The health benefits of red cabbage

Discover the nutritional profile of this vibrant vegetable, which is low in calories and rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants called anthocyanins.

Red cabbage cut in half on a wooden chopping board

What is red cabbage?

Red cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable of firmly packed dark red-purple leaves. It belongs to the brassica group of vegetables along with Brussels sprouts and kale, and has a peppery taste and crunch when eaten raw, and becomes sweeter and softer in texture when cooked.

Red cabbage is grown in the UK and is in season from September to December. As the plants grow, they form tight balls of leaves in the centre surrounded by much larger green-purple leaves. When the red cabbage is ready for harvesting, the whole plant is picked and the outer leaves discarded, leaving just the cabbage head – the part we eat.

Nutritional profile of red cabbage

Red cabbage contains just 21 calories per 100g, being 90% water. It has a little protein at 1g per 100g, negligible fat and around 4g per 100g of carbohydrates, from naturally occurring sugars. Red cabbage is also quite a good source of fibre at 3g per 100g.

Red cabbage has a good mix of vitamins and minerals, especially folate, which is essential during pregnancy and also helps the body to produce red blood cells. It also contains vitamin C, which helps protect our cells by acting as an antioxidant, and potassium, which we need for a healthy heart.

Mulled red cabbage with clementines

Does red cabbage contain anthocyanins?

Anthocyanins are antioxidants that are found in purple-coloured fruits and vegetables, including red cabbage. There is a lot of ongoing research into these phytonutrients because of their many health benefits.

There are growing links between inflammation and conditions such as obesity, and that the use of dietary anthocyanins may be able to help improve obesity and obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes

A 2019 study indicates growing evidence that anthocyanins play a positive role in cardiovascular health and that those who eat foods with anthocyanins have a lower risk of heart attacks and heart disease-related death.

Read more about what to eat for a healthy heart.

How much red cabbage counts as one of your five a day?

Just 80g of red cabbage counts as one portion of your five-a-day, which is less than a tenth of a whole cabbage (which normally weighs about 1kg).

Discover more with our five-a-day infographic.

Can you be allergic to red cabbage?

You can be allergic to cabbage, and it often falls into the same group as those in the ‘pollen food syndrome’, which may include foods 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 after eating cabbage, speak to your GP. If a more serious allergic reaction occurs, call for an ambulance immediately.

Read more from the NHS about allergic reactions.

How to buy the best red cabbage

Ideally buy red cabbage when it is in season in the UK, so in the autumn months. It should be heavy and firm, and there should be little damage to the outer leaves. It’s ok if there is a little tear or mark as normally the first few outer leaves are thrown away before eating, but don’t buy any red cabbage that has large cuts in it, is black or going mouldy or soggy.

Healthy red cabbage recipes

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

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This article was published on 31 October 2019.

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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