Cabbages are members of the Brassicaceae family of cruciferous vegetables along with cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts and many leafy greens. Also know as Cruciferae, latin for “cross-bearing,” these plants can be identified by their distinctive four-petal white flower that resembles a cross.
Cabbages are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and come in many varieties. Some of them are higher in nutrients than others, but each is an excellent source of soluble (40%) and insoluble (60%) fiber, which helps to maintain a healthy colon. When fermented, as in the case of the popular condiment sauerkraut, cabbage also acts as a probiotic to balance bacterial flora in the gut.
Keep in mind that although these cruciferous vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked, they possess glucosinolates, which are goitrogenic (create an enlarged thyroid known as a goiter) in high amounts and may affect thyroid function when eaten raw. Interestingly, glucosinolates in small quantities are being investigated for anticarcinogenic activity. If you do have a thyroid disorder or iodine deficiency however, cooking cabbages might be best since it significantly reduces the efficacy of enzymes that interrupt thyroid hormone production and compounds that interfere with iodine uptake. Although raw cabbage is a nutrition powerhouse, cooked cabbage still retains many of the valuable nutrients found in raw cabbage.
Here are of some of the most popular cabbages used in cooking and the nutritional value (raw) they provide, for quick reference.
Newly picked raw green cabbage is one of the most nutritious vegetables, but it’s hard to come by a fresh harvest of them. Still, one cup of stored raw green cabbage offers about 3% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A for strong bones and teeth along with 47% of the daily value (DV) of the antioxidant vitamin C. Cooked green cabbage provides a small amount of iron, around 2% per one cup, but has higher levels of calcium (8%), potassium (8%) and manganese (16%). It also offers an incredible 204% DV of vitamin K when cooked. Green cabbage is highly versatile in cooking and is popular in soups, salads, coleslaw and wraps.
Raw savoy cabbage is a winter variety of the vegetable with moderate levels of vitamin A (14%), vitamin C (36%) and iron (2%) per one cup, yet provides 60% RDA of vitamin K. Along with its asian kin bok choy, savoy cabbage offers the highest levels of beta-carotene in the family, about 5 times greater than green or red cabbage. Savoy cabbage, however, is a lesser source of trace minerals among cabbage varieties. In culinary uses, it is a hearty vegetable often used to make sauerkraut, for stuffed cabbages recipes and winter soups.
Red cabbage is slightly more nutritious than its green cabbage cousin. It offers notable levels of vitamin A (20%) and vitamin K (42%) per one-cup serving but boasts even higher levels of vitamin C, providing 85% of the suggested daily value. Red cabbage also takes the lead in antioxidants among cabbage varieties because of the anthocyanins that give it its purple color. Anthocyanins are flavonoids known to boost immunity, fight cancer and improve memory. They may also contribute to maintaining a healthy figure since they assist your body in releasing hormones that metabolize fat and suppress appetite. Culinarily, red cabbage is popular in salads and in pickled or stewed dishes.
Napa is a Chinese cabbage variety also known as celery cabbage. It is frequently used in Asian dishes and is well known for its role in the Korean condiment, kimchi. It’s one of the highest in vitamin A (63%) among the varieties and provides 12% of folate per one cup of raw napa cabbage.
Brussels sprouts are perhaps one of the lesser known cabbages but are equally nutritious. Providing a whopping 125% of vitamin C and 195% of vitamin K per one cup of raw sprouts, these little cabbages pack a healthy punch. Brussels sprouts are also higher in trace elements and minerals and offer 15% DV of manganese and 10% DV of potassium per 1 cup serving. Great shredded in salads, steamed or roasted, brussels sprouts are a tasty cabbage choice.