Last updated October 29, 2019 by Lisa Richards, CNC   Reviewed by Katie Stone, ND.

Sauerkraut: 5 Health Benefits & How To Make It

Your gut microbiome is incredibly important to your overall health.  The bacteria residing within your intestines affect your metabolism, mood, immune system, energy levels, hormone production, and much more.

So, when those bacteria are out of balance, you’ll feel the effects in more ways than one. That’s why it’s vital that you restore the health of your gut bacteria as soon as possible.

One of the best ways to do this is with probiotic foods!

Probiotic foods aren’t just a great source of nutrients; they’re also a way to supply live beneficial bacteria to your gut. And one of the most well-known probiotic foods is sauerkraut.

What Is Sauerkraut?

A traditional European dish, sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage. The fermentation process used in the making of sauerkraut is one of the oldest and most commonly used. In fact, it’s believed that sauerkraut has been part of European diet since 4th century BC. So, it must be good!

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The secret to sauerkraut’s health benefits is the fermentation process. Fermentation is actually a preservation method that naturally alters the chemical makeup of the food, allowing it to resist spoiling. Long before freezers and refrigerators existed, people needed a way to keep food from going bad. Fermentation was often the answer.

During the fermentation process, the carbohydrates within the food are converted either into alcohols and carbon dioxide, or into organic acids. This process depends on bacteria and/or yeast, and requires a food source that contains carbohydrates, such as milk or vegetables.

This type of fermentation is known as lactic acid fermentation. The lactic acid that is produced is a natural preservative that prevents harmful bacteria and yeast from growing. The fermentation process also increases the bioavailability of nutrients within the food.

That’s why these bacteria are the good kind, known as probiotic bacteria! When you eat fermented foods, these healthy bacteria promote a variety of health benefits and improve the microbial balance of your gut (1).

Many probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and cultured dairy products (yogurt and kefir) have proven health benefits. Eating these foods regularly can support your immune health, digestion and even your cognitive and endocrine function.

5 Health Benefits of Eating Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is one of the healthiest, most nutritious foods you can eat. Let’s take a look at some of the major health benefits from eating this tasty fermented cabbage dish.

1. Improves Immune System Function

One of the most important benefits of eating sauerkraut is the delivery of live probiotic bacteria to your digestive tract. And because around 70 percent of your immune system cells reside in your gut, the probiotic goodness of sauerkraut can help to improve your overall health.

Many diseases and conditions – including allergies, food intolerances and inflammatory disorders – begin with a microbial imbalance in the gut.  That’s why it’s so important to nourish your healthy gut bacteria with beneficial organisms in probiotic foods.

These probiotic microbes establish themselves within your intestinal walls and become part of your immune system.  Like the rest of your gut microbiome, they function as the first line of defence against any harmful pathogens or toxins that you encounter in everyday life. These amazing bacteria can help to educate other immune cells, while also activating and supporting the entire immune system.

Numerous studies have supported the importance of probiotics as part of a wholesome diet. Fermented foods are one of the best ways to provide a natural barrier against various microbial infections.

There’s evidence that probiotics can help in reducing diarrhea, antibiotic resistance, Clostridium difficile colitis, fungal infections, inflammatory bowel diseases, constipation and even some forms of cancer.

One of the most beneficial strains of probiotic bacteria is Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which have been proven to boost the number of IgA and other immunoglobulins in the intestinal mucosa. (2)

2. Improves Digestive Function

Sauerkraut is rich in various microorganisms that provide ‘food’ to the other beneficial bacteria in your gut, helping them to function properly. One particular strain, Lactobacillus plantarum, is created during the fermentation phase in the making of sauerkraut. L. plantarum is a particularly effective probiotic strain for treating digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

A 2003 study published in the Journal of Applied Environmental Microbiology showed how the unique fermentation process within sauerkraut has numerous benefits for the digestive system. (3)

The complex ecology in sauerkraut can help to counter toxins and reduce inflammation, while also fighting off pathogenic strains of bacteria that may be already present in the gut.

At the same time, these probiotic bacteria help to break down food you’ve eaten and move waste through to your colon more efficiently, which improves your bowel transit time. The less time food spends in your gut, the fewer digestive symptoms you’re likely to have (such as gas, bloating, cramps and constipation). This can also help reduce gut inflammation, food sensitivities and other digestive problems.

Sauerkraut itself is also a great source of nutrients that your gut needs to keep the rest of your body in good order. Although acidophilus yogurt is also helpful for digestion and gut health, non-dairy fermented foods such as sauerkraut have many of the same benefits – with extra vitamins and minerals. Sauerkraut can also help your gut to absorb nutrients more efficiently and regulate your hormone production, which helps to support metabolic function.

3. Helps To Reduce Inflammation

A major cause of autoimmune disorders is inflammation. Although inflammation is a natural process in which the body fights infection and starts the healing process, chronic inflammation can in fact result in the opposite.

Similarly, an autoimmune reaction can lead to your body attacking its own tissues because it thinks it’s fighting a foreign invader. This may be caused by a particular type of food (such as gluten or dairy), or toxins in the environment, such as chemicals or pesticides. In some cases, your body may even react to pollution or even just skin products.

Scientists have now found that the beneficial bacterial strains in sauerkraut can help to boost your body’s NK cells (natural killer cells). These cells are responsible for controlling your body’s inflammatory responses and regulating what triggers a response.

With the help of the extra bacterial strains in sauerkraut, your gut microbiome can help to better regulate these NK cells. This can reduce your risk of chronic inflammation while also lowering your risk of developing chronic diseases.

By reducing overall inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract, you’ll be less susceptible to inflammatory bowel disorders also damage to your sensitive gut lining. This in turn can help to prevent – and heal – issues such as Leaky Gut Syndrome, ulcerative colitis and pouchitis. (4)

4. Supports Mood And Emotional Health

You may already be aware that your mood is often connected to how your gut is feeling. When you feel stressed or nervous, you may experience nausea or even ‘butterflies’ in your tummy. Or when you’re sad, you may lose your appetite.

Researchers have now discovered that a complex network exists between your gastrointestinal system and your brain. This is called the ‘gut-brain axis’. The most fascinating thing about this axis is that it is bi-directional, meaning your brain can influence your gut, and your gut can influence your brain. Your mood can affect your digestion, but the health of your gut microbiome can also impact upon your nervous system, cognitive function, and mood.

It turns out that that this is directly related to the activity of your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves involved in the communication of information between nerve cells in your gut (your intestinal nervous system) and the nerve cells in your brain (your central nervous system). This route of communication is affected by the balance of microbial bacteria in your gut.

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This means that the various species of bacteria in your intestines can produce different chemical messages that in turn affect your ability to learn, think, remember information and process it.

There are now several studies supporting the use of probiotics for regulating mood disorders, particularly depression. But it’s just as important to supplement probiotics with foods such as sauerkraut. Studies have even shown that sauerkraut can improve mood and help to reduce depressive symptoms.  This suggests sauerkraut can in fact be a powerful therapeutic food for keeping low mood at bay! (5)

5. Provides Disease-Fighting Antioxidants

The main ingredient in sauerkraut is cabbage, which is in itself a highly nutritious vegetable. As well as a host of vitamins and minerals, cabbage contains a range of powerful antioxidants that may help in the fight against chronic diseases.

Like other cruciferous vegetables, cabbage also contains a selection of phytonutrients including isothiocyanates and indoles. Clinical analysis has shown that these particular phytonutrients provide powerful anti-inflammatory effects and may also protect against the formation of cancerous cells.

Another important member of this phytonutrient group is sulforaphane, which has been found to increase your body’s production of Phase II enzymes. These enzymes are invaluable for helping to ward off free radicals that can damage sensitive cells. Sulforaphane is already present in fresh cabbage, but it’s available in higher amounts in broccoli and broccoli sprouts. That’s why it’s helpful to add other vegetables to your sauerkraut recipe!

The most common variety of cabbage used in traditional sauerkraut is white or green. But for an extra boost of antioxidants, red cabbage is a great choice! Red cabbage contains a special class of antioxidants called anthocyanins.  Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid that provides the color to plants, including the blue in blueberries. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants which have been shown to help reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases and even some cognitive disorders.

How To Make Your Own Sauerkraut

This is easier than you might think! It’s just a matter of knowing how to prepare the vegetables properly and then playing the waiting game.

Of course, it’s possible to buy ready-made sauerkraut, but beware – not all products contain the live beneficial bacteria. Store-bought products are often pasteurized to maintain shelf life. This, however, destroys any live organisms. They may also contain large amounts of sodium which certainly isn’t good for you either.

If you choose to buy your sauerkraut, look for a brand that has been made in the traditional way. It should be refrigerated (not canned!) and mention something about containing live and/or active cultures. The best brands can usually be found in health food stores and the organics section of some grocery stores.

If you’re new to sauerkraut, you might be a little wary of how to actually enjoy it. Many people are put off by the strong smell and taste. It’s best eaten as a side dish or a condiment. Simply add a few forkfuls to your plate at a meal. Remember – start slow! Like all probiotic food, sauerkraut may cause a little bloating at first. But this is just a sign that the beneficial bacteria are doing their job. Enjoy!

4.67 from 6 votes
Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe
Author: Lisa Richards
Ingredients
  • Large organic cabbage
  • Water
  • 3 tablespoons pickling salt
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Instructions
  1. Shred or chop the cabbage into small pieces organic cabbage into small pieces.
  2. Sprinkle chopped cabbage with 1 teaspoon salt.
  3. Using a large solid bowl, pound or massage the cabbage pieces until it is ‘pulpy’, and covered in its own juices. This should take about 10 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle remaining salt on the cabbage as well as caraway seeds.
  5. Place the crushed cabbage to a large jar or glass food container.
  6. Add a small jar or an onion on the top of the cabbage. This is to weigh the cabbage down and keep it fully submerged.
  7. Cover the jar or container with a lid.
  8. Place the jar somewhere cool and out of sunlight. Keep checking to make sure the cabbage is still submerged in its liquid.
  9. Continue checking each day over the next two weeks. You may need to skim off any ‘scum’ that collects on the surface from time to time.
  10. After 4 weeks, the sauerkraut should be ready. It can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Sauerkraut or Probiotic Supplements?

There’s one more thing to be aware of when it comes to sauerkraut, and indeed all probiotic foods. Your sauerkraut may contain lots of probiotic bacteria, but how many of those will survive the passage through your stomach?

Your stomach is a highly acidic environment. In fact, this acidity is a crucial part of your digestion and immunity. But that very same acidity will destroy the vast majority of probiotic bacteria in your food.

Your sauerkraut, while highly beneficial for your health, may not deliver the boost to your gut flora that you thought it did. Probiotic supplements, on the other hand, can use technologies like delayed-release capsules and time-release tablets that protect bacteria on their journey to the gut.

While it’s certainly worthwhile to eat sauerkraut as a healthy snack and a source of good bacteria, don’t rely on it to boost your gut bacteria. For this, it’s better to get your probiotics from a high-quality supplement.

Balance ONE ProbioticI recommend the Balance ONE Probiotic for Candida. It uses patented time-release tablets that deliver 15 times more bacteria past stomach acid, compared to regular probiotic supplements.

It also has 15 billion CFUs of bacteria and 12 different probiotic strains. It’s my top recommendation for rebalancing your digestion, improving digestion, and restoring your gut to perfect health.

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