19 

Nutritional facts

100g of raw red cabbage contains:

  • 31 calories
  • 85% carbohydrates
  • 11% protein 
  • 4% fats20 

It is also a great source of vitamins and minerals including:

  • Thamin
  • Riboflavin
  • Folate
  • Calcium 
  • Iron
  • Magnesium 
  • Potassium 
  • Manganese
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B6

It is essential to remember though that a large chunk of calories in red cabbage comes from sugars (carbohydrates) as the vegetable is very low in saturated fats and cholesterol and is also a great source of dietary fibre.

Culinary uses of red cabbage

Red cabbage has a very similar, however subtly different, taste to green cabbage (raw red cabbage is bolder and peppery than its green counterpart). During cooking, these notes usually get dulled, bringing out the sweetness of this vegetable.1

Red cabbage can be enjoyed in several forms, including:

  • Raw in salads and slaws
  • Cooked, for example, sautéd, boiled or braised
  • Pickled, such as in a dish called sauerkraut 
  • Fermented, such as in a dish called kimchi 

One traditional way to enjoy pickled red cabbage in Germany is creating Blaukraut, or “Blue Cabbage”. The process involves cooking the plant with ingredients such as apples, vinegar, garlic, sugar, caraway seeds, and other spices.

Side effects and other concerns

Red cabbage can cause some gastrointestinal side effects, including:

  • Gassiness and bloating21
  • Diarrhea22
  • High amounts of sugar such as fructose can cause issues with carbohydrate absorption, which can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headache (therefore it is best to eat red cabbage in moderation along with other foods high in carbs)23

Summary

Red cabbage has a wealth of health benefits that you can reap by including them in your diet. These include reducing bodily inflammation, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, bolstering bone health, and preventing the development of various types of cancers. This cabbage variety is also said to increase your life expectancy as it is low in calories and helps you maintain a healthy weight and digestion. There are also many ways to easily enjoy red cabbage as part of a healthy, balanced diet and according to your taste preferences, whether in its raw, cooked, pickled, or fermented form.

References

  1. What is red cabbage? [Internet]. The Spruce Eats. [cited 2023 Apr 7]. Available from: https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-red-cabbage-5191421
  2. Drăghici G, Lupu M, Borozan A, Nica D, Alda S, Alda L, et al. Red cabbage, millennium’s functional food. Journal of Horticulture, Forestry and Biotechnology [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2023 Apr 7]; Available from: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Red-cabbage%2C-millennium’s-functional-food.-Dr%C4%83ghici-Lupu/a9bac787df6d444ef510d0cf069c421b44f378f4#citing-papers 
  3. Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, Bøhn SK, Dragland S, Sampson L, et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J [Internet]. 2010 Jan 22 [cited 2023 Apr 7];9:3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841576/ 
  4. Kowitcharoen L, Phornvillay S, Lekkham P, Pongprasert N, Srilaong V. Bioactive composition and nutritional profile of microgreens cultivated in thailand. Applied Sciences [Internet]. 2021 Aug 28 [cited 2023 Apr 7];11(17):7981. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3417/11/17/7981 
  5. Liou YL, Lin JY. Supplementation of red cabbage (Brassica oleracea L. var.) juice increases serum total antibody levels in mice. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis [Internet]. 2020 Jul 14;20(1). Available from: https://www.jfda-online.com/journal/vol20/iss1/12 
  6. Kaulmann A, Legay S, Schneider YJ, Hoffmann L, Bohn T. Inflammation related responses of intestinal cells to plum and cabbage digesta with differential carotenoid and polyphenol profiles following simulated gastrointestinal digestion. Mol Nutr Food Res [Internet]. 2016 May [cited 2023 Apr 7];60(5):992–1005. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mnfr.201500947 
  7. Mizgier P, Kucharska AZ, Sokół-Łętowska A, Kolniak-Ostek J, Kidoń M, Fecka I. Characterization of phenolic compounds and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of red cabbage and purple carrot extracts. Journal of Functional Foods [Internet]. 2016 Mar [cited 2023 Apr 7];21:133–46. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1756464615005952 
  8. Zielińska M, Lewandowska U, Podsędek A, Cygankiewicz AI, Jacenik D, Sałaga M, et al. Orally available extract from Brassica oleracea var. capitata rubra attenuates experimental colitis in mouse models of inflammatory bowel diseases. Journal of Functional Foods [Internet]. 2015 Aug 1 [cited 2023 Apr 7];17:587–99. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464615002856 
  9. Punna R, Rao Paruchuri U. Effect of maturity and processing on total, insoluble and soluble dietary fiber contents of Indian green leafy vegetables. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition [Internet]. 2004 Nov [cited 2023 Apr 7];55(7):561–7. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09637480500126418 
  10. Saaty A. Efficacy of red cabbage (Brassica oleracea) leaves extract in protecting gastric ulcer induced by Naproxen in male rats [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 7]. Available from: http://www.discoveryjournals.org/medicalscience/current_issue/v24/n103/A65.htm 
  11. Cruz AB, Pitz HDS, Veber B, Bini LA, Maraschin M, Zeni ALB. Assessment of bioactive metabolites and hypolipidemic effect of polyphenolic-rich red cabbage extract. Pharmaceutical Biology [Internet]. 2016 Dec 1 [cited 2023 Apr 7];54(12):3033–9. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13880209.2016.1200633 
  12. Bhat R. Chapter 12 - Glucosinolates. In: Kour J, Nayik GA, editors. Nutraceuticals and Health Care [Internet]. Academic Press; 2022 [cited 2023 Apr 7]. p. 233–43. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978032389779200017X 
  13. Boivin D, Lamy S, Lord-Dufour S, Jackson J, Beaulieu E, Côté M, et al. Antiproliferative and antioxidant activities of common vegetables: A comparative study. Food Chemistry [Internet]. 2009 Jan 15 [cited 2023 Apr 7];112(2):374–80. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814608006419 
  14. Tajalli F, Saeedi M, Vafaei Malekabadi A. Anticancer and antioxidant effects of red cabbage on three cancerous cell lines and comparison with a normal cell line (HFF-3). gnc [Internet]. 2020 Jul 6 [cited 2023 Apr 7];6(1):12. Available from: http://genesandcells.com/journal/index.php/gnc/article/view/73 
  15. Drozdowska M, Leszczyńska T, Piasna-Słupecka E, Domagała D, Koronowicz A. Young shoots and mature red cabbage inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis of prostate cancer cell lines. Applied Sciences [Internet]. 2021 Jan [cited 2023 Apr 7];11(23):11507. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3417/11/23/11507
  16. Wood JG, Rogina B, Lavu S, Howitz K, Helfand SL, Tatar M, et al. Sirtuin activators mimic caloric restriction and delay ageing in metazoans. Nature [Internet]. 2004 Aug 5 [cited 2023 Apr 7];430(7000):686–9. Available from: http://www.nature.com/articles/nature02789 
  17. Price CT, Langford JR, Liporace FA. Essential nutrients for bone health and a review of their availability in the average North American diet. Open Orthop J [Internet]. 2012 Apr 5 [cited 2023 Apr 7];6:143–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330619/ 
  18. Podsędek A, Majewska I, Kucharska AZ. Inhibitory potential of red cabbage against digestive enzymes linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. J Agric Food Chem [Internet]. 2017 Aug 23 [cited 2023 Apr 7];65(33):7192–9. Available from: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jafc.7b02499 
  19. Cabbage, red, raw Nutrition Facts & Calories [Internet]. NutritionData know what you eat. Available from: https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2373/2 
  20. Larijani B, Esfahani MM, Moghimi M, Shams Ardakani MR, Keshavarz M, Kordafshari G, et al. Prevention and treatment of flatulence from a traditional persian medicine perspective. Iran Red Crescent Med J [Internet]. 2016 Jan 31 [cited 2023 Apr 7];18(4):e23664. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4893422/ 
  21. Raak C, Ostermann T, Boehm K, Molsberger F. Regular consumption of sauerkraut and its effect on human health: a bibliometric analysis. Glob Adv Health Med [Internet]. 2014 Nov [cited 2023 Apr 7];3(6):12–8. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4268643/ 
  22. Born P. Carbohydrate malabsorption in patients with non-specific abdominal complaints. World J Gastroenterol [Internet]. 2007 Nov 21 [cited 2023 Apr 7];13(43):5687–91. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171253/
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Monika Czechowska

Masters in Brain Sciences, MSc, University of Glasgow

Meet Monika, a Medical Writer who specializes in health and lifestyle. She has a passion for promoting healthy dietary habits and nutrition. Monika holds a Master of Science in Brain Sciences from the University of Glasgow and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Aberdeen. Currently, she is enrolled in an online course called "Writing in the Sciences" offered by Stanford.

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