Restoring Digestive Health with Cabbage

The sun has returned to Colorado! I spent this morning in my garden with the girls, turning over the sun-warmed dirt and finding a few of last year’s carrots and onions lingering in the soil; perfect for us to share in our lunch.

As we head towards warmer weather, we will soon be getting to enjoy the first delicious foods of spring: greens, asparagus, and peas are all just around the corner. While these foods are delicious and a welcome nutritional boost after the storage foods of winter, it can be a big transition for our digestive tract to bring in all these fresh new foods. Now is the time to tune up our digestion to make sure we are ready to break down and properly absorb the fresh foods of spring.

So how can we utilize the foods of winter to help support our digestion? One of the best options out there is the humble cabbage. Cabbage has long been used as a folk remedy for ulcers as well as generally restoring the lining of the stomach and intestines. A traditional naturopathic remedy for stomach flu and ulcers is to chop up cabbage, cover it with water in the blender, blend it and let it sit for a couple of days before drinking. This may not sound like the yummiest of concoctions, but it works well enough to look into why it is effective.

The first reason cabbage is so useful for healing the digestion is its high glutamine content. Glutamine is an amino acid; our body makes glutamine but it becomes an essential amino acid during times of illness or high stress. While most of our body, such as our brain and muscles, use glucose, a sugar, the lining of our digestive tract prefers glutamine as an energy source. So when you eat cabbage, you are giving your stomach and intestines the food it prefers to replace and heal itself. Studies utilizing extracts of cabbage have found them to be protective against and healing to ulcers; it is hypothesized that glutamine is at least part of the reason for this. Glutamine content tends to be higher in raw cabbage, though, so the cabbage juice described above would be preferable to cooked cabbage.

The other medicinal element to our blended cabbage has to do with letting it sit for a couple days before eating. Fermented cabbage tends to develop strains of acidophilus and other bacteria that have been shown to function as probiotics; this means they promote the healthy growth of all the bacteria necessary for healthy functioning of the large intestine. Studies on kimchi, a traditional fermented cabbage product from Asia, have been shown not only to function as a probiotic, but also to inhibit the growth of h. pylori, the bacteria that has been associated with stomach ulcers.

So, as the air begins to warm and we look forward to the fresh new foods to come, utilize the end of our storage veggies to get our digestion ready for the excitement of spring! You don’t necessarily need to drink homemade fermented cabbage juice, but other traditional fermented cabbage dishes such as natural sauerkraut and kimchi could be quite useful. Even shredding cabbage into a slaw will provide a good source of glutamine to heal the lining of your digestion. Enjoy!