Cabbage soup is a savory vegetable stew often made with carrots, celery, onion, tomatoes, spices and of course, cabbage. It can be prepared a variety of ways. But as delicious as it can be, cabbage can cause diarrhea.
Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, along with broccoli, cauliflower, kale and bok choy, to name a few. Per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, cruciferous vegetables are packed with nutrients that help support overall wellbeing, including:
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- Vitamin K
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Despite these nutritional benefits, the veggie can still cause digestive distress for some — indeed, cabbage and cabbage soup do make you poop in certain situations. Here's why cabbage can cause diarrhea:
1. It Contains Lots of Fiber
Fiber is an essential nutrient that helps normalize your bowel movements and maintains bowel health, per the Mayo Clinic. High-fiber foods are good for your wellbeing, but when you add too much fiber too quickly, you can experience intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping.
Cabbage is high in fiber, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As a result, it can promote movement within your intestinal tract. But too much cabbage (or other fibrous foods) can aggravate conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), per the University of Michigan Health.
This can trigger diarrhea, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. In other words, it's possible that cabbage or cabbage soup does give you diarrhea.
Fix it: Ease your way into eating more fiber, which gives your digestive system time to adjust to the change, per the Mayo Clinic. And drink plenty of water, which helps fiber do its job while minimizing unpleasant side effects like cabbage-induced diarrhea.
Per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim to eat between 22 and 34 grams of fiber a day, depending on their calorie needs.
Good Sources of Fiber
High-fiber foods to slowly incorporate into your diet include:
- Legumes like lentils, peas and beans
- Whole grains like spelt, buckwheat and oatmeal
2. It's High in Fructans
There's also a link between cabbage and diarrhea due to the high amount of fructans in the veggie. Fructans are naturally occurring carbohydrates that are also found in other foods like wheat, onions and broccoli, per Tufts Medical Center.
Some people have a fructan intolerance, which means they have trouble digesting the carbohydrate, per the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Eating high-fructan foods like cabbage can cause symptoms like:
So if you notice that cabbage soup does make you have diarrhea, a fructan intolerance may be to blame.
Fix it: Try limiting high-fructan foods if you find you're sensitive to them, like if cabbage soup gives you diarrhea.
You can also talk to your doctor about following a low-FODMAP diet, per the Wexner Medical Center. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are sugars that can be difficult to digest (fructans are a type of oligosaccharides), according to John Hopkins Medicine.
On the low-FODMAP diet, you eliminate high-FODMAP foods, then slowly reintroduce them to see which ones cause symptoms. This helps you identify which foods to limit or avoid.
Fructan intolerance is often confused for gluten intolerance, per the Wexner Medical Center. Talk to your doctor to help determine which ingredient is the source of your digestive symptoms.
3. It Can Transmit Traveler's Diarrhea
Bacteria and other substances in contaminated food and water can cause traveler's diarrhea, per Mount Sinai. Traveler's diarrhea causes loose, watery stools and happens when you visit places where the water isn't clean or the food isn't handled safely.
And this disease-causing bacteria can live on produce — including cabbage leaves, which, if left unwashed or uncooked, can make you sick.
Fix it: If you're visiting an area with potentially unclean water, prevent traveler's diarrhea by only eating well-cooked foods and avoiding raw ingredients altogether (especially hard-to-wash leafy greens like cabbage), according to Mount Sinai.
Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly cleaning eating utensils and dishes may also help prevent traveler's diarrhea, per Mount Sinai.
4. It Can Lead to Food Poisoning
Whether you are traveling or not, you may encounter the same group of virus, bacteria or parasite-causing pathogens on your food — which can lead to you getting sick.
And eating raw contaminated leafy greens could put you at risk for food poisoning. Per the CDC, symptoms can include:
- Upset stomach
- Stomach cramps
Fix it: Safely handling and preparing your cabbage and other leafy greens can help lower your risk for food poisoning. Keep in mind that even proper washing can't remove all the germs from your vegetables, so your safest bet is to cook produce to kill any potentially disease-causing organisms.
But if you plan to eat raw leafy greens, prepare them by doing the following, per the CDC:
- Wash your hands (with soap) for at least 20 seconds before and after preparation.
- Throw away the outer leaves of cabbage and lettuce and rinse the remaining leaves under running water by gently rubbing them.
- Use a clean cloth or paper towel to dry your greens.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "The Beginner's Guide to Cruciferous Vegetables"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet"
- UMHS: "Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Controlling Symptoms With Diet"
- Tufts Medical Center: "Fructan Intolerance"
- OSU Wexner Medical Center: "Should you avoid eating fructans?"
- John Hopkins Medicine: "FODMAP Diet: What You Need to Know"
- Mount Sinai: "Traveler’s diarrhea diet"
- CDC: "Lettuce, Other Leafy Greens, and Food Safety"
- CDC: "Food Poisoning Symptoms"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.