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Cabbage isn't the most glamorous offering at the produce counter, but it may be among the most nutritious. There's no more affordable superfood.

Cabbage is the overlooked superfood. Actually a group of vegetables including white or "green" cabbage, red or purple cabbage, Savoy cabbage, Chinese cabbage, kale, collards, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kai-lan (Chinese broccoli), and brussels sprouts, all varieties of the plant species Brassica oleracea, these inexpensive, readily available, easy to store, and tasty (or stinky) vegetables are a must for anyone interested in healthy diet.

Cabbage: Why Some People Love It, and Some People Hate It

Some people love the sulfury sugary flavors of slowly cooked cabbage. Especially if the cabbage is cooked over slow, dry heat so its sugars caramelize, it can even take on a meaty (although completely vegetarian taste). Other people, of course, can't stand the stink from cooking vegetables in the cabbage family.

What makes cabbage so unpleasant for some people? Scientists blame a gene called TAS2R38 that deterimines whether people can taste a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, abbreviated PTC. Phenyltiocarbamide isn't really a "stinky" chemical. It's a bitter chemical. It's the intense bitterness of PTC that drives some people way from this healthy vegetable. (The sulfur odor in cabbage family vegetables is avoidable by eating them raw, fermented, or pickled, or by simply avoiding overcooking.)

If you can't stand the taste of spring- or summer-harvested cabbage, you may like the taste of cabbage family vegetables harvested just after the first light frost. Temperatures a little above or just at freezing convert carbohydrates in cabbages and especially broccoli into sugars which intensify if the vegetable is stir fried. It also helps not to combine cabbages with other cabbages. Instead cook them with onions and carrots (good in kale recipes), garlic (good in broccoli recipes), or dill (bringing out fresh flavors in kraut).

Some of the Health Benefits of Cabbage You May Not Know

Cabbage is a great source of fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Some of the lesser known health benefits of cabbage in the diet include:

  • Weight loss. The infamous cabbage diet can makes you so sick of cabbage you lose a few pounds for a few days because you just can't eat any more. The pounds you lose on the cabbage diet (or the even worse cabbage and açaí diet) come right back. However, long-lasting weight loss is encouraged by the Lactobacillus bacteria in sauerkraut and kimchi. These probiotic bacteria transform some of the linolenic acid in other plant and animal foods in your diet, not just in cabbage, into conjugated linolenic acid, a fatty acid well documented as an aid to weight loss. Cooking the fermented cabbage products, or pasteurizing them so they can be packed in jars for sale in the supermarket, however, kills the bacteria and ruins the effect.
  • Gastric and duodenal ulcers. A 1940's era San Francisco physician Garrett Cheney discovered that if he prescribed cabbage juice to his patients in hospital for peptic ulcer disease, they recovered in just 10 days. This compared to an average of 37 days for patients who did not get cabbage juice. He theorized that cabbage must contain a "vitamin U" that somehow is necessary for normal gastrointestinal function. There is no vitamin U, but 75 years of use show that raw cabbage, cabbage juice, and even cooked cabbage are helpful for most people who have peptic ulcer disease.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Hahn C, Müller A, Kuhnert N, Albach D. Diversity of Kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica): Glucosinolate Content and Phylogenetic Relationships. J Agric Food Chem. 2016 Apr 27. 64(16):3215-25. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.6b01000. Epub 2016 Apr 15. PMID: 27028789.
  • Migliozzi M, Thavarajah D, Thavarajah P, Smith P. Lentil and Kale: Complementary Nutrient-Rich Whole Food Sources to Combat Micronutrient and Calorie Malnutrition.Nutrients. 2015 Nov 11.7(11):9285-98. doi: 10.3390/nu7115471. Review. PMID: 26569296.
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