Cabbage is a healthy food and a good addition to your diet. But if eating raw cabbage leaves you feeling crampy and bloated, you may not be alone. Often the sulphur-containing compounds in cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, can be the culprit for producing unpleasant consequences of gas and digestive upsets. Cabbage stomach pain may also be due to an underlying digestive disorder or contaminants.
Trapped Intestinal Gas
Stomach cramps are a term commonly used for pain in the abdominal region, even though the stomach is not always involved. Gas trapped in the intestines — usually in the large intestine — is often described as a cramping sensation. Most intestinal gas is caused by either swallowing air while you are eating or the normal breaking down of food in the digestive tract.
If the gas is excessive, bloating, cramping and nausea can occur. Several foods cause excess gas in the digestive tract because they are difficult to break down and digest. Cabbage is one of the common foods that cause gas and bloating so the University of Michigan Health System recommends avoiding this vegetable. Intestinal gas is usually temporary and often goes away after a bowel movement.
Cabbage Stomach Pain
Cabbage is hard to digest, primarily because it contains a complex sugar called raffinose. Raffinose is also present in beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and asparagus, according to the John Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Raffinose requires a specific enzyme — known as α-galactosidase — to break down into its essential components.
Human beings do not have the enzyme α-galactosidase in their small intestine or stomach, so cabbage gets passed down to the large intestine where the bacteria work at breaking it down. This process creates excessive gas, which can lead to bloating, pain and flatulence in some people.
One cup of raw chopped cabbage has approximately 2.2 grams of fiber, according to the USDA Food Composition Database. Fiber can be hard to digest and may contribute to the buildup of gas in the intestines and contribute to cabbage stomach ache.
Contaminated Raw Cabbage
Raw cabbage that has not been properly washed, packaged or cooked can contain harmful bacteria, which can lead to food poisoning. Food poisoning is usually the result of a common bacteria, such as salmonella, staphylococcus or E. coli, according to MedlinePlus. Food poisoning symptoms can include:
More severe food poisoning can induce symptoms such as:
- Overall weakness
Serious food poisoning requires immediate medical treatment.
Although death from food poisoning is rare, a study published in the journal Risk Analysis in 2016 detected Salmonella contaminants in all samples tested in Columbia, where river water is commonly used for irrigation. All of the samplings exceeded the recommended threshold of safety set by US EPA. Since cabbage retains more water after irrigation, it contained higher amounts of toxins than lettuce or broccoli. The author highlighted the necessity of postharvest washing, refrigerating and cooking to reduce your risk.
Underlying Digestive Diseases
Eating cabbage does not cause cramping or gas in everyone, but it is still difficult to digest. If you have an underlying digestive disorder, the difficulty in digesting cabbage could translate into symptoms of the disease flaring up. Digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, small intestine bacterial overflow and SIBO are milder diseases that often include:
- Abdominal pain
Symptoms can be made worse by consuming hard-to-digest foods. Other more serious diseases, such as Crohn's disease, might have cramping and gas as an early sign.
Cabbage Gas Prevention
Don't eat raw cabbage if it causes you severe gas and cramping or if you have an underlying digestive disease. Cooking the cabbage or making it into a soup may make it easier to digest and help prevent discomforts such as cramping. Taking an enzyme supplement to break down the raffinose can help prevent a cabbage stomach ache.
To avoid food poisoning, always thoroughly wash raw cabbage or cook it well. If you're often gassy after eating cabbage, opt for vegetables that do not cause gas instead, such as lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini and okra.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library: "Gas in the Digestive Tract"
- MedlinePlus: "Food Poisoning"
- University of Michigan Health System: "Helpful Hints for Controlling Gas (Flatus): Gas Producing Foods"
- Risk Analysis: "Risk of Illness with Salmonella due to Consumption of Raw Unwashed Vegetables Irrigated with Water from the Bogotá River"
- USDA Food Composition Database: "Cabbage, Raw"
- Food Chemistry: "The Contribution of Alliaceous and Cruciferous Vegetables to Dietary Sulphur Intake"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Tips on Controlling Gas"