Are you a fan of the tangy flavor of sour foods? I have good news for you. Let me introduce a crunchy and delightfully sour fermented dish called “sauerkraut”. Besides being an incredibly tasty dish, fermented sauerkraut contains a lot of healthy probiotics.
What is sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is made from fresh cabbage, fermented in salt brine for several months. It is one of the best-known national dishes in Germany where its name comes from. But in fact, it is an invention of the Chinese, who first fermented cabbage in rice wine 2,000 years ago.
Back then, fermentation was used to keep food from spoiling. Now we know that fermentation adds beneficial probiotics that make sauerkraut a healthier choice than fresh cabbage.
What probiotics are in fermented sauerkraut?
“For starters, probiotics refer to the good bacteria found in your gut. Coming to your gut, probiotics are the good guys who beat the bad guys (harmful microbes) and influence your overall health”.
Depending on the method and time of fermentation, each batch of sauerkraut can contain different strains of probiotics in different proportions.
The main types of probiotics found in sauerkraut are Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus brevis, and Lactobacillus plantarum.
Health benefits of sauerkraut probiotics
- Provides beneficial nutrients
Sauerkraut is very nutritious. One cup of sauerkraut (142g) provides 72 calories, 1.4g of protein, and 18g of carbohydrates. Sauerkraut also has a high fiber content and is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, iron, sodium, and magnesium.
- Improve gut health
By increasing beneficial bacteria, sauerkraut probiotics maintain the bacteria balance in your gut and promote a healthy digestive system. Studies show that probiotics significantly reduce gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea caused by dysbiosis( imbalance in gut flora). They can also offset gut damage caused by poor diet, stress, infection, and antibiotic use.
- Prevent leaky gut
When your gut lining becomes inflamed, it “leaks” toxins, bacteria, and inflammatory cells into the bloodstream. This activates the immune system to fight against those foreign materials resulting in inflammation throughout the body.
Probiotic bacteria prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and maintain a good balance of gut flora which helps keep your gut lining healthy. Moreover, they produce beneficial substances called short-chain fatty acids which provide energy to gut lining cells. A stronger gut lining prevents harmful substances from leaking into your body.
- Protect the brain
Your brain and your gut are shockingly close to each other. Bacteria in your gut can send messages to your brain via neurotransmitters (messengers for nerve cells), and influence the way it functions. Research has found that probiotic bacteria can produce neuroactive substances such as gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin, which act on the brain-gut axis and reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.
Moreover, sauerkraut is a very good source of magnesium, a mood-regulating mineral that helps to maintain brain health.
- Boost the immune system
The probiotics found in sauerkraut have a strong influence on your immune system. Consuming sauerkraut probiotics regularly may reduce your risk of developing infections, such as the common cold and urinary tract infections.
- Promote weight loss
Sauerkraut is low in calories and high in fiber. The high fiber content in sauerkraut slows down food digestion and makes you full for longer. This benefit not only allows you to lower your daily calorie intake but also prevents you from snacking on junk foods.
Moreover, probiotics in sauerkraut aid weight loss by balancing gut bacteria and increasing the release of appetite-suppressing hormones like GLP-1 and peptide YY from the gut.
- Reduce the risk of cancer
Sauerkraut is known to have a high content of glucosinolates, ascorbate, and ascorbic acid. Researchers found that these beneficial plant compounds could prevent DNA damage, cell mutations, and excessive cell growth that typically leads to cancer. However, more studies are needed to make precise conclusions.
How much sauerkraut should I eat a day for probiotics?
It is recommended to consume a tablespoon or 10 grams of sauerkraut per day. You can gradually increase it up to 60 grams per day if you can tolerate it well.
Are there any side effects to consuming sauerkraut?
Although sauerkraut is generally healthy, there are some risks to consider in certain conditions.
High histamine content in sauerkraut can result in diarrhea and allergy-like symptoms such as itchy skin and runny nose in some people.
High sodium content
If you’re at risk of high blood pressure or are on a low-sodium diet, salty sauerkraut may not be your best choice.
High tyramine content
If you are taking MAOI, you better avoid sauerkraut since it has high levels of tyramine. MAOI is a drug used to treat anxiety and depression. People taking MAOI need to eat a low-tyramine diet. Otherwise, tyramine levels can reach dangerous peaks and cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure.
Vital things to look for when shopping for sauerkraut
Look for unpasteurized products
Pasteurization kills the beneficial bacteria. So read the label carefully to make sure that there are live, active probiotics in the sauerkraut you buy.
Look for products free of sugar and other preservatives
A healthy sauerkraut contains only cabbage and salt. Sugar is an imposter to gut health. And though preservatives enhance the taste and preserve the shelf-life of sauerkraut, they, unfortunately, inhibit the fermentation process.
Look for products in the refrigerated section
The shelf-stable sauerkraut you find in a giant jar or a can in the store has likely killed off all the healthy bacteria. It is because the majority of sauerkraut available on the shelves undergoes pasteurization. Therefore, head straight to the refrigerated section to buy the right stuff.
Make your own sauerkraut
Making sauerkraut at home is a fun and rewarding experience. All you need is cabbage and salt.
- Slice the cabbage into thin shreds.
- Add salt and massage it into the cabbage until it begins to release its moisture.
- Pack the mixture into a glass jar with a resealable lid, and let the cabbage submerge entirely in liquid.
- Cover the jar with a breathable cloth or lid and leave it in a cool, dark place to ferment for 1-4 weeks. After that, you can enjoy a delicious fermented dish.
What are the best ways to eat sauerkraut?
You don’t need to create an elaborate recipe with a large amount of sauerkraut. Just a spoonful of sauerkraut can provide enough beneficial bacteria to improve your digestion. Moreover, consistency is key. So keep it simple. Here are some examples.
- Add sauerkraut to sandwiches
- Sprinkle it on your salad
- Eat it as a simple side dish
- Add it as a topping for scrambled eggs or avocado toast.
The bottom line
In addition to being a nutrient-packed food, sauerkraut is bursting with probiotic bacteria that are good for your gut. However, if you have dietary restrictions or take MAOIs, consult your doctor before adding sauerkraut to your plate. Plus, for the best probiotic benefits, opt for “live” sauerkraut.