Are Cabbage Rolls Healthy? (Everything You Need To Know)


Stuffed cabbage rolls are a comfort food staple of cuisines across the globe. The ingredients can vary from culture to culture and the deliciousness of cabbage rolls is universal. This may make you wondering, are cabbage rolls healthy?

Cabbage rolls are unhealthy because they are traditionally stuffed with high-fat meats and prepared with lard and oils. The ingredients make them a calorie-dense food high in unhealthy saturated fats.

In this article, I will compare the nutritional information of various types of cabbage rolls. Cabbage rolls don’t have to be unhealthy. I’ll provide some tips you can use to make a cabbage roll healthier.

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Are Cabbage Rolls Healthy?

While cabbage on its own is considered a powerhouse vegetable, what the cabbage is stuffed with and how it is prepared can change the nutritional value of a cabbage roll considerably 1.

Let’s compare some cabbage roll variations based on calories, fat, carbohydrates and protein 2.

Traditional Slavic Cabbage Rolls With Beef or Pork

The most popular variation of cabbage rolls in the United States contains ground meat like pork or beef. Rice is added and wrapped in steamed cabbage and smothered in a tomato-based sauce.

This variation is based on recipes brought over from immigrants from many European countries, according to the Chicago Tribune 3. It’s popular in many areas where there is a large population of the descendants of these immigrants.

The calories in traditional cabbage rolls come from meat, cooking oils and lard, added to the stuffing and sauce for extra flavor. 

Most often, cabbage rolls are covered in sauce and baked in an oven-safe dish. Many traditional recipes call for the rolls to be pan-fried in cooking oil before going into the oven, which can add to the fat content.

Nutritional Values for Beef Versus Pork Cabbage Rolls

Type of Cabbage Roll 2 Rolls
Stuffed With Beef & Rice
2 Rolls
Stuffed With Pork & Rice
Calories 250 356
Fat 12.6 grams (4.8 Saturated) 15.8 grams (5 grams Saturated)
Carbohydrates 18.2 grams 20.0 grams
Protein 16.8 grams 35.3 grams

As we can see here, beef-stuffed cabbage rolls are the healthier of the two based on calories, fat, and carbohydrate content, although the pork-stuffed rolls do have more protein. Still, just two beef cabbage rolls contain 24% of the RDI for saturated fat. 

Ground Turkey Cabbage Rolls

To reduce fat and calories while maintaining a similar protein content, try stuffing the cabbage with leaner meat, like ground turkey 4. Take a look at the table below for the differences in calories, fat, carbs and protein using ground turkey.

Nutritional Values for Ground Turkey Cabbage Rolls

Type of Cabbage Roll 2 Rolls
Stuffed With Ground Turkey
Calories 169
Fat 5.8 grams (1.7 grams Saturated)
Carbohydrates 14.1 grams
Protein 16.9 grams

Meatless Cabbage Rolls

Another alternative is to take out the meat altogether 5. Vegetarian eaters can use eggs, vegetables and brown rice. Vegan eaters can use a beef alternative, like Beyond Meat Ground Beef (available on Amazon.com).

Meatless cabbage rolls will inevitably contain more rice, so the carbohydrate amounts will be higher. The amount of protein will differ whether using eggs or a meat alternative. 

Nutritional Values for Meatless Cabbage Rolls

Type of Cabbage Roll 2 Rolls
Vegetarian Stuffed
2 Rolls
Stuffed With Vegan Beyond Beef
Calories 233 278
Fat 9.1 grams (1.7 grams Saturated) 12.5 grams (Saturated Unavailable)
Carbohydrates 30.4 grams 23.9 grams
Protein 10.4 grams 17.3 grams

Low-Carb or “Keto” Cabbage Rolls

For many people, rice is considered a healthy, low-calorie option for carbohydrates. For those attempting to limit carbs, they may want to eliminate this ingredient. This may result in a meat-heavy stuffing, but it would render the dish allowable on a ketogenic or paleo diets. 

A ketogenic diet is a low-fat, high-carb diet utilized for weight loss and to improve insulin resistance 6. One of the biggest reasons for failing a Keto diet is not having a plan. Check out this simple to follow plan for only 28 days, The 28-Day Keto Challenge and you can Succeed!

A paleo diet includes foods obtained through hunting and gathering, like lean meats, vegetables and fruits. Grains are generally excluded from a paleo diet 7.

Cauliflower rice may be used as an alternative to white or brown rice. Doing so would reduce carbohydrates, increase fiber and reduce the amount of fat and calories from meat. 

Nutritional Values for Riceless Cabbage Rolls

Type of Cabbage Roll 2 Rolls
Stuffed With Beef/No Rice
2 Rolls
Stuffed With Beef/Cauliflower Rice
Calories 140 321
Fat 4 grams (2 grams Saturated) 18 Grams
Carbohydrates 13 grams 15 grams
Fat 12 grams 25 grams

Tips for Preparing a Healthier Cabbage Roll

Use these tips to reduce calories, fat and carbohydrates while maintaining the many health benefits of cabbage.

  1. Select a leaner meat or a meat alternative. Turkey, lean beef, ground chicken or ground bison are good options for meat-eaters 8. 
  2. Add vegetables to the stuffing. This reduces calories, fat and carbs from meat and rice while at the same time adding fiber helping you feel full. 
  3. Blanch or boil vegetables instead of frying them. In addition to reducing calories from the oil, lightly cooked veggies maintain more nutrients.
  4. Don’t fry individual rolls before baking them. This reduces saturated fats from cooking oils. 
  5. Skip the lard. While most modern recipes don’t call for extra cooking fat, traditional recipes do. 
  6. Choose a grain that fits your diet. Try substituting quinoa or cauliflower rice if you are trying to reduce carbs. 
  7. Pass on the sour cream. Traditional Slavic cabbage rolls are often served with sour cream, which is high in calories and fat. 

Traditional cabbage rolls use pork or regular beef. Both of them are higher in calories and contain saturated fats. My favorite substitute is organic, lean ground beef or ground chicken. 

Cardiologists and physicians recommend lowering saturated fats to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, lose weight and avoid high blood pressure. Scientific studies show a connection between saturated fat, high cholesterol and heart disease 9.

By avoiding frying also reduces saturated fats. Typical frying oils results in large amounts of oxidized fatty acids and harmful compounds 10.

If you’d like to fry before baking, consider using a healthier oil like avocado oil which can tolerate higher cooking temperatures. Refined avocado oil has a smoke point of 520 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you don’t want to pass on the sour cream, consider these alternatives:

  • Low-fat cottage Cheese
  • Organic greek yogurt
  • Coconut milk
  • Soy based sour cream

Cabbage rolls can be made gluten free. There’s plenty of recipes available online 11.

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Wrapping Up The Cabbage Rolls

While traditional cabbage rolls can be very high in calories and saturated fats, there are many ways to make cabbage rolls a healthier meal 12. Cabbage rolls can be prepared to fit many different diets including low-calorie, low-fat, Keto, Paleo, vegetarian and vegan diets. 

With a few easy tweaks, you can enjoy the incredible benefits of cabbage and the comforting flavors of your grandmother’s cabbage rolls without worrying about your health.

Read Next – More Anti-Aging Food Articles

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Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. ScienceDirect: Effect of polyphenols extracts from Brassicavegetables on erythrocyte membranes (in vitrostudy) []
  2. USDA: Cabbage, raw[]
  3. Chicago Tribune: Classic cabbage rolls bring comfort to the table[]
  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Turkey Stuffed Cabbage[]
  5. National heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Heart Healthy Recipes[]
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The ketogenic diet: one decade later[]
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Paleolithic Diet[]
  8. Cleveland Clinic: Turkey Stuffed Cabbage[]
  9. ScienceDirect: The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease[]
  10. Springer Link: Lipid per oxidation in culinary oils subjected to thermal stress[]
  11. Celiac.com: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls[]
  12. South Dakota Department Of Health: Swedish Cabbage Rolls[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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