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Ask Well: Red Cabbage vs. Blueberries?

Q. How does red cabbage compare to blueberries, nutritionally speaking? It seems to have the same dark blue and purple pigments that signal the presence of valuable micronutrients but is less expensive and available year round.

A. Red cabbage is a low-calorie food that’s a good source of vitamins. But if you’re looking for a big infusion of the potent antioxidants that blueberries are famous for, “you’re not going to get that from red cabbage,” said Amy Howell, a researcher at Rutgers University’s Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research.

The antioxidant content of blueberries far exceeds that of raw red cabbage, according to a Department of Agriculture analysis of nutrient values of fruits and vegetables.

Though red cabbage contains many anthocyanins, the antioxidant plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables a blue, red or, as in the case of red cabbage, purple color, they all have the same parent compound (called an anthocyanidin). Blueberries contain five of these parent compounds and dozens of derivatives, Dr. Howell said, and a greater variety of nutrients is likely to contribute to a wider range of medicinal benefits.

Blueberries contain many other beneficial compounds as well, Dr. Howell said. “Blueberries are a melting pot of these bioactive compounds that work together to bring about all these different health benefits,” she said. “They eclipse red cabbage.”

Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University in Kannapolis, agreed, saying, “It is the complex profile and synergizing interactions between these different disease-fighting species of anthocyanins that give blueberries their powerful punch.” Some small studies suggest that blueberries may boost memory, improve insulin sensitivity and help to inhibit some chronic diseases.

That said, red cabbage, like other cruciferous vegetables, contains glucosinolates, plant compounds that may have anticancer properties (and are responsible for the slightly bitter taste).

A serving of red cabbage contains 85 percent of the vitamin C you need in a day, 20 percent of the vitamin A, 42 percent of the vitamin K and just under 10 percent of B6, as well as potassium, manganese and other minerals.

But best to eat it raw if you can: Cooking red cabbage degrades the anthocyanins and glucosinolates. If you must cook it, steam it very lightly for a short time.

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