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Introduction to Cabbage

Brassica olerocea, more commonly referred to as cabbage is a member of the Brassica family just like cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and kale. Cabbage is composed of a gathering of stiff leaves overlying on top of each other in compact layers, leading to the net result of a globular shape. There are a number of varieties cultivated around the world the main ones of which include green, red and savoy. The group is divided into two basic categories early and late. The early variety attains maturity in a little over forty days and has a smaller, tight head while the late variant takes almost ninety days to fully develop.

The green variety ranges in colours from a pale shade of green to dark green. The red variant has leaves that maybe range from purple to crimson shades with numerous white veins running through the leaves. The leaves of both varieties are smooth-textured, while the Savoy cabbage has leaves that are more ruffled. Its taste too is milder, not as crunchy textured as that of the red or green varieties. The leaves closer to the centre are usually paler in colour than those found on the exterior as they are protected from the sunlight.

Cabbage grows well in cooler climates and yields hefty harvests. It also stores well when not in season; this is why it is a favoured food. The added benefit of the vegetable is that it is very nutritious and offers significant medicinal value. The English name of “cabbage” is most probably derived from the Picard dialect of Old French word “caboche”, which means head.

History of Cabbage

Pots holding cabbages dating as far back as 4,000 B.C.E. have been discovered in the Shensi province of China. It is believed that origins of cabbage lie in north China, where the ancient people thought of it as a ‘cooling’ food in the yin and yang concept.  While cabbage is frequently associated with the Irish, the Celts are accredited with carrying it from Asia to Europe around 600 B.C.E.

Cabbage plays a role in Greek mythology too. It is an agriculture fact, and also known to the Greeks that grape vines do not flourish if grown near cabbage. According to one Greek myth Dionysus, God of wine wandered into Thrace followed by his loyal companions the Bacchae. The land of Thrace was under the control of Lycurgus and threatened by the arrival of the newcomers, Dionysus and his companions were captured. To avenge his capture, and being a God, Dionysus had Lycurgus driven mad. Not being in the right frame of mind, Lycurgus thought his son was a grape vine and proceeded to hack it to pieces. Realizing what he had done, he wept and the tears falling to the ground from his eyes sprang up as cabbage.

The ancient Romans too loved their cabbage. Cato recommended consumption of vinegar soaked cabbage before excessive use of alcohol. The standard remedy in Roman times for a hangover was ingestion of cabbage. In addition to being a food source for Caesar’s armies, wounded soldiers were bound with cabbage leaves to help reduce infection. The conquering Romans introduced Cabbage into Europe where selective cultivation led to the cabbage we are familiar with today. In Europe cabbage caught on fast and became a popular food item, partly due to the good nutritive contributions it made to the scanty diet of the rural population.

Cabbage was one of the food items carried on ships of explorers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries due to its good storage qualities and high vitamin C content that helped to keep scurvy, a common ailment among sailors of the time, at bay. According to history, the sailors injured in a storm during one of Captain Cook’s voyages were bound with cabbage to help avert gangrene.

Health Benefits of Cabbage

Fresh cabbage leaves are not only highly nutritious but provide a large variety of health benefits. Its high vitamin K content plays a critical part in clotting of blood and maintenance of bone strength. Lack of this nutrient can lead to early development of osteoporosis or uncontrollable bleeding if injured. Vitamin K also has a vital job in curing Alzheimer’s disease by minimizing neuronal damage in brains of patients suffering from the disease.

Each cup of cooked cabbage delivers four grams of dietary fibre, which contains both soluble and insoluble fibre. Consumption of soluble fibre is related lowering the risk of diabetes and high cholesterol while insoluble fibre aids in the regulation of bowel movements. Cabbage has been called one of the best overall sources of dietary fibre and ingestion of fibre-rich foods might aid in the prevention of heart disease, obsesity, cancer, hemorhoids, and constipation.

One cup of raw, shredded cabbage delivers approximately 30% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. This important vitamin prevents free radicals in the body from damaging healthy cells and supports healthy blood vessels, and skin. It further reduces chances of cancer, hypertension, and heart disease.

Like other members of its family, cabbage houses an elevated concentration of glucosinolate compounds. When chewed thoroughly and digested these compounds decompose into indole and isothiocyanates. According to the National Cancer institute these compounds are strong antioxidants that have the potential of averting the growth and migration of tumour cells by killing prospective cancer causing cells.

Phyto-chemicals such as like thiocyanates, lutein, indole-3-carbinol, sulforaphane,  zea-xanthin, and isothiocyanate are also found in cabbage. These compounds are strong antioxidants known to offer good protection against colon, breast and prostate cancers. Furthermore, they help to bring down the levels of LDL “bad cholesterol”.

Cabbage also contains sufficient amounts of vital minerals like manganese, iron, potassium and magnesium. Potassium helps to control blood pressure and heart rates while iron is needed for the formation of red blood cells. Manganese is a co- factor for antioxidant enzyme and iron is necessary for the formation of red blood cells.

Nutritional Value of Cabbage

Cabbage is the perfect food for people trying to lose weight. A hundred gram serving delivers only 25 calories, contains no cholesterol or fats of any kind and hardly any sodium. The same one hundred grams offers 6%, (based on a 2,000 calorie diet) of the daily recommended carbohydrate needs, 2.5% of the dietary fibre, 1.3% protein.

It is also a rich source of an array of vitamins and minerals delivering 72% of the daily vitamin K in a single 100 gram serving,  44% vitamin C,11%  vitamin B-9 (folate), 10% vitamin B-6, 5% vitamin B-1, 4% vitamin B-5, 3% vitamin B-2 (riboflavin), and 2% vitamin B-2.

In the mineral department the one hundred gram serving supplies 8% manganese, 4% phosphorus, calcium, iron, and potassium, 3% magnesium, 2% zinc and 1% sodium.

Cabbage leaves also contains glutamine, the substance responsible for its anti-inflammatory properties. Different varieties of cabbage also contain different amounts of glucosinolates which can be converted into isothiocyanate compounds that fight a number of cancers including bladder, breast colon and prostate.

Uses of Cabbage

Proper preparation of cabbage is essential for getting full nutritional value it has to offer. The vitamin C decomposes quickly if exposed to light, water, air and heat. Cabbage should be cut just before eating and it best when stored in a cool dark place. Also use the vegetable within three to four days of purchase. The enzyme myrosinase in cabbage converts glucosinolates to cancer preventing isothiocyanates. Seven minutes of steaming breaks down as much of the myrosinase as two minutes of mirowaving. Hence, short steaming is better than microwaving to attain full value of the veggie.

The slightly bitter flavour of cabbage is actually a good thing. One of the glucosinolates responsible for the taste, called sinigring is found in high quantities in cabbage. It too provides the anti-cancer properties cabbage is known for, and while food industry tries to remove this taste through hybridization, it is best to keep it and blend cabbage with foods that will mask the bitterness.

To allow the anti-cancer myrosinase enzymes do their job, you need to slice, shred, or chop the raw vegetable and allow it to stand for five to ten minutes before steaming it. When the cells are broken through the cutting process, the myrosinase enzymes need the time to become active for the process of converting glucosinolates to isothiocyanates.

Cabbage is enjoyed around the world in a variety of ways. Sauerkraut and coleslaw are forms of salad enjoyed all over Europe, while in Ireland they enjoy it as colcannon. Hungarians stuff cabbage and Koreans prepare kimchi. Raw chopped cabbage leaves can be added to any salad preparations.  It can also be made into a soup like preparation with beet juice or added to yogurt to prepare “borscht” so popular in eastern European countries.

Clinical Trials

The complex phytonutrient compounds found in cabbage make it one of the best natural treatments for ulcers. In a study carried out at San Quentin Prison in California, 93 percent of the patients with duodenal ulcers were healed after just three weeks of cabbage juice consumption. They were given the equivalent of one quart of fresh cabbage juice daily1.

According to research conducted by the U.S Department of Agriculture, red cabbage houses 36 varieties of anthocyanins, types of flavonoids that have been linked to averting cancer. A Japanese study found that anthocyanins amend the way fat cells function and might help in fighting metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure2.

About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Dr. Andy Williams is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter.

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