Sauerkraut is a seemingly simple classic German food, made from only two ingredients, but it’s rich in health benefits and versatility. It’s also one of the easiest and healthiest foods to make at home—and one that kids can help prepare. Are you ready to embrace sour cabbage?
What Is Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is a combination of shredded cabbage and salt that has been allowed to ferment. During the fermentation process, bacteria found in the cabbage and in the air, typically strains of Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc, transform this cruciferous vegetable into a great source of probiotics. Both the high nutritional value of cabbage and the presence of the beneficial bacteria make sauerkraut a food that can provide a wealth of health benefits.
However, it’s important to note that not all store-bought sauerkraut is a source of this double-dose prize. To benefit from the probiotics (which are explained below), the sauerkraut you choose (or make yourself) must contain live microorganisms. You can get them in fresh, raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut, which is usually found in the refrigerated section of the market. The label may say “contains active cultures” or “contains live microorganisms.” Pasteurization kills beneficial bacteria. Pasteurized sauerkraut can be found in cans or jars, and it’s still a good source of vitamins and other nutrients, but the ones in the refrigerator section will have live cultures or microorganisms.
Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Why should sauerkraut be on your menu regularly? Consider these reasons.
Boosts the Immune System
The probiotics found in sauerkraut can help keep your gut microbiome in balance. Research published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in July shows that probiotics can help with the development of the immune system, reduce inflammation, help regulate metabolism, and maintain intestinal balance.
Reduces Metabolic Disease Risk
The lactic acid bacteria found in sauerkraut with active microorganisms may result in positive changes in the gut microbiome that reduces inflammation, including inflammatory proteins associated with Type 2 diabetes. This indicates that eating sauerkraut and other fermented foods may help reduce the risk of diabetes and other chronic metabolic diseases, such as obesity, according to a Stanford University study.
Benefits Mental Health
Can sauerkraut really help mental health? Because of the vast amount of information that travels along the brain-gut axis, the health of the gut and brain are intimately involved. A balanced gut environment can translate into better brain and cognitive function. Studies have shown that probiotics can affect behavior, mental outlook (e.g., anxiety, depression), brain function, and mood. Probiotics may even help reduce symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and improve memory.
Improves Heart Health
The combination of high fiber content and probiotics makes sauerkraut a heart-friendly food. Fiber works to reduce cholesterol, and probiotics can also have this effect, as well as assist in lowering blood pressure in people with hypertension. Sauerkraut is also a good source of vitamin K2, a nutrient that may reduce your chances of developing heart disease because it prevents deposits of calcium from gathering in your arteries.
Good Source of Nutrients
Cabbage is a great source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C, K, B6, and folate, as well as iron, manganese, fiber, copper, and potassium. Two more bonuses: It’s super low in calories and has zero fat.
But sauerkraut also contains sulfur-based phytochemicals called glucosinolates, which break down into substances that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers. One of those substances, sulforaphane, not only activates anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity but may also have an anti-diabetic effect.
Sauerkraut Buying and DIY Tips
- Choose only unpasteurized, raw, fermented sauerkraut to ensure that you’re getting viable microorganisms and thus the probiotic effects. You can find these products in the refrigerated section.
- Don’t cook sauerkraut. This kills the beneficial bacteria. Add sauerkraut after the food has been cooked.
- Don’t buy sauerkraut made with vinegar. This product isn’t fermented and thus doesn’t provide probiotic benefits, although other nutrients are present.
- Try making your own sauerkraut. This can be fun for the entire family. Feel free to add other ingredients, such as turmeric, ginger, carrots, garlic, caraway seeds, or beets.
Ways to Enjoy Sauerkraut
- Add it to sandwiches. Although the Reuben is the sandwich typically associated with sauerkraut, try adding it to your favorites. Sauerkraut is great in a wheat pita packed with sprouts, cucumbers, shredded cabbage, and hummus, or add some to a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich.
- Top your salads with it. Sauerkraut provides the tangy vinegar taste to all types of vegetable salads.
- Put it in dips. Whether you like salsa, guacamole, or a zesty yogurt dip, sauerkraut provides a great low-calorie, high-flavor kick that goes with veggie sticks and crackers.
- Add it to soup. Remember, if you want the probiotic benefits, don’t add the sauerkraut to your soup until you’re ready to eat it. It tastes great in any vegetable soup.
- Add it to a burrito. Spread a few teaspoons of sauerkraut on a tortilla; add your favorite refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese; and roll up the fun!
- Top baked potatoes and sweet potatoes with it. Who needs sour cream when you can perk up your potatoes with sauerkraut!
Fresh, raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut is a zesty, healthy veggie to add to your menu. All you need is a few teaspoons of this yummy sour cabbage to add variety and health perks to your life.