A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, cabbage deserves a place of your plate. Unfortunately, the humble cabbage's stinky reputation overshadows its true nature as a nutritional powerhouse. Whether red, green or the savoy variety, cabbage can add crunch and a unique flavor to dishes, all while keeping your blood sugar levels low and steady. Additionally, cabbage is a healthy source of fiber, vitamins C and A, and phytonutrients -- polyphenols and glucosinolate -- believed to be protective against cancer.

The Glycemic Index: An Overview

The glycemic index is a ranking system indicating how quickly a food's carbohydrate content is broken down and absorbed into the body. A food's GI will vary based on fiber content, level of processing and type of carbohydrate. For example, a slice of white bread, which is refined and low in fiber, has a higher GI than a slice of wheat bread that is less refined and higher in fiber. Additionally, a complex carbohydrate like lentils have a lower GI compared to a simple carbohydrate such as a banana. Each food's GI is measured as a number that can then be classified as high, medium or low. A high GI is 70 or more, a medium GI is between 56 and 69 and a low GI is 55 or less. Foods with a high GI enter the body more rapidly, resulting in higher blood sugar values.

Glycemic Index and Health

Eating foods with low GI can help keep your blood sugar levels low, minimizing damage to your blood vessels. In normal metabolism, your body is able to keep your blood sugar within a narrow range no matter what or how much you eat. However, with pre-diabetes or diabetes, your body is no longer able to manage that blood sugar stability and blood sugar levels can get dangerously high. Chronically high blood sugar levels can result in damage to blood vessel walls and lead to long-term complications like heart disease and kidney failure. In a meta-analysis published by " Diabetes Care" in 2003, lead researcher Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller and colleagues found that a low GI diet helped lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes 1. Adding low GI foods to your diet, like cabbage, can be a first step towards improving your health.

Glycemic Index of Cabbage

Cabbage has a very low GI, ranging from zero to 10. The University of Sydney maintains an extensive GI database and does not include cabbage in its list as it has negligible carbohydrates 2. As explained by the university, foods with few carbohydrates like meat, some vegetables and alcohol do not exert a measurable difference in blood sugar levels, therefore, are considered a no-GI or low-GI food. Since cabbage is a low-calorie, high-fiber food, 1 cup of raw cabbage provides a mere 5 grams of carbohydrate and 2 grams of fiber. Adding cabbage to your diet will help lower the overall GI of your meal.

Adding Cabbage to Your Diet

Cabbage is a sturdy vegetable enjoyed as a staple in many countries and is available year-round in most areas. To add this low-GI food to your diet, consider adding both raw and cooked versions to your meals. Raw cabbage is crunchy and can be slightly bitter; try adding finely sliced red cabbage to a garden salad for a dash of color. If you prefer your cabbage cooked, toss the thinly sliced vegetable into a stir fry or soup and cook until softened. To avoid the sulfurous smell associated with cooked cabbage, cook until just tender. Overcooking cabbage is what results in the unpleasant smell many associate with the vegetable.