How Nutritious Is Raw Cabbage?

Despite looking a lot like lettuce, cabbage is actually a member of the Brassica genus of vegetables, along with broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.

A close up picture of a variety of cabbages, at the top of the vertical frame are dark green curly vegetables, to the right is a light green variety with white stems, and to the bottom a red variety cut in half. Across the center and bottom of the frame is white and green text.

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There are several varieties, which can come in different colors including purple, red, white, and green. The leaf shapes can also differ as some are smooth while others, like savoy are crinkly.

And while it isn’t as trendy as kale or cauliflower, it is surprisingly nutritious.

Nutritional Composition

As with many other cruciferous vegetables, this one is low in calories, yet high in many important vitamins and minerals.

Three cabbages, on their side, cut in half, with the other half sliced finely. To the left of the frame is a green variety, in the center a savoy, and to the right is a purple variety. The background is a wooden surface with bright light.

For example, 1 cup of raw cabbage provides approximately:

  • 22 calories
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 85% of the recommended daily value (DV) for vitamin K
  • 54% of the DV for vitamin C

Vitamin K is important as it plays a role in bone health and helps with blood clotting.

Vitamin C works to keep your immune system strong and supports the growth of bone, collagen, and other important tissues. It’s also needed for the body to be able to absorb iron.

It is a good source of folate and vitamin B6 as well, both of which are needed for energy metabolism and nervous system functioning.

It’s also rich in minerals – potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

A close up of a green cabbage head, lightly splashed with water droplets. In the center, the leaves are a pale green, almost yellow, and the outer leaves are a deeper green with light green veins.

Not too shabby for just 22 calories.

And we can’t forget about fiber. Cabbage is high in both insoluble and soluble fibers.

While both are important for our health, they have different roles:

  • Soluble fiber supports healthy gut bacteria and heart health, and slows digestion.
  • Insoluble fiber keeps the digestive system running smoothly and regularly, and can help to prevent or treat constipation.

Plus, we haven’t even mentioned that it’s also high in several disease-fighting antioxidants, including beta-carotene, flavonoids, and sulfur compounds.

It’s worth noting that while all cabbage is a good source of antioxidants, purple and red varieties are particularly rich in anthocyanins – a pigment with antioxidant properties that is found in other red-purple plant-based foods including blueberries and black rice.

Fermented Cabbage May Be Good for Gut Health

In addition to coleslaw and soups, this vegetable is also commonly found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi.

A dark wood surface with a slate serving board. On the board is a black dish containing white shredded cabbage, with a whole and two half cabbages behind. To the left of the bowl is a small glass bowl with coarse salt, and a mason jar containing some of the chopped vegetable. The image is taken from above in bright light.

Sauerkraut is a fermented German dish made by combining shredded cabbage, salt, and caraway seeds in a jar or fermentation crock. Over the course of 2-5 weeks, beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria begin to grow, resulting in a tart, slightly sour taste.

Another popular fermented condiment is kimchi.

Commonly found in Korean cuisine, the popular paechu kimchi has a few more ingredients than sauerkraut. Usually made with Napa cabbage, it may also contain fish sauce, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, scallions, and shrimp. However, instead of requiring a few weeks, kimchi usually takes just 1-5 days to ferment.

Both of these fermented condiments result in the growth of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics.

A close up of half of a green cabbage, with slices of the vegetable in front of it, on a wooden chopping board. The background is in soft focus.

When you eat them, these probiotics help to promote the growth of even more healthy bacteria in your gut, which has been associated with a range of benefits from better digestive health to reduced risk of chronic diseases and improved mental health.

Boosting beneficial bacteria may also improve absorption of several nutrients and promote the production of vitamin K and B-vitamins.

You can read more about healthy fermented foods on our sister site, Foodal.

Does Cooking Affect the Nutrient Content?

Do you prefer your cabbage raw or cooked?

While the raw vegetable is a staple ingredient in coleslaw and salads, many people find cooking it more appealing, as some varieties can be quite bitter.

A gray surface with a dark bowl containing freshly chopped red cabbage, pictured from above, with a celery sprig on top. To the right of the bowl is the other half of the vegetable and a celery leaf.

However, cooking does more than just reducing bitterness. It can also lead to some nutritional losses.

A study published in the Journal of Food Chemistry in 2014 found that the raw purple variety had significantly higher amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals compared to steamed, stir-fried, boiled or microwaved.

This vegetable also contains sulfur compounds which have also been shown to decrease when cooked. This is also why when it’s cooking it can start to have an unpleasant smell, as the sulfur compounds are being released.

But what if you prefer it cooked? Steaming was found to retain the most antioxidants and vitamin C compared to other cooking methods, making this a good option if you don’t like it raw.

A gray bowl with chopped red cabbage, carrots, and sprinkled with herbs. To the right of the frame is a fork, with half a piece of bread next to it, above that is a white plate with bread. To the left of the frame is a water glass, a celery frond, a dark bowl with chopped herbs and a small bowl with rice. The background is a gray fabric on a light gray surface.

Additionally, for those who find raw cabbage difficult to digest, cooking it and eating smaller portions may help prevent or reduce GI side effects.

Overall, if you choose to cook it, the shorter the cooking time and less water used, the more nutrients it will retain.

If you need inspiration for what to do with raw cabbage, try the delicious homemade coleslaw recipe from our sister site, Foodal. Or check out this recipe on Foodal for salmon tacos with red slaw.

A Versatile Vegetable

Growing your own  cabbage is an easy and budget-friendly way to get more nutrition on your plate.

And while it’s easy to add to salads or soups, it is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into a variety of cuisines.

Are you a fan of raw cabbage? Share your favorite ways to enjoy it in the comments below.

Inspired to get growing? You’ll need these guides:

Photo of author
Kelli McGrane is a Denver-based registered dietitian with a lifelong love of food. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition science from Boston University. As a registered dietitian, Kelli believes in the importance of getting to know our food better, including where it comes from and its benefits for our bodies.

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Michelle Molenaar
Michelle Molenaar (@guest_5684)
4 years ago

I’ve been replacing iceberg lettuce with cabbage to get extra nutrients!