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Cabbage, which belongs to the Brassica genus and Brassicaceae family, is said to be one of the oldest vegetables known as well as distributed over the world (Stefan et al.,2020; Al-Shehbaz et al., 2006). There are several varieties of cabbage, including ‘red’ or the purple-looking one and white. The white cabbage is often referred to as ‘Green’ or ‘Dutch’ cabbage to differentiate it from its other popular or red variety.
Both the red (purple) and white cabbage varieties are very nutritious and carry the same scientific name (Lee et al. 2018). These varieties of cabbage (red and white) are available in Jamaica. However, the purple or red variety carries a more expensive price tag. In this article, we will be discussing the health benefits of cabbage in general but with specific references in most cases to the white or ‘green’ variety. Let’s discuss!
Cabbage is part of the Brassicaceae family which include other vegetables and leafy greens such as cauliflower, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts and Kohlrabi (Stefan et al.,2020). Cabbage can be consumed raw or cooked and is considered an economically important crop, hence its cultivation in many nations around the world (Stefan et al.,2020).
The vegetable is reportedly in use for decades as a medicinal herb to treat gastrointestinal disorders such as ulcers (peptic and duodenal), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastritis as well as even wounds (Rokayya et. al., 2014; Noess, 1986; Doll & Pygott, 1954). One of the reasons for its medicinal usage is due largely to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In some traditions, cabbage is also used to treat skin ailments, due to those same properties, as research purports gastrointestinal tract malfunction is closely associated with skin issues (Gabrielle, 2004). To this extent, it is said to be used in Korea to treat gastrointestinal disorders as well as skin problems (Lee et al. 2018). For skincare, grated cabbage is used as a facial mask particularly, due to its antioxidant and inflammatory effects (Word Press Foundation, 2016). Some of the skin issues cabbage is purportedly able to treat are eczema and colitis, among others (Butu & Rodino, 2019).
Additionally, in certain ancient cultures, such as Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, cabbage was juiced and drank in an effort to treat constipation. As such, it was largely used then as a laxative (Hatfield, 2004). It is also used as an antidote for the treatment of mushroom poisoning, as well as a remedy for headaches and hangovers (Hatfield, 2004). Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it is also used to treat skin irritations, sore throat and even colic (Hatfield, 2004).
White or ‘green’ cabbage which this post is largely about, is an essential source of phytonutrients (Samec et. al. 2017). As such, it is rich in phytochemicals such as polyphenolics, glucosinolates, carotenoids, antioxidants and vitamins and minerals (Park et al, 2014 a, b; Podsedek, 2007). It is also considered to be a blood purifier (Butu & Rodino, 2019). Other nutrients of cabbage include vitamins (e.g., vitamin C, E and B6), calcium, magnesium, iodine, sulfur, copper, and phosphorus (Podsedek, 2007).
In this article, we will be discussing five (5) scientific proven health benefits of consuming cabbage. These include its high polyphenols properties, which are said to help with disease-fighting, its high antioxidants properties, its possible effects in fighting certain types of cancers, its gastrointestinal benefits and its effects on blood sugar, which may be beneficial for those suffering from diabetes. It is also said to be beneficial for both blood sugar and pressure. The article will also explore its potential side effects and provide ideas on how to incorporate this versatile and nutrient-rich vegetable into your diet.
You can read more on vitamins and minerals in these detailed articles:
- Our ABC’s (Vitamin Overview)
- Why Minerals?
- Understanding ‘Micro’ and ‘Macro’ Nutrients – Getting to the nut of the Matter!
Five (5) ‘Scientific Researched’ Health Benefits of Cabbage:
- Its high polyphenols properties.
- Its high antioxidant properties.
- Anti-cancer activity.
- Gastrointestinal properties.
- Its effects on Blood sugar.
Cabbage and Polyphenols
Polyphenols are organic compounds that are found abundantly in plants (Cory et. al. 2018). Polyphenols are major nutrients in cabbage and one that are said to contribute to its many purported health benefits. In fact, scientists have been studying its impact on one’s health for more than twenty (20) years (Stefan et al.,2020). Polyphenols have an antioxidant effect on the body which helps it to fight or prevent diseases that are mostly linked to oxidative stress.
For example, cancer, cardiovascular issues and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia (Samec et al., 2017) as well as type 2 diabetes (Cory et al. 2018). Phenolic compounds may also help in the prevention of inflammation in the body (systemic or localized). As such, it can help the body to restore its redox balance (homeostasis) and thus reduce oxidative stress.
The most common group of polyphenols in white cabbage are flavonoids (mainly flavonols) and hydroxycinnamic acids (Cartea et al., 2011). Quercetin, which is found in its glycoside form, is one of the most identified flavonoids found in cabbage (Kim et al. 2004; Park et al. 2014a). You can read more on this powerful flavonoid – Quercetin in this detailed post.
According to research, the total amount of flavonoids in cabbage, especially the European white cabbage ranges from 1.18 and 1.82 mg CE/g as per its dry weight (Kusznierewicz et al., 2008) with the total flavanol content ranging from 2.03 to 4.06 μg CE/g as per its dry weight (Stefan et al.,2020). However, the degree of polyphenols is affected ted when the cabbage is processed. As such, fresh cabbage will tend to have more phenolic compounds than when cooked or processed (Ciska et al., 2005). Sauerkraut, another way in which cabbage is usually prepared and eaten, is said to have more phenolic compounds than other versions of cabbage (Ciska et al., 2005). This is due to the fact, that the fermentation of cabbage positively affects its individual phenolic constituents (Ciska et al., 2005). Sauerkraut is the fermentation of raw cabbage.
Cabbage and its Antioxidants Properties
Antioxidant-rich foods have been reported to assist the body to fight off free radicals, which can help to protect against the development of chronic diseases (Stefan et al.,2020). As such, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage are known for their antioxidant properties with nutrients such as vitamin C, polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids and glucosinolates etc. (Podsedek, 2007; Singh et al., 2007).
The antioxidant properties of cabbage are very abundant in its outer leaves which is the part that is usually discarded during processing as well as in commercial activities (Tanongkankit et al. 2015). However, the total antioxidant contents in cabbage will vary and is dependent on several factors such as cultivar type, climate conditions as well as how mature the cabbage is at the time it is harvested (Kusznierrwicz et al. 2008; Singh et al., 2007; Abu-Ghannam & Jaiswal, 2015).
Additionally, as discussed earlier, polyphenols, which are considered an antioxidant in cabbage are found more in fresh cabbage. As such, the antioxidant activity in cabbage decreases with the application of heat. Therefore, cooking and other methods which involve heat like blanching will have an adverse effect on the antioxidant capacity of cabbage with more than Seventy (70%) percent being reportedly lost in just a few minutes of cooking (Abu-Ghannam & Jaiswal, 2015). It must be noted that blanching is a short heat treatment that is usually done to vegetables on a whole before they are processed. It is typically done with the intended purpose of enhancing the safety and quality of the vegetable (Jaiswal et al. 2012c).
Cabbage and Cancer
Recent epidemiological studies have shown that a high intake of white cabbage may be associated with a reduced risk of cancers such as pancreas, breast, prostate, stomach, and lungs (Smiechowska et al. 2008).
Cabbage’s anti-carcinogenic activity is attributed to the presence of its biologically active compound – glucosinolates (Smiechowska et al. 2008). Glucosinolates are naturally occurring compounds that are found in cruciferous vegetables and are said to influence a number of cellular processes in the body which can inhibit the incidence of cancer (Smiechowska et al. 2008; Soundararajan & Kim, 2018).
Cabbage anti-tumour effects were observed in both in vivo and in vitro studies. One such was conducted by Komatsu et al. (1998). In this study, it was found that whole cabbage extract stimulated the spleen cells in rats to develop what is called a ‘tumour necrosis factor’. This activity then causes a cytotoxic effect in the ascites hepatoma cells of the rats. Necrosis is a cell tissue that is developed when the body incurs an injury. As such, it is called a ‘death tissue’ because it tends to kill the cells and can cause the body to achieve an anti-tumour effect (Stefan et al.,2020).
The researcher concluded that cabbage extract that has been cultured with macrophage-stimulating components could possibly cause the body to achieve an antitumour effect, where cancers are concerned (Komatsu et al., 1998).
Cabbage and its Gastrointestinal Properties
According to research, cabbage was traditionally used to treat gastrointestinal disorders (Cavender, 2006). Most of the gastrointestinal disorders that cabbage was said to be remedial were both peptic and duodenal ulcers as well as gastritis (Rokayya et. al., 2014; Noess, 1986; Doll & Pygott, 1954).
Research contends that boiled, fried cabbage, cabbage juice and kraut were used to treat stomach disorders as well as detoxify or clean the intestines of a native population in the southern Appalachian region of the United States (Cavender, 2006).
However, it was the researcher – Cheney in 1949 who was one of the first to publish scientific data on the positive impact that cabbage juice may have on the intestinal system, especially as it relates to the healing of peptic ulcers (Cheney, 1949).
Cheney’s research in 1949 was confirmed by Carvalho et al. (2011). In this study, the researcher denoted that cabbage was able to prevent the development of ulcers, especially those that were caused by chemical agents. As such, the findings confirmed that cabbage was an excellent alternative in the treatment of gastric disorders.
Cabbage and Diabetes Mellitus
Diabetes is a chronic non-communicable disease that is characterized by elevated blood glucose levels due to fluctuations in one’s metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats (American Diabetes Association, 2018). Continuous research has shown that the prevalence of diabetes, particularly type 2, which is the most common form, is increasing worldwide at a very alarming rate (Uuh-Narvaez and Segura-Campos, 2021). If this supposedly ill-health tsunami is not controlled, this will become a very serious public health issue (Uuh-Narvaez and Segura-Campos, 2021). As such, the study of functional foods, including cabbage, is being observed as nutritional therapy for both the prevention and treatment of diabetes (Uuh-Narvaez and Segura-Campos, 2021).
Cabbage has a high bioactive compound which research has shown can have a multi-targeted effect on glucose homeostatic regulation (Uuh-Narvaez and Segura-Campos, 2021). This goes for both white and red cabbage varieties. Therefore, these types of vegetables have the potential to reduce the damage that can occur due to type 2 diabetes such as liver and kidney damage (Uuh-Narvaez and Segura-Campos, 2021).
Additionally, cabbages bioactive compounds such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and phenolic acids, have been shown to have an anti-diabetic effect on the body (Ardalani et al., 2021; Uuh Narvaez & Segura Campos, 2020). These bioactive compounds help to regulate glucose, which then prevents the hydrolyzing of enzymes (α-amylase and α-glucosidase), which slows the body’s uptake of glucose thus preventing postprandial hyperglycemia (Gothai et al., 2016).
postprandial hyperglycemia refers to a spike in one’s blood sugar after eating a meal. If an individual is healthy (or has normal glucose tolerant), then the pancreas will always secrete some amount of insulin as well as enough in situations when spikes occur. However, if one suffers from diabetes (particularly, type 2), then there is a delay, which can then lead to postprandial hyperglycemia (Hiyoshi et. al. 2017).
The consumption of cabbage may also be able to help with oxidative stress and obesity which are noted as underlying problems of type 2 diabetes (Jafet et al. 2021; Uuh-Narvarez & Segura, 2021).
Common Side Effects of Eating Cabbage – Purple or White
Some of the noted side effects of consuming cabbage include stomach pain and other gastrointestinal discomforts such as bloating and diarrhoea (Altobelli et al., 2017). Research has also shown that a high intake of cabbage may also cause thyroid issues (Choi and Kim, 2014).
According to studies, cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts and cabbage are said to contain thiocyanates (i.e., goitrogens), which is a degraded form of thioglucosides. As such, the consumption of high amounts of these cruciferous vegetables may prevent the transportation of iodine to the thyroid which can adversely affect how the thyroid functions (Bosetti et a; 2002). Therefore, large quantities of cabbage and low iodine intake can have a serious effect on the thyroid (Truong et al 2010).
Cabbage may also interfere with certain medications, especially those used for the thinning of the blood. This is due to the fact that it has a high amount of vitamin K, a nutrient that helps with the clotting of blood. As such, those who are on blood-thinning medications should seek medical guidance when consuming cabbage (Scott et al. 2012).
Nonetheless, research has shown that the benefits of consuming cabbage far outweigh its potential side effects. Considering its side effects, seeking medical guidance if you are on certain medications is always the best bet.
How to add Cabbage to your Diet
Cabbage is a very versatile vegetable and as such, can be eaten with almost any dish. Firstly, it can be eaten raw, which is one of the most recommended ways to consume it, as here, all the nutrients remain intact. A famous raw method is that of coleslaw. It can also be lightly cooked or steamed, used to make sauerkraut, which is a fermented version of the vegetable, which is often used as a probiotic source, especially for vegetarians.
Cabbage can also be made into a juice (Blend and drink), while it is not the best smelling thing when done this way (I have tried it), it is very beneficial for gastrointestinal issues. Finally, it can be used to make soup. So, there are many ways to incorporate this very healthy vegetable into your daily diet.
Here are two (2) recipes you can try in order to add this nutritional powerhouse to your diet.
Here is an illustrative summary of the Five (5) ‘Scientific Researched’ Benefits of Consuming CABBAGE, especially the WHITE ONE!
Let’s Sum Up!
Cabbage is named one of the oldest vegetables of its kind. It was used traditionally to treat gastrointestinal issues, including ulcers. This simple-looking vegetable is packed with nutrients including vitamin C, polyphenols, and antioxidants.
To this extent, cabbage is said to be beneficial for diabetes, both its prevention and management among other purported health benefits. Cabbage is also very easy to prepare and is considered one of the most economical vegetables worldwide
So, have you ever consumed cabbage before? Which type? How do you often eat your cabbage? Share it nuh!
You can read more on some additional nutritional powerhouses by checking out these articles:
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