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What is sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut or ‘sour cabbage’ is essentially fermented cabbage, thought to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. The process of fermentation initiates beneficial probiotics, or ‘live bacteria’ and its these probiotics, along-with the process of fermentation which makes sauerkraut such a healthy choice.
Nutritional Profile of sauerkraut
A 50g serving of sauerkraut provides approximately:
4kcal / 18KJ
5mg Vitamin C
If you buy sauerkraut off-the-shelf you should be aware that many varieties are pasteurised to extend their shelf-life, this kills the beneficial bacteria. Look for ‘unpasteurised’ products which should be kept chilled.
Top 5 health benefits of sauerkraut
1. Source of beneficial nutrients
Sauerkraut is a good source of fibre as well as vitamins and minerals and being a fermented food it promotes the growth of beneficial probiotics which are important for digestive health. The nutritional value of food, like cabbage, can be enriched by fermentation and it makes the food easier for us to digest. This is because sauerkraut contains enzymes that help the body break down food into smaller, and more easily digestible molecules which in turn helps us absorb more of its nutrients.
Sauerkraut is, however, a source of salt – this is because a saline environment promotes the growth of beneficial Lactobaccili whilst inhibiting the types of bacteria which would lead to spoilage and deterioration.
2. May support the immune system
Most of our immune system is located in our gut, so it may come as no surprise that the gut-supporting properties of sauerkraut may also be of benefit. The good bacteria or probiotics, from sauerkraut, help to keep the lining of your digestive system healthy. A strong gut lining stops any unwanted substances or toxins from ‘leaking’ into your body and thereby causing an immune response. These same bacteria may also support your natural antibodies and reduce your risk of infections.
As well as being a source of probiotics, sauerkraut also provides vitamin C and iron, nutrients known to support a stronger immune response.
3. May support heart health
There are a number of factors supporting sauerkraut’s heart healthy properties. Firstly, being fibre-rich and a source of beneficial probiotic bacteria makes sauerkraut useful for balancing cholesterol levels. Cabbage is a good source of potassium, that and the probiotic content may promote lower blood pressure. Sauerkraut is also a source of vitamin K2 which helps prevent calcium deposits from accumulating in arteries, a possible cause of atherosclerosis.
4. May improve mood and behaviour
Our understanding of the gut and how it impacts our mood and behaviour is fast evolving and it would appear that fermented foods, like sauerkraut, may play an important part. Certain strains of probiotic bacteria, including Lactobacillis helveticus and Bifidobacteria, longum, commonly found in fermented foods, may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. They do this by promoting a healthier balance in the gut and through their production of compounds called short chain fatty acids which help to reduce inflammation and promote a healthier gut environment.
Fermented food may also support mood and behaviour by promoting the gut’s uptake of mood-balancing micronutrients, like magnesium and zinc.
5. May reduce the risk of cancer
Rich in compounds like sulforaphane, cabbage is a valuable vegetable to add to your diet. That’s because these beneficial compounds, appear to prevent oxidative damage and possibly act in protective way against cancer including colorectal cancer. In a similar fashion, fermented cabbage and its juices appears to play an effective role.
Is sauerkraut safe for everyone?
Sauerkraut is safe for the majority of people, however, being rich in histamine those with a histamine intolerance, may experience side effects after consuming it. Furthermore, if fermented foods are new to you or you are not used to a fibre-rich diet you may experience symptoms such as bloating and flatulence.
Those on prescribed medication, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), should exercise caution when introducing sauerkraut to their diet. This is because sauerkraut may have high levels of tyramine, although amounts appear to vary widely.
Introducing fermented foods to someone who is critically ill or immune-compromised should be done with caution and under the guidance of a GP or healthcare professional.
When making your own sauerkraut, always follow a recipe and be sure to use sterile equipment, follow fermentation times and temperatures carefully.
Some sauerkrauts are high in salt, so if you follow a low salt diet, check labels or recipes to assess whether it is appropriate for you.
This article was last reviewed on 8 November 2021 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a registered nutritionist (MBANT) with a postgraduate diploma in personalised nutrition and nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications, including BBC Good Food.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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