Sauerkraut has been a staple of the European diet for thousands of years. While most people in the U.S. probably know it as a great addition to a hot dog or a Reuben sandwich, this fermented food is so much more. There’s actually a lot of health benefits of sauerkraut.
Here are just a few of the reasons why you might want to think about getting more sauerkraut into your dietary routine:
Probiotics and the Fermentation Process
The fermentation process is key to unlocking the health benefits of sauerkraut. Turns out, fermented food is preserved in a way that changes its chemical structure, producing beneficial bacteria known as probiotics.1
Now, you might not find the idea of willingly ingesting bacteria that appetizing. After all, bacteria are supposed to be bad for you and cause diseases, right?
But, your body is filled with trillions of bacteria. And while many of them are bad for you, many more are actually good for you. These beneficial bacteria help to offset the bad ones, helping keep your digestive system working normally. That’s why probiotics are so important.2
The fermentation process has been used for thousands of years. It was key to preserving vegetables before the advent of refrigerators – even before canning. Fermented food undergoes substantial changes.3
Now, the type of fermentation that creates probiotic bacteria is known as lactic acid fermentation.
The lactic acid created during the fermentation process helps to keep harmful bacteria from forming.4
The probiotics found in fermented foods like sauerkraut can greatly lower the risk of suffering from several different types of health problems. These include digestive problems such as –
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Immune system disorders.5
A Nutritional Powerhouse
Sauerkraut is packed with nutrients – and it’s very low in calories. Just a one-cup serving contains only 27 calories. It also delivers 4 grams of fiber and a substantial amount of vitamin K (23 percent).6
Here are some of the amazing health benefits that have been associated with this humble dish made from fermented cabbage.
1. Immune System Support
The probiotics in sauerkraut play a role in helping maintain the health of the immune systems. They do so by helping prevent autoimmune reactions. These occur when the immune system mistakes healthy cells for dangerous invaders and attacks them.7
Probiotics have been shown to help the body fight infections. They can also help replenish the body’s supply of good bacteria after you take antibiotics.8
2. Cardiovascular Health
The fiber found in sauerkraut may help reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood. This, in turn, will help support the health of the cardiovascular system.9 There is evidence that probiotics can support cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure.10
There are two studies that show vitamin K can help reduce the risk of dying from heart disease. One showed that people who regularly ate foods rich in the vitamin were 57 (such as sauerkraut) percent less likely to die from the condition than people who didn’t have a significant vitamin K intake.11
3. Stronger Bones
The benefits of sauerkraut extend to keeping your bones strong, thanks to its high vitamin K content. Vitamin K not only helps support heart health, it also helps to promote improved bone health.
In one study, women who took supplements containing the vitamin saw a slower rate of bone density loss than those who did not.12 There is also evidence that vitamin K can help substantially reduce the chances of suffering a hip or spine fracture.13
4. Brain Health
Probiotics might even help your brain function better. Studies show that the bacteria in your “gut,” or gastrointestinal tract, send messages to the brain that help determine the way it perceives your environment.14
Sauerkraut and other fermented foods that are rich in probiotics help make sure there are plenty of good bacteria in the gut. Research indicates that a good supply of beneficial bacteria in the gut can help lower anxiety.15
5. Weight Loss
Because sauerkraut is low in calories and high in fiber, it can help you feel more satiated, or full, for a longer period of time. And a high-fiber diet helps lower the number of calories you take in each day.16
There is also evidence that probiotics can help lower the amount of fat that you absorb through the foods you eat.17 In one study, one group of participants was overfed on purpose while receiving probiotics. The other group also overate but received a placebo. According to the results, the group that took probiotics gained half the body fat of the participants in the placebo group.18
6. Better Digestion
Probiotics can also help replenish the body’s supply of good bacteria after you take antibiotics.19 This is important in regard to digestive health because antibiotic use can sometimes result in a condition known as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, or AAD.
AAD occurs because antibiotics not only kill harmful bacteria but good ones as well. As a result, there are not enough beneficial bacteria to balance out the harmful ones that survive the antibiotic regimen. This, in turn, can lead to stomach problems.20
But probiotics can help with other digestive issues as well. They can, for example, help reduce the symptoms associated with problems such as irritable bowel disease.21
7. Antioxidant Properties
The fermentation process, when used in making sauerkraut, produces lactic acid, which has antioxidant properties.22 Antioxidants are important because they help protect the body from the effects of oxidization.
In particular, they inhibit the development of free radicals. These are molecules that are missing an electron and scour the body looking to find it. Free radicals take electrons from cells. This, in turn, can lead to severe tissue damage.23
Recipe: Making Your Own Sauerkraut
You can buy sauerkraut at just about any grocery store, of course. But if you’re the adventurous type and want to learn more about the fermentation process you can easily make it yourself at home. Here’s how.
1. Pour about 10 cups of shredded cabbage in a plastic or ceramic bowl with a teaspoon of salt. Release the juices of the cabbage by stirring thoroughly. The bowl can’t be metallic because of the way the metal will react with the salt.
2. Add a cup of water, a teaspoon of pickling salt, 10 juniper berries, and a teaspoon each of caraway seeds and yellow mustard seeds. Mix thoroughly.
3. Put the mixture into a sterilized canning jar. Then pack the mixture using a wooden spoon.
4. Next, pour some water mixed with pickling salt (one teaspoon of salt for each cup of water) into the jar. Pour enough to fill the jar, leaving ¼ inch of space under the lid.
5. Place the jar in an area between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit for two-and-a-half to three weeks. You’ll notice the contents will start to bubble after a few days, but this is normal. It’s a sign that the fermentation process is working.
6. Once the bubbling stops add some more of the pickling salt/water mix if the level of the sauerkraut has gone below the rim of the jar.
7. You’ll probably see a film at the top. Scrape them off. The sauerkraut will then be ready to eat. Keep the jar in the refrigerator until all the sauerkraut is gone.24
The Bottom Line
As you can see, the fermented benefits of sauerkraut are incredibly far-reaching. But before you start making it a part of your dietary regimen, talk to your doctor first to make sure he or she agrees that it will be right for you.