By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
In my house growing up, the smell of cabbage sent us running --- out of the house. Now that I am older, I have learned that the chemicals in cabbage responsible for their pungent odor, may also protect me against many forms of chronic disease.
Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable. Like other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, arugula, collard greens, rutabaga, turnips, bok choy and brussels sprouts, cabbage is rich in micronutrients. These vegetables all contain special smelly sulphur compounds called " glucosinolates".
Over the years, scientists have learned that when glucosinolates are cooked, they break down into several cancer-fighting compounds. Two of the most studied are "indole-3-carbinol" and "sulphurophane".
Red cabbage contains more of these compounds than green cabbage. Red cabbage also contains compounds called "anthocyanins" which give the cabbage its color.
Red cabbage is rich in anthocyanins. In fact, red cabbage contains 36 anthocyanins, according to the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.
Anthocyanins contain twice the anti-oxidant potency of Vitamin C. Anti-oxidants lower the amount of internal inflammation in your body, which in turn lowers your risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Anti-oxidants are believed to also protect your brain from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's because they scavenge free radicals which damage the arteries and small blood vessels of the brain.
Eating More Cabbage Linked with Lower Breast Cancer and Stomach Cancer Risk
A 1996 study from the Nutrition and Food Research Institute, Zeist, The Netherlands, found an "inverse relationship" between the amount of cruciferous vegetables eaten and the rate of both breast cancer and stomach cancer.
The more of these vegetables eaten, the lower the cancer risk. However, not all cancers appear to benefit from cabbage consumption. As the scientists observed, the strongest protective effects are seen with lung cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer. The weakest effects were found with prostate, endometrial, and ovarian cancer.
Eating Cabbage Reduces Your Risk for Lung Cancer
A study in 2000 from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that women who ate cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage at least 5 times per week had a markedly lower risk of developing lung cancer. The same lowering of risk was not seen among men.
Cabbage Lowers Your Risk of Diabetes
Cabbage interferes with the formation of compounds which trigger diabetes and kidney disease, according to a study from India.
The 2015 study, from the School of Chemical and Biotechnology of SASTRA University, found that eating cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables lowers the amount of compounds called "advanced glycation end products".
These dangerous products form in your blood when you have high blood sugar levels.
Storing Cabbage in a Refrigerator --How Much Cancer-fighting Potency Is Lost?
A study of cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables found that storing cabbage in a refrigerator for 7 days makes it lose between and 9% and 26% of its glucosinolates.
Chopping Cabbage Too Much Destroys 75% of it Cancer-Fighting Properties
The 2007 study, conducted by scientists from the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex in the UK found that how you chop these vegetables matters. Finely shredding your cabbage makes it lose 75% of its glucosinolates over a short 6 hour period.
Why shredding makes the glucosinolates disappear is something of a mystery. But perhaps chopping reduces the surface area of the cabbage and releases the glucosinolates into the air.
Don't Boil Your Cabbage If You Want to Use It to Fight Cancer
The study also found that boiling cabbage is the worst way to cook it. Boiling causes a loss of the glucosinolates through leeching into the water.