With food temptations everywhere, how can we enjoy a well-balanced holiday season with healthy comfort food and stress-free family gatherings? Take a deep breath in and… cue the cabbage!
Many of us spend time, energy and money striving to lose the pounds and keep our calm only to have the Holidays have the opposite effect. So this year, turn to an ancient panacea: the cabbage. This super food comes bearing gifts: a plethora of vitamins, anti-inflammatory powers and detoxifying agents, just to name a few. So, open the door and invite cabbage to your holiday table!
Cabbage accounts sprouted back in 4,000 B.C. in Shensi province in China, making this cruciferous one of the oldest known vegetable. Among other powers, the cabbage was believed to cure baldness, as accounted by Chinese scrolls. Around 600 B.C., the Celts brought cabbage over to Europe, where the Greeks and Romans praised it and regarded it as a panacea for health conditions. The Egyptian Pharaohs consumed large quantities of cabbage in anticipation of heavy drinking, convinced it would prevent hangovers. Cabbage traveled to the Americas with the French navigator Jacques Cartier in 1536. Captain Cook swore by the medicinal value of sauerkraut in 1769, when his ship doctor used it successfully for compresses on wounds to prevent gangrene. More recently, it is said that eating cabbage on New Year’s Eve is good luck, because the green leaves are representative of money.
The botanical name for cabbage Brassica oleracea capitata makes reference to the vegetable’s round shape, similar to a head (“capita” means “head” in Latin). Early cabbage was not the full-bodied head that’s common today, but rather a more loose-leaf variety. The tightly-packed round variety came about in the European Middle Ages. Cultivation of cabbage spread across northern Europe into Germany, Poland and Russia, where it became a very popular vegetable in every day meals. And who hasn’t heard of borscht, the originally Ukrainian cabbage soup, now popular among many Eastern European countries and beyond? The Italians are credited with developing the Savoy cabbage, while the Germans are responsible for bringing sauerkraut (“sour cabbage”) to the Americas. Today, there are over four hundred different varieties of cabbage, from round to conical in shape, with flat or curly leaves, packed tightly or loosely, varying in color from white to green to red or purple.
Cabbage has a long history of use both as a food and a medicine. Delivering everything from glowing skin, to a rock-solid immune system, cabbage brings it on! Believed in ancient times to harbor moon power because it grew in the moonlight, we know now that its true power comes from its high content of vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting nutrients. Rich in vitamins C, E, K, potassium, and sulfur, cabbage is a low calorie (22/one cup) and low sugar (3-5 g/one cup) nutritional must. Curing ailments head to toe and inside and out, cabbage is a nutritional star!
Cabbage is great for the immune system. Supplying 54% of the daily needed vitamin C, one serving of cabbage can successfully protect the body from infections. In addition, glutamines found in cabbage are strong anti-inflammatory agents which can reduce all types of inflammation, including fever, skin conditions, allergy-related irritation, and joint pain.
Delivering 85% of body’s daily required vitamin K, cabbage heads are good…well, for the head. Vitamin K is vital in brain health, preventing nerve damage and improving defense against Alzheimer’s disease. Got a headache? A compress of fresh cabbage leaves placed on the head may help alleviate migraine headaches. No wonder Babe Ruth used a cabbage leaf under his hat during each game!
Cabbage has the highest content of phytonutrients (cancer-fighting agents) in the cruciferous vegetable family. As a bonus, these antioxidants reduce LDL (bad cholesterol), lowering the risk of heart disease. And just to give an extra helping hand to the heart, the high potassium content of this vegetable keeps blood pressure low and eases the flow of blood through the body.
Although the sulfur content might upset some sensitive stomachs (and noses), cabbage is actually good for digestion: it kills harmful bacteria in the digestive tract, delivers a good amount of fiber, and soothes ulcers – well worth it, especially since the negative effects can be avoided by blanching the cabbage for five minutes before consuming it. The combination of sulfur and vitamin C in cabbage removes toxins such as free radicals and uric acid, the main culprits in developing arthritis, skin diseases, rheumatism and gout.
A Holiday Challenge: Red or Green?
So cabbage is good for you! But should you go for green or red this holiday season?
Both red and green cabbage are very low in calories and contain high amounts of fiber and nutrients. However, red cabbage has ten times more vitamin A than green cabbage. One cup of chopped red cabbage has 33 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, while the same amount of green cabbage only delivers 3 percent. When it comes to helping the immune system, red cabbage delivers 38% more vitamin C than its green counterpart. However, keep in mind that they both contain more vitamin C than an orange, so they both pass the test.
Green cabbage has the upper hand when it comes to vitamin K: one cup of green cabbage has 57 percent of the daily intake, as compared to 28 percent in red cabbage. Iron is essential for cell health and oxygen delivery to the muscles. Red cabbage has double the iron than green cabbage, delivering 0.7 milligrams per cup, as compared to 0.4 milligrams from green cabbage.
Bottom line? Stay in the spirit and go for both red and green cabbage this holiday season!
The holidays are an excellent time to give the gift of health to your family and to yourself! “Many times, people know what they need to do to change but it’s hard to change,” says Sarah Crook, founder of Be Well Knoxville (www.bewellknoxville.com). Sarah is a Licensed Massage Therapist, Registered Yoga Teacher, and Holistic Health Coach. Her mission? To integrate all these different therapies into personalized wellness programs that enable everyone to Live and Be Well.
“Food, staying active, and staying positive make a huge difference!,” Sarah explains. Her quest for health was inspired by her family: her mom was diagnosed with M.S. when Sarah was in middle school. Later on, Sarah developed food allergies. A change in diet made all the difference for both Sarah also enjoyed running with her dad every morning and she continued running through high school. She began practicing yoga in order to ease the pain from running. Her health journey led her to work with and study natural supplements, yoga, massage therapy, psychology, and naturopathic medicine. She shared some tips for mindful living during the holidays and every day.
“Meditation and journaling can help change your thought process and focus it around your health goals. It’s not do this, don’t do that. I give people information on food and recipes but it comes down to them observing what foods make them feel the best and be aware.” When you are eating, use all your senses: look at what you are eating, take in the colors, the smell, take a slow bite and chew on it – experience the different textures and tastes, and be aware that you really are one bite fuller than you think. “Every bite is an experience! It might sound silly but it really works. It’s a fun thing to try with the kids, too. Act like you’re a Martian scientist and describe what you’re experiencing.”
At holiday time, be sure not to cook (or grocery shop) hungry. Don’t skip meals just thinking you are going to eat a big dinner later. You will run out of energy and won’t enjoy yourself come evening. Use left overs as left overs and not as snacks between meals. Some good snacks are apple slices with almond butter: they are sweet but full of protein – filling but won’t make you feel heavy. Veggies or pita with hummus also work for a savory option. After dinner, put the food away instead of leaving it out all day – make’em work for it if they want seconds. Or just save some yumminess for a breakfast of champions the second day.
How about those carbonated drinks? Consider the alternative. A drink with pure cane sugar is better than diet coke with artificial sweeteners. Sarah’s favorite natural sweetener is stevia – it can be a bit bitter but it’s a great alternative to sugar. She prefers sipping on Kombucha – a lightly effervescent fermented drink of sweetened black tea – because it has some bubbly from fermentation, it’s healthy and she can give it different flavors by adding some fruit juice. Of course, water is always a good choice, as are herbal teas, or green tea. For those of us who prefer sweet tea, make some green tea, add lemon, honey or stevia, and ice it – it’s a great antioxidant and your Southern taste buds will be pretty pleased.
Sarah’s advice is to stay focused on achieving balance. “When you are in a place of balance, you can make better decisions, including in what you eat, which affects how you feel.” Yoga can help. “People think that you have to go to an hour long class to get benefits of yoga but just a 5-10 min. practice works: try a few short sequences or poses that you like the best. The Sun Salutation in the morning is great to get you moving with the breath and get your blood going. Meditation is really great and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sarah advises: “Set a cue: when you’re out shopping, take deep breaths at stop lights; when the phone rings, breathe first, then answer.”
The best way to relax and get rid of cabin fever is to go outside. At holidays, everyone tends to hover in the kitchen, so it might get a little crowded. Go for a walk or even for a short hike. One of Sarah’s favorite hikes in the winter is to House Mountain. Even if you don’t hike, driving in the mountains can be very soothing. You planned everything else, so be sure to include relaxation in those plans too and have a happy holiday time!
Get cabbage recipes here.
This article was first published in Cityview Magazine – Nov/Dec 2014.