The German word “sauerkraut” translates into “sour cabbage”, and it’s an apt but incomplete description of this traditional food. Though you may think of sauerkraut as nothing but a sour-tasting condiment for hot dogs and sausage, it has remarkable anti-oxidant and probiotic benefits that make it one of the healthiest foods you can add to your diet.
What Is Sauerkraut?
At its most basic, sauerkraut is nothing but cabbage that has been chopped up and fermented. It has been eaten in Europe for centuries, and has been eaten even longer than that in China. In fact, some historians believe that the recipe for fermenting vegetables was brought to Europe by Genghis Khan! No matter its origin, because of its long shelf life sauerkraut was a popular food for journeys. Sailors brought it with them on their travels and ate it to fend off the effects of a condition called scurvy, and today it is recognized as a rich source of vitamins, fiber, antioxidants and enzymes that help to break down your food and keep your gut flora healthy.
Though the cabbage that sauerkraut is made from is a highly nutritious food on its own, it is the process of fermentation that gives sauerkraut its extraordinary health impact. Fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates. It is what gives us alcoholic beverages, and when it is applied to food it gives them probiotic benefits that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and encourage the growth of good bacteria that have a profound impact on our wellbeing, protecting us against toxins and fighting inflammation. Other probiotic foods include kefir and yogurt, but sauerkraut is one of the foods that has the highest levels of probiotic bacteria – in fact, a recent study found that two ounces of sauerkraut has more probiotics than an entire bottle of commercially sold probiotic capsules.
1. Sauerkraut is A Low-Calorie, High Fiber Food that is Loaded with Vitamins, Minerals and Anti-Oxidants
In addition to its probiotic benefits, sauerkraut is a nutrient-dense food that provides some very important anti-oxidant vitamins and minerals. It is also an excellent source of fiber. You don’t need to add much sauerkraut to your daily diet to get a lot of important benefits. Just a half cup of sauerkraut provides:
Calories – 13
Fiber – 4 grams
Protein – 1 gram
Vitamin C – 10 mg (17% of RDV)
Vitamin K – 9 mcg (11% of RDV)
Iron – 1 mg (6% of RDV)
Manganese – 1 mg (6% of RDV)
Vitamin B6 – 1 mg (5% of RDV)
Folate – 17 mg (5% of RDV)
Sauerkraut also contains calcium, potassium and phosphorus in smaller amounts, so it is a food that is well worth adding to your diet. Just limit your daily intake, as the process of making it involves a good deal of salt, and that means that the same half cup serving that provides so many benefits gives you one fifth of the sodium you’re supposed to take in within a single day.
2. Sauerkraut if Good for Your Belly Health and Aids Digestion
Sauerkraut would be good for your belly health based on its high fiber content alone, but the fermentation process leads to the presence of microorganisms that inhabit your intestinal lining and help to digest food. Specifically, it produces a bacteria called “lactobacillus plantarum” that helps to kill off and remove toxins and bacteria while easing inflammation. If you suffer from the symptoms of food sensitivities or digestive disorders, or struggle with constipation or diarrhea, the good bacteria found in probiotic foods help to counter their effects while at the same time the enzymes in sauerkraut help you to digest your food and absorb its nutrients more efficiently.
Bottom Line: Sauerkraut’s high fiber content helps to move the food you eat through your system while its probiotics help to ease inflammation and boost the levels of good bacteria in your gut.
3. Sauerkraut Strengthens Your Body’s Immunity
Our immune systems are what protects us from disease, as well as from cellular damage that can leave us vulnerable to weakening and degeneration of important organs and structures within our bodies. Much of the activity of our immune system beings in our digestive tract, as many of the conditions that can cause us harm originate there with microbial infections. Too much bad bacteria can create numerous unhealthy conditions and uncomfortable symptoms, including bloating, diarrhea, headaches, fatigue and inflammation. The probiotics in sauerkraut help to guard against the infections, viruses and bacteria that cause these conditions, killing them off and removing what is harmful.
Bottom Line: Eating sauerkraut provides valuable probiotics that help to rebalance the levels of good bacteria in your digestive system. They can protect against illnesses ranging from cancer to allergies, and provide immediate relief from intestinal problems.
4. Sauerkraut Fights Inflammation
Inflammation is the enemy when it comes to our health. It is what is behind much of the degenerative process that can lead to everything from heart disease and cancer to allergies, autoimmune diseases like diabetes, and joint pain. Sauerkraut is made from cabbage, which contains compounds and vitamins including Vitamin A and Vitamin C that control inflammation, yet the fermentation process increases their strength. alleviating symptoms while protecting against disease.
Bottom Line: The good bacteria found in sauerkraut helps to fight inflammation that leads to degenerative diseases, autoimmune conditions, allergies and pain.
5. Sauerkraut may Help to Protect Our Memories and Our Brain Cells and Improve Our Mood
There is a direct relationship between our digestive system and the way that our brains function. This is because of the vagus nerve, which provides a direct line of communication between the nervous system and your intestines. The health of the bacteria in your gut plays an important role in the messages that get sent, and can impact our ability to remember and learn, as well as our moods. Sauerkraut’s probiotics release enzymes that interact with other chemicals in our body to impact the production of hormones, including serotonin and dopamine. Eating sauerkraut can help you deal with stress more effectively. One study showed that the microbes created during the fermentation process while making sauerkraut have both an indirect and direct impact on brain health.
Bottom Line: Eating sauerkraut can have a positive impact on your mood and mental well being. It can help to ease the symptoms of depression and improve your ability to learn and remember.
6. Sauerkraut Can Help to Guard Against Cancer Cells
Sauerkraut begins as cabbage, a cruciferous vegetable that is known to have compounds that prevent the formation of cancerous cells. The combination of phytochemicals found in cabbage help to fight against oxidative stress in the body that has been known to lead to mutations at the genetic level. Additionally sauerkraut contains high levels of ascorbic acid, glucosinolates and ascorbigen which have been shown to reduce the amount of damage already present in patients diagnosed with cancer, and to slow the rate of further mutations. This is particularly true of cabbage that was produced using lower salt concentrations.
Bottom Line: The anti-inflammatory effects realized by eating cabbage are increased when it is fermented. Sauerkraut can help guard against cellular damage that leads to the formation of tumors.
Tips for Buying Sauerkraut, or Making It Yourself
When buying sauerkraut, it is important to remember that it is the good bacteria that is generated during the fermentation process that provides its health benefits. That means that you want to make sure that you are buying sauerkraut that has been properly fermented and refrigerated rather than having been treated with heat. If sauerkraut has been pasteurized or packed into cans, all of its beneficial bacteria will be killed. Live, refrigerated sauerkraut generally has a better flavor than canned sauerkraut too and may have lower levels of sodium. You can also lower the sodium content of sauerkraut by rinsing and soaking it in cold water before eating it.
You can make your own sauerkraut: all you really need is fresh cabbage, salt, and a little bit of time. Just chop up the cabbage, massage it with a bit of salt, then place it in a jar for a few weeks to ferment. You can make your sauerkraut more flavorful by adding other spices such as ginger, garlic, turmeric or caraway seeds.