Sauerkraut is a form of fermented cabbage and has been popular throughout Central Europe for hundreds of years. Sauerkraut is a combination of one the healthiest foods there is (cabbage) and one of the most beneficial and time-honored food preparation techniques ever used (fermentation).
Sauerkraut is high in vitamin C and digestive enzymes. It’s also a good source of natural lactic acid bacteria, such as lactobacillus. Sauerkraut juice has been studied to benefit digestive issues like leaky gut, diarrhea and constipation, and is also effective at helping you kick a cold fast.
Sauerkraut is very low-calorie, but as you can see it’s an anti-inflammatory food and is packed with benefits. Besides having probiotics to offer, sauerkraut is a good source of antioxidants and dietary fiber, thanks to its main ingredient: cabbage. Even eating a small amount daily — just several tablespoons — provides a great source of nutrients, including vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, potassium and phosphorus — and, of course, probiotics. As an added bonus, the proliferation of microorganisms in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases absorption of their various nutrients.
The Institute for Integrative Medicine at the University of Witten in Germany says that sauerkraut is one of the most common and oldest forms of preserving cabbage and can be traced back as an important food source to the fourth century B.C. (1)
What Are the Effects of Sauerkraut’s Probiotics?
First and foremost, sauerkraut’s live and active probiotics have beneficial effects on the health of your digestive tract — and therefore the rest of your body too. That’s because a very large portion of your immune system actually lives within your gut and is run by bacterial organisms, what you can think of as “your gut’s bugs” that live within your intestinal flora. Microbial imbalances have been associated with enhanced risks of various diseases, but luckily obtaining beneficial microorganisms from probiotic foods has repeatedly demonstrated health benefits in clinical settings. (3)
After eating foods like sauerkraut that provide probiotics, these gut bugs take up residence on the lining and folds of your intestinal walls, where they communicate with your brain via the vagus nerve. They also act like your first line of defense against various harmful bacteria or toxins that enter your body. Some beneficial probiotic bacteria found in sauerkraut and other cultured veggies are more or less permanent residents because they form long-lasting colonies. Others come and go more quickly but still have important anti-inflammatory effects.
As described in a 2009 report published in The Indian Journal of Medical Microbiology, “the use of antibiotics, immunosuppressive therapy and irradiation, amongst other means of treatment, may cause alterations in the gut composition and have an effect on the GIT flora. Therefore, the introduction of beneficial bacterial species to the GI tract may be a very attractive option to re-establish the microbial equilibrium and prevent disease.” (4)
A 2006 report published in The Journal of Applied Microbiology states that probiotic benefits from cultured foods include: (5)
- Reduced overall inflammation (both in and out of the GI tract)
- Improvement of digestive disorders like leaky gut syndrome, ulcerative colitis, IBS and pouchitis
- Improved immunity
- Better nutrient absorption
- Prevention and treatment of diarrhea
- Prevention and symptom reduction of food allergies, including lactose intolerance, milk protein allergy and others
- Improvement of high blood pressure
- Reduced risk of cancer
- Alleviation of arthritis inflammation (rheumatoid arthritis and chronic juvenile arthritis)
- Reduction of eczema symptoms
- Lowered cholesterol
- Protection against H. pylori infection
- Improved vaginal health and prevention of bacterial infections like UTIs and bacterial vaginosis
- Natural remedy for the liver/brain disease hepatic encephalopathy
This is due to probiotics’ direct and indirect influences on various organs and systems, especially the rate at which your body produces inflammation and controls hormone production. The “good bacteria” and other organisms living within your gut might as well be considered an organ in their own right, because they’re critically important to the health of your brain, hormones, heart, lungs, liver and digestive organs (and, after all, contain the majority of your immune system).
Nutrition Facts of Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is very low-calorie, but it is an anti-inflammatory food and is packed with benefits. Besides having probiotics, sauerkraut is a good source of antioxidants and dietary fiber, thanks to its main ingredient: cabbage. Even eating a small amount daily — just several tablespoons — provides a great source of nutrients, including vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, potassium and phosphorus — and, of course, probiotics. As an added bonus, the rapid growth of microorganisms in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases absorption of their various nutrients. (5)
A half-cup serving of sauerkraut (about 75 grams) has about: (6)
- 14 calories
- 0 grams fat
- 4 grams fiber
- 3 grams carbohydrates
- 1 grams sugar
- 1 gram protein
- 496 milligrams sodium
- 11 milligrams vitamin C (17 percent DV)
- 10 micrograms vitamin K (8 percent DV)
- 1 milligram iron (6 percent DV)
- 1 milligram manganese (6 percent DV)
- .1 milligram vitamin B6 (6 percent DV)
- 17 micrograms folate (5 percent DV)
5 Benefits of Sauerkraut
- Provides probiotics that help improve digestion
- Improves immune function
- Reduces: inflammation and allergies
- Support for cognitive health and mood
- Provides cancer-fighting antioxidants
- Provides Probiotics that Help Improve Digestion
Microorganisms present in sauerkraut, including those of the lactobacillus bacteria genus, essentially “feed” the good bacteria in your gut, which improves digestive health. Research shows that within sauerkraut, Lactobacillus plantarum is the predominant LAB bacteria strain that’s born during the fermentation phase. (7)
We have a lot to learn about the exact types of beneficial bacteria that grow within cultured foods, but for the first time, a 2003 report published in The Journal of Applied Environmental Microbiology demonstrated the complex ecology present in sauerkraut fermentations. (8)
As they can help lower the presence of toxins, inflammation and bad bacteria living within your digestive tract, probiotics bacteria are beneficial for reducing symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, bloating, food sensitives and digestive disorders. (5)
We often hear that probiotic yogurt is one of the best foods to eat for better digestion and preventing illnesses, but non-dairy cultured foods like sauerkraut have the same effects.
Sauerkraut and other fermented foods help you better absorb nutrients from the food you’re eating, regularly go to the bathroom and even help manage your appetite, thanks to their effects on hormones.
2. Improves Immune Function
Perhaps most people don’t realise it, but the gut, the organ that contains the majority of your immune system, and sauerkraut’s probiotics play a major role in regulating gut health. Beneficial bacteria can educate, activate and support the immune system. (9)
Scientific investigations done recently have supported the important role of probiotics as a part of a healthy diet that can provide a safe, cost-effective and natural approach that adds a barrier against many types of microbial infections. Research has shown that probiotics can be effective at fighting diarrhea, antibiotic resistance, Clostridium difficile colitis, various infections, inflammatory bowel diseases, constipation and even cancer. Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains have been proven beneficial on intestinal immunity and can increase the number of IgA and other immunoglobulins in the intestinal mucosa. (5)
3. Reduces: Inflammation and Allergies
One of the root causes of inflammation is Autoimmunity, which is a state in which the body attacks its own tissues because it suspects that it’s being harmed by an outside “invader,” whether this is a food you’re sensitive or allergic to, toxins from household and beauty products, poor quality air, water, and so on.
Sauerkraut’s beneficial probiotics help increase and regulate NK cells, which are nicknamed “natural killer cells,” that control the body’s inflammatory pathways and take action against infections or food allergy reactions. (10) This, in turn, can lower your risk for developing virtually every chronic disease there is, from heart disease to cancer.
4. Support for Cognitive Health and Mood
It is not difficult to imagine how our brain and digestive systems are connected — think of the last time you felt “sick to your stomach” or had butterflies in your belly from being nervous. Researchers are still learning about the fascinating and intimate relationship between your gut and brain, especially how this relationship is actually bidirectional, or a “two-way street.”
Your mood can affect your digestion and as it turns out the health of your digestive system can also affect your nervous system, brain function and moods!
All of this is possible because of the vagus nerve, which is one of 12 cranial nerves that helps form the primary channel of information between the nerve cells in your intestinal nervous system and your central nervous system in your brain. Communication via the vagus nerve is impacted by the various populations of bacteria in your gut. Depending on what kind of bacteria are present in different proportions within your gut, different chemical messages can be triggered that impact your ability to learn, remember and sort information.
Probiotics are one of the natural remedies for mood disruption, like depression. In multiple human trials, supplementing with probiotic foods like sauerkraut led to an improvement in mood and reduction of depression symptoms, making it a valuable adjunctive (additional) therapy for depression. (11, 12, 13)
5. Provides Cancer-Fighting Antioxidants
Over and above the numerous benefits that sauerkraut’s probiotics offer, its main ingredient cabbage also has a lot going for it. Cabbage is a disease-fighting vegetable all on its own. Cabbage is among a group high-antioxidant foods and is known for being powerful cancer-fighting foods. (16)
One main reason cabbage and other cruciferous foods have protective effects is because they supply various antioxidants and dietary fibre. Cabbage has phytonutrients, including isothiocyanates and indoles. (17, 18) In laboratory settings, these have shown protection against cancerous cell formation and have positive effects on lowering inflammation. (19)
Sulforaphane, which is a particularly potent member of the isothiocyanate family, is capable of increasing the body’s production of Phase II enzymes that can help fight free radical damage. (20) This compound is found in cabbage, although it’s even more prevalent in broccoli and broccoli sprouts. (21)
Evn though most sauerkraut is made from white or green cabbage, some varieties use red cabbage, too. Red cabbage has its own class of special antioxidant properties called anthocyanins. (22) These flavonoid phytonutrients, which are what give blueberries their deep colours, have strong antioxidant activities that help fight cardiovascular diseases, cancer and cognitive disorders. (23, 24, 25)