Sauerkraut is a form of fermented cabbage with a distinctive sour flavor. It is a popular side dish across different global cultures. However, it is more cherished in Germany and remains one of the most famous national dishes. Sauerkraut is also consumed in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, France, the Baltic states, and the United States.
Sauerkraut is essentially raw cabbage that has been shredded and fermented using the lactic acid bacteria found naturally on the vegetable. The process increases the shelf-life, improves the flavor, and enriches the nutritional profile of raw cabbage.
Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Lacto-fermentation generally makes sauerkraut highly nutritious relative to raw cabbage. In particular, the process improves the bioavailability of specific nutrients such as iron. The high content of probiotics, fiber, vitamins, and minerals make sauerkraut a healthy choice. These nutritional components account for the various health benefits associated with this fermented food.
Sauerkraut contributes to better gut health
Subjecting raw cabbage to fermentation when producing sauerkraut usually leads to an increase of different lactic acid bacteria such as Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus brevis, and Lactobacillus plantarum. These microorganisms act as probiotics and help increase the beneficial bacteria found in the gut.
A good balance of the gut microbiome contributes to better gut health by eradicating harmful bacteria, including toxins that cause gastrointestinal disorders. The live and health-promoting organisms in sauerkraut also help improve digestion, reducing constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas.
Generally, sauerkraut contains different probiotics. These provide various advantages to the gut. As noted, every gram of sauerkraut has 108 colony-forming units (CFUs) comprising diverse live and health-promoting organisms, making it better than some probiotic supplements and other sources.
Sauerkraut regularly promotes weight loss
Consuming sauerkraut provides fiber, which plays a critical role in weight management. In particular, the high fiber content in sauerkraut keeps you satisfied for longer, reducing appetite and the number of calories consumed.
In addition, sauerkraut provides relatively low calories, meaning that it can help in maintaining a healthy weight. According to USDA, every 100 g of sauerkraut produces 17 calories, a figure slightly lower than in raw cabbage. Thus, sauerkraut is a better weight loss meal than raw cabbage.
Unpasteurized sauerkraut also provides an adequate amount of probiotics, which facilitate weight management. Having a healthy gut microbiome usually helps maintain a good weight by suppressing lipid absorption in the small intestines. On this note, unpasteurized sauerkraut has anti-obesity properties, making it a good weight loss solution.
Sauerkraut improves brain and mental health
A wide range of nerves and neurons in the gut connect directly to the brain. On this note, having a healthy bowel flora has significant implications for brain and mental health.
As noted, sauerkraut is a rich source of probiotics that promote balance in the gut microbiome. The microbial balance leads to a better mood and reduces stress by enhancing bidirectional communication in the gut-brain axis. As a result, sauerkraut helps alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms in people with these psychiatric conditions. In healthy adults, eating sauerkraut prevents anxiety and depressive disorders.
Sauerkraut contributes to a healthier heart
Adding sauerkraut to your diet helps boost heart health. As noted, this fermented food contains fiber and probiotics, which promote gut microbial balance.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, gut bacteria normally release certain chemicals that get absorbed into the bloodstream. These chemicals then activate the receptors found in blood vessels, reducing the blood pressure. Proper blood pressure control usually leads to a healthy heart and better cardiovascular outcomes.
At the same time, the probiotics in sauerkraut improve heart health by suppressing lipid absorption. As a result, this significantly reduces the total cholesterol concentration in the serum, positively impacting heart health.
Sauerkraut helps prevent cancer
Lacto-fermentation usually produces isothiocyanates, compounds with cancer-fighting properties. These substances act by inhibiting the growth of cancerous cells in the body. Thus, consuming sauerkraut helps in cancer prevention.
Sauerkraut also has a high content of ascorbigen, glucosinolates, and ascorbic acid. These compounds help minimize DNA damage and cell mutations. On this note, sauerkraut has protective effects against cancer in healthy people.
Tips for Making and Eating Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut production should occur at the right fermentation temperature and salt concentration for a better flavor, aroma, nutritional content, texture, and preservability.
Traditionally, sauerkraut production occurs at 18 °C for approximately one month. At the same time, a higher temperature reduces the production period but leads to poor-quality sauerkraut.
A 2·5% salt concentration produces the best quality sauerkraut. It provides optimal conditions for the action of lactic acid bacteria and helps produce safe and flavorful sauerkraut.
Avoid consuming excessive sauerkraut in one sitting because this often causes bloating and flatulence. This problem is associated with raffinose, a non-digestible trisaccharide found in sauerkraut.
In addition, the high sodium content in sauerkraut might have detrimental health effects, especially for people with hypertension and others with conditions requiring low salt intake.