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Top 5 health benefits of red cabbage

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Red cabbage

What is red cabbage?

Red cabbage belongs to the brassica group of vegetables, along with Brussels sprouts and kale. It has a peppery taste and crunch when eaten raw, but becomes sweeter and softer when cooked.

Red cabbage is grown in the UK and is in season from September to December. As the plant grows, it forms tight balls of leaves in the centre surrounded by much larger green-purple leaves. When the red cabbage is harvested, the whole plant is picked and the outer leaves discarded, leaving just the cabbage head which is the part we eat.

Red cabbage health benefits include:

  • Rich in protective antioxidants
  • May support heart health
  • May help fight inflammation
  • Contains anti-cancer compounds
  • May support gut health

Check out some of our best red cabbage recipes, from traditional ways to serve it – such as our cider-braised cabbage wedges – to new twists on this popular vegetable, like our red cabbage & pickled chilli slaw.

Nutritional profile of red cabbage

An 80g portion (boiled) provides:

  • 12kcal / 49KJ
  • 0.6g protein
  • 0.2g fat
  • 1.8g carbohydrate
  • 1.8g fibre
  • 104mg potassium
  • 25mcg folate
  • 26mg vitamin C

Just 80g of red cabbage counts as one portion of your five-a-day.

If you enjoy cooking red cabbage, be aware that traditional braised red cabbage recipes often combine the peppery flavours with sweeter ingredients like apples, sugar, cider, port or wine.Adding whole fruit like apples naturally sweetens the dish, but be aware that when we add ingredients like sugar or certain types of alcohol you’ll be increasing the free sugars (the type of sugars we are advised to cut back on).

Top 5 health benefits of red cabbage

1. Rich in protective antioxidants

The beautiful purplish colour of red cabbage is thanks to anthocyanins. These pigments have protective antioxidant properties which means they help the body combat the damaging effects of a process called oxidation. There’s currently a lot of research evaluating how they may benefit our health; for example, there are growing links between the use of dietary anthocyanin to help improve obesity and related diseases, including type-2 diabetes.

Brassica vegetables are especially rich in anthocyanins as well as other antioxidant nutrients like vitamins C, E and the carotenoids.

2. May support heart health

There is growing evidence that anthocyanins play a positive role in cardiovascular health and that those who eat foods rich in them (like red cabbage) have a lower risk of heart attacks and heart-disease-related death.

3. May help fight inflammation

A key component of brassica vegetables, including red cabbage, is a sulphur-rich plant compound called sulforaphane. We activate this compound when we chop or chew brassica vegetables, with the highest levels found in the chopped, raw vegetable.
As well as being linked to heart health and protecting our gut from damage, sulforaphane appears to be responsible for some of the anti-inflammatory properties of these vegetables.

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4. Contains anti-cancer compounds

While there are no ‘superfoods’ that can prevent cancer – and certain risk factors for cancer are unrelated to diet – there is evidence that eating a healthy diet can reduce your cancer risk.

Being rich in compounds like sulforaphane and anthocyanins, red cabbage is certainly one vegetable to add to your diet. These beneficial compounds appear to prevent oxidative damage and possibly act in protective way against cancer, including colorectal cancer.

5. May support gut health

Red cabbage is a good source of fibre, including the insoluble variety which promotes regular bowel movements. The fibre in cabbage acts as a prebiotic, which means it’s the type of fibre that provides a fuel source for the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. Compounds in red cabbage called isothiocyanates appear to be particularly beneficial because they encourage the gut bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – valuable compounds that have a far-reaching influence on our gut and wider health.

Is red cabbage safe for everyone?

Although safe for most, it is possible to be allergic to cabbage because of cross reactivity or ‘pollen food syndrome’, which also includes plants such as aubergine, beetroot, celery and peppers. A mild reaction may include symptoms such as itching mouth or tongue, sneezing or a runny nose. If you experience these symptoms speak to your GP. If a more serious allergic reaction occurs, call for an ambulance immediately.

Read more from the NHS about allergic reactions.

If you have a thyroid issue, you may be advised to minimise the amount of brassica vegetables you eat. This is because these vegetables may interfere with the absorption of iodine, which is needed for the production of thyroid hormones. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you would need to eat a reasonable amount on a consistent basis for this to be an issue.

Cabbage is a high-fibre food, which for most of us is highly beneficial – it supports the digestive process and provides a fuel source for the healthy bacteria that reside in our gut. However, for some people, high-fibre foods may cause bloating and gas. This is especially relevant for those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

If you are on blood-thinning medication such as warfarin, your GP or registered dietitian may suggest you monitor the vitamin K foods (like cabbage) in your diet to ensure you eat similar amounts consistently. If in doubt, consult your GP before making any significant changes to what and how much you eat.

Overall, is red cabbage good for you?

Red cabbage is a nutrient-rich vegetable which has been linked to a number of health benefits including inflammation, a healthier heart, improved gut function and a lower risk of certain cancers. Richer in some types of antioxidant compounds than either white or green cabbage, it is particularly beneficial when eaten chopped and raw in a slaw or salad.

Healthy red cabbage recipes

Discover our top-rated healthy red cabbage recipes in our collection.

Now read…

The health benefits of chestnuts
Is smoked salmon healthy?
The health benefits of cinnamon
Top 5 health benefits of kale
Our best healthy Christmas sides

This article was last reviewed on 22 September 2023 by Kerry Torrens.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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