With strong Ukrainian ancestry, I’m well acquainted with the world of sauerkraut. This fermented cabbage concoction is actually one of the most common and oldest forms of preserving cabbage, and can be traced back to as early as fourth century B.C. (1).
The special thing about sauerkraut is that it’s fermented. In other words, it’s loaded with billions of beneficial probiotic cultures. Sauerkraut probiotics actually ward off a variety of diseases and help improve immune, cognitive, digestive and endocrine function.
Sauerkraut Probiotics and The Health Secrets of Fermentation
Fermentation is the ancient technique of preserving foods that naturally alters the chemistry of them.
Fermentation was a technique developed to preserve valuable vegetables and other perishable foods for long periods without needing a fridge, freezer, or canning machine to do so.
Fermentation converts carbohydrates (like sugars) into either alcohols and carbon dioxide, or organic acids. It requires the presence of a carbohydrate (such as those found in vegetables) plus yeast, bacteria, or both. The microorganisms that come from the yeast and bacteria help convert glucose (sugar) into healthy bacterial strains that nourish your gut and regulate bodily functions.
The type of fermentation that takes place with cabbages and other vegetables is referred to as lactic acid fermentation. It creates a probiotic-rich environment, while the lactic acid helps inhibit harmful bacterial growth (2).
How Sauerkraut Probiotics Affect The Body
With one 16 ounce jar of sauerkraut being equivalent to about 8 bottles of probiotics, you’ll save a lot of money by switching to the kraut. Not to mention, the live, liquid probiotics in sauerkraut are actually more beneficial than those found in pill or powdered form.
Think of your intestines as a major part of your immune system. If you don’t take good care of your gut, your immune system will suffer as a result. In fact, over 70-80% of your immune tissue is located in the digestive system. The gut flora that reside in your intestines is critical for overall immunity. They act as protectors of the immune system and prevent pathogens and infections from being absorbed. Hence, maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut is very important.
After eating foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, the probiotics from these foods coat the lining and folds of your intestinal walls, where they communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve. These bacteria form long-lasting colonies in the gut, where they protect against harmful bacteria and toxins that enter the body.
A report published in The Journal of Applied Microbiology outlines how beneficial probiotics from cultured foods really are (3):
– Enhanced immunity
– Improvement of digestive disorders like ulcerative colitis, leaky gut syndrome, IBS and pouchitis
– Reduced overall inflammation
– Better nutrient absorption
– Fewer eczema symptoms
– Prevention and treatment of diarrhea
– Less inflammation in those suffering from rheumatoid and chronic juvenile arthritis
– Lowered cholesterol
– Protection against H. pylori infection
– Improved vaginal health
– Better immune response in HIV/AIDS patients
– Natural remedy for the liver/brain disease hepatic encephalopathy
5 Major Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Aside from providing the body with beneficial probiotics that nourish the gut, sauerkraut is also rich in various nutrients. These include vitamins C, K2, and B6. It is also a good source of calcium, potassium and phosphorous.
With that being said, here are some major health benefits of sauerkraut:
1. Improves Your Digestion
As described above, sauerkraut is rich in probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that act as the first line of defence against toxins and harmful bacteria. For this very reason, sauerkraut probiotics are beneficial in reducing symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, bloating, food sensitivities and digestive disorders (4, 5, 6).
Sauerkraut and other fermented foods also improve nutrient absorption of other foods you eat, while helping manage your appetite and therefore, helping you lose weight. A side note on the weight loss – scientists believe that probiotics may have the ability to reduce the amount of fat your body absorbs from your diet (7)!
Sauerkraut also helps lower blood sugar levels by improving the function of the pancreas, according to Dr. Klaus Kaufmann, author of the book “Making Sauerkraut and Picked Vegetables at Home.” Studies have even found that lactic-acid fermented foods like sauerkraut could reduce blood sugar spikes after meals, creating results comparable to Metformin, the leading diabetic medication (8).
2. Boosts Immunity
The probiotics in sauerkraut, as previously described, help nourish the gut, and therefore, make our immune system stronger. Beneficial bacteria helps activate and support the immune system while providing a stronger gut lining to prevent unwanted substance from “leaking” into your body (9).
Having strong gut-friendly colonies of bacteria in your gut also prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, and reduce your risk of contracting the common cold or developing urinary tract infections (10, 11). Certain bacterial strains, like Lactobacillus rhamnosus, have been proven beneficial on intestinal immunity, and can increase the number of IgA and other immunoglobins in the intestinal mucosa (12).
3. Reduces Inflammation & Allergies
The beneficial probiotics found in sauerkraut help increase and regulate natural killer (NK) cells, which control the body’s inflammatory pathways. These cells help fight against infection as well as food allergies (13).
By lowering the levels of inflammation in the body, you also help eliminate the root cause for nearly every disease. Conditions like arthritis, Hashimoto’s, cancer, heart disease, Chron’s, you name it, can all be eliminated by keeping inflammation at bay.
4. Supports Brain Health
Ingesting probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut also helps out your moods, too. After all, our gut and brain are intimately connected, so ensuring a healthy gut means ensuring better mental health. In multiple human trials, supplementing with probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut led to an improvement in mood and reduction of depressive symptoms (14, 15).
In animals, probiotics (like those found in sauerkraut) have been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety, and improve autism markers (16, 17).
Sauerkraut also has the ability to increase the absorption of certain nutrients in food like magnesium and zinc, two crucial minerals involved in mood regulation.
5. Reduces The Risk of Cancer
Sauerkraut is a major anti-cancer superfood. The main ingredient, cabbage, contains a host of different antioxidants and other beneficial phytonutrients that may help reduce the risk of certain cancers. Glucosinolates found in cabbage are turned into isothiocyanates when fermented, which encourages pre-cancerous cells to self-destruct (18).
Sulforaphane, a potent member of the isothiocyanate family, helps fight free radical damage, and is one of the most effective cancer-fighters out there. This compound has mainly been studied in broccoli and broccoli sprouts, and has been found to kill cancer cells, reduce cancer risk, reduce inflammation (that could trigger cancer), prevents DNA changes that can lead to cancer, and deactivates enzymes that convert pre-carcinogens into active carcinogens (19).
The cabbage fermentation process is particularly cancer-preventative, thanks to certain compounds that are produced during fermentation that have the ability to reduce the production of carcinogen-activating enzymes (20).
If you want some high-quality sauerkraut, you can make it yourself, or purchase it in-store. The best sauerkraut is the stuff that’s made raw, with all the active enzymes and cultures readily available.