Without a doubt, the connection between gut health and ALL health is strong.
Human health and probiotic health are inseparable. Even the biggest doubters are coming around to the idea that our digestive tract dictates a large portion of our health. Why is this true? Our digestive tract is home to around 80% of our immune system; this can make or break all of your health, brain function, and vitality [R]!
What is Raw Sauerkraut?
Raw sauerkraut is simply a type of fermented cabbage that has two ingredients: cabbage and salt. Fermentation of cabbage also requires just three little things:
- indirect or low light
How can this two-ingredient food be so powerful? It’s all in the fermentation process! When the natural microbes like bacteria on the cabbage begin to break down the cabbage, MANY beneficial compounds are formed.
Fermentation is the process where enzymes and microorganisms break down a food into more digestible nutrients and compounds. The main microorganisms on cabbage are called lactobacilli bacteria, which are on the surface of all living things. These bacteria break the foods down into lactic acid, which helps preserve cabbage and provide the body with infinite benefits!
Many forms of sauerkraut are on the market today: raw sauerkraut is simply sauerkraut that fresh instead of canned. Kimchi is another name for sauerkraut and its usually a spicy version. The raw form of sauerkraut allows you to get the benefits of live probiotics.
Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Digestion is not a simple process. Our digestive system is a symphony of cells, hormones, enzymes, and foods working together. Sadly, at least 60-70 million people in the United States suffer from digestive distress of one form or another; this has almost doubled since the 1980’s [R]!
This is devastating because digestive health is the window to almost all aspects of health and vitality. Clearly, we need to approach digestive health differently, and fermented foods like raw sauerkraut can play a very helpful role.
Is sauerkraut good for you and your belly? Sauerkraut greatly helps almost every step of digestion and nutrition, including:
- Increases the vitamin content of cabbage
- Enhances enzymes which aids digestion
- Improves nutrient absorption, including minerals
- Improves digestive pH
- Provides prebiotics and probiotics
Fermented foods like sauerkraut may help with many digestive disorders, including antibiotic-associated diarrhea, C. difficile infections, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel diseases, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few [R]. What is so special about raw sauerkraut? Here are some of the components that you won’t want to miss out on.
1. Probiotics- Our Microbe Buddies
Beneficial probiotics are any living food or supplement that supports health, including beneficial bacteria, fungi, or other small microorganisms. Raw sauerkraut is full of a vast variety of probiotics!
Beneficial bacteria in raw sauerkraut
Most of the probiotic types found in the sauerkraut are of the Lactobacillus, or lactic acid-producing type of bacteria. Sauerkraut is also rich in Leuconostoc bacteria. Lactobacillus bacteria have gotten a lot of research attention because it is so widely found in fermented foods.
You can find 100’s of studies showing the benefits of Lactobacillus on the National Library of Medicine.
How much probiotic is in sauerkraut?
According to recent research published in PLOS One, over 114 types of probiotic are found in sauerkraut, which beats out any probiotic supplement on the market today. These probiotic from raw sauerkraut can survive the low acid content of the stomach, which make sauerkraut an ideal form of probiotic [R].
Raw sauerkraut is also a very concentrated probiotic. Research from Functional Foods in Health and Disease determined that a very small dose, 2 tablespoons of sauerkraut, contain over 1 million colony forming units (CFUs) of healthy probiotic [R]. Sauerkraut is SO much more than a probiotic.
It has anti-microbial effects too. The probiotic effects of sauerkraut included the ability to fight Listeria monocytogenes, a type of harmful bacteria. It helps FIGHT bad bugs like some strains of gram negative and gram positive bacteria, possibly even E. coli and salmonella [R].
Some health experts like Dr. Mercola have determined that the probiotic content of 4-6 oz of sauerkraut may contain trillions of bacteria [R]. This is much more than a whole bottle of probiotic supplements!
Probiotics aren’t just beneficial bacteria; they are beneficial fungi too. Think mushrooms! The mushrooms in sauerkraut are microscopic. The types of fungi in sauerkraut can include Actinomucor, Amylomyces, Aspergillus, Monascus, Mucor, Neurospora, and Rhizopus. These little fungi produce enzymes to aid our bodies in digestion [R].
These enzymes include:
- acid and alkaline proteases
2. Heartburn and Reflux
Heartburn and reflux are related and difficult to tease out. Some people call the same symptoms dyspepsia. We know that much digestive distress, heartburn, and reflux can be alleviated by a healthy gut bacterial environment.
If you haven’t tried sauerkraut for heartburn yet, what do you have to lose?
Autoimmune gastritis is very common and presents with symptoms of heartburn, dyspepsia, as well as GERD. Autoimmune diseases are tightly linked with gut bacteria. By connecting the gut-immune system dots, it becomes clear that fermented foods can help people tremendously with GI issues like heartburn and reflux [R].
Have you ever eaten a meal and felt like you kept burping the food all day long and passing gas? Maybe you got some acid return in your throat.
These are all signs of indigestion, meaning your food is not digesting well. Sauerkraut has built-in enzymes to help with your digestive processes.
Enjoying a couple of bites of raw sauerkraut may take away indigestion symptoms, such as belching, bloating, excess gas, gas pain, heartburn, and more. Yes, heartburn is often a sign of indigestion instead of too much acid; antacid drugs are highly over-prescribed!
4. Gas and bloating
If you don’t digest your foods well, you will get more gas and bloating than you want. Many people are pleasantly surprised that when they make a few changes to their diet, they can eliminate these symptoms of excess gas and embarrassing flatulence.
Support your digestion by giving it enzyme-rich sauerkraut daily.
5. Improved Absorption
You will absorb your food better with sauerkraut because it has enzymes and has lactic acid. Both of these help break down anti-nutrients in foods like phytic acid and oxalates.
When you absorb your food better, you will have less gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, and heartburn. Win, win, and win!
The following infographic shows the complexity of probiotic effects on the body. *Infographic used with permission from. M. Swain, PhD, at Biotechnology Research International [R]
6. Candida and SIBO Gut Infections
Candida is a type of overgrowth of yeast or fungi that occurs when the immune system is out of balance. It can happen in the mouth, esophagus, and even further into the digestive tract, causing lots of pain and distress. Many studies show that lactobacillus probiotics like those in sauerkraut are effective against candida [R].
While some practitioners recommend avoiding fermented foods during gut infections, this goes against research. SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Probiotic foods are instrumental to symptom relief.
In fact, a meta-analysis of research shows that probiotics reduce SIBO symptoms like pain and helped destroy harmful bacteria [R].
7. Depression and Mood Disorders
If you are looking to improve brain health, sauerkraut is for you. Probiotic foods are getting a lot of attention for their beneficial effects related to gut and brain connections.
A review paper of 8 clinical studies in the journal Nutrients concluded that probiotics help improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression [R].
This is because probiotic bacteria signal to the brain to make happy chemicals and calm chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Bottom line: sauerkraut or other fermented foods should be part of your daily repertoire if you suffer from depression.
When you have probiotics, you are never alone. This is something I say to my patients and clients all the time; partly to cheer them up with a joke and partly to help them understand the significance of live cultures!
Consider the following studies we have so far:
- Pregnant women have less post-partem depression and anxiety when given a probiotic strain called Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001; this was a robust and large clinical trial [R].
- An excellent review of probiotic foods and anxiety: 7 of 10 clinical studies show benefit for anxiety. This review was written by Psychology & Science [R].
- Review of research showed compelling data for the use of probiotic foods like sauerkraut for anxiety symptoms [R].
*Lactobacillus rhamnosus is found in sauerkraut [R]. I can personally attest to the benefits of anxiety and sauerkraut; it is definitely a food that makes me feel better from an emotional standpoint.
9. Sauerkraut benefits may extend to PTSD
Imbalances in gut bacteria may make people more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, according to highlights from research in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry [R].
According to the authors, “There is an urgent need for well-designed, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials aimed at determining the effect of bacterial supplements and controlled changes in diet on psychological symptoms and cognitive functions in patients with well-documented mental health problems. This particularly applies to PTSD patients characterized by long-lasting low cortisol levels.”
Why might probiotic foods like sauerkraut help with PTSD?
They are linked with improved mood, reduced anxiety symptoms, and reduced psychological stress. Fermented foods help also affect and improve processing of emotions in some clinical work.
10. Schizophrenia and mania
While all mood disorders are disruptive to life, schizophrenia is the most disabling and costly condition because treatment options are very limited [R].
Over 50 million people worldwide suffer from this disorder, and they have frequent relapses, memory loss, reduced brain function, and emotional and functional disability [R].
While research is still early about probiotics like sauerkraut for schizophrenia, consider these two studies:
- A clinical study that was double-blinded found that supplemental probiotics reduce psychiatric symptoms in people with schizophrenia [R].
- Probiotics and vitamin D reduce psychiatric symptoms yet again in a very recent clinical trial of people with schizophrenia [R].
Another recent study even found that people with bipolar disorder who took probiotics were less likely to be re-hospitalized with symptoms of mania than those who did not get probiotics [R]. Raw sauerkraut was not specifically used in these studies, but one could assume that it would work even better than a probiotic supplement because it is highly concentrated in lactobacillus probiotics.
Sauerkraut benefits our vitality because it is rich in antioxidants and anti-aging compounds like polyamines, including putrescine. Polyamines (putrescine, spermine, and spermidine) play an important role in cell health. They help with growth and repair.
- The putrescine in sauerkraut may even help reduce the aging of reproductive cells called oocytes in women by improving cellular function [R].
- Raw sauerkraut’s high putrescine content may also reduce age-related memory decline, according to early work done in animals [R].
While it is too soon to say that sauerkraut has the same effects in humans, it is well established that antioxidant-rich foods like sauerkraut may delay aging processes.
12. Helps allergic symptoms
Another health benefit of sauerkraut may extend to your allergic symptoms. Many people rate sauerkraut at the top of the list for allergic symptom relief, and I’m no exception; sauerkraut helps my eczema tremendously.
Immunologists have known that fermented foods help fight allergy symptoms for almost 20 years [R].
Polyamines that are present in sauerkraut reduce allergic lung and intestinal responses [R]. Food allergy rates are lower in children who have high polyamine intake in their diet in their first year of life [R].
13. Skin benefits
Most people with skin conditions like acne or dermatitis of any kind are eager to do anything it takes to clear up their skin. Some people need to look no further than their gut health.
Sauerkraut is an obvious choice of probiotic for skin conditions because it is such a diverse, broad spectrum probiotic food! Recent research even shows that fermented foods and probiotics may be helpful in [R]:
- wound healing
- skin cancer prevention.
Sauerkraut is a rich source of probiotics. Numerous probiotic strains are helpful for acne, including those found in sauerkraut [R].
14. Sauerkraut Benefits the Immune System
Most of the conditions I have reviewed here so far deal with the gut-immune axis benefits of sauerkraut. After all, a huge portion of our immune system is dictated by our innate immunity,which is largely controlled by the bacteria we have in our gut!
Experts in the field of immunity are very intrigued by fermented foods like sauerkraut. The benefits of probiotic immunity even extends to our metabolism of calcium and bone health [R].
Tip: Maybe we should have done what our grandparents did all along; ferment our foods.
15. Possible Heart Benefits
Making sauerkraut part of your daily routine is also undoubtedly good for your heart. Heart disease is related to altered gut bacteria in new research over the last few years [R].
A clinical study found that supplemental probiotics, that are found also in sauerkraut, improved glucose control, HDL-cholesterol, cholesterol ratios, and reduced inflammation markers in the body of people who have coronary heart disease and diabetes [R].
Our immune system dictates a lot about the health of the artery wall and how plaque builds up!
Probiotic foods like sauerkraut are beneficial to joint health because they can help reduce inflammation in the body. Joint diseases are often linked to abnormal gut health too. This is where sauerkraut can support both bone and joint health.
Lactobacillus probiotics may help even reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis according to research [R]. Don’t forget that sauerkraut is one of the richest lactobacillus probiotics out there.
17. Sauerkraut Benefits for Weight loss
Kimchi and sauerkraut both show promise for helping people reduce their waistlines as shown in clinical studies [R]. Sauerkraut benefits weight loss because it:
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces abdominal fat
- Improve satisfaction from eating
- May prevent fat accumulation
While nothing alone works to keep us slender, fermented foods likely do play an instrumental role in keeping us free from the diseases of obesity. By helping us stay lean, fermented foods also can help us prevent heart disease too.
18. May Improve Energy
By improving your digestion and nutrient absorption, might sauerkraut also improve your energy?
A clinical study of chronic fatigue syndrome addressed this. Supplements of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, both found in sauerkraut, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression [R]. A major symptom of depression is fatigue, so by lifting these symptoms, energy can be improved.
Yes; you will get more out of your food for energy with probiotic foods. While no research has answered this question directly, intuitively, it is quite possible.
19. Eating Sauerkraut Reduces Cancer Risk
Probiotics help the body clear out harmful toxins from the body. Saurkraut also contains a nutrient called s-methylmethionine, which may reduce stomach cancer risk. Weissella. cibaria, a type of probiotic in kimchi and sauerkraut may have [R]:
- anticancer activity
- immune boosting activity
- anti-inflammatory activity
- antioxidant activity
All of the above appear to reduce our risk of cancer. Although we can’t say that sauerkraut alone reduces cancer risk, it likely supports our ability to fight cancer when combined with a healthy diet.
Sauerkraut contains a good amount of vitamin C, vitamin K, and iron. A half cup of sauerkraut has [R]:
- Calories: 14
- Carbohydrates: 3 grams
Fat: 1 gram
Fiber 2 grams
Sodium 469 mg 19% DV
Vitamin C 11 mg 18% DV
- Vitamin K1 5 mcg 5% DV
- Vitamin K2 5 mcg
- Vitamin B6 0.1 mg 5% DV
- Folate 17 mcg 5% DV
- Iron 1 mg 9% DV
- Manganese 0.1 mg 6% DV
Nutrient myths about sauerkraut
Probiotic supplements can be expensive, but homemade sauerkraut only costs pennies a day. All you need is a mason jar, a head of cabbage, and some non-iodized salt! Food trends can drive up the price of foods, but there is also an inexpensive way to make fermented foods; by doing it yourself!
22. Easy to make
There are two ways to make sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is a vegan food too (although I don’t recommend this kind of diet for most people).
- Wild fermentation, aka Lacto-fermentation and Lactic-acid fermentation
- Cultured fermentation
The easiest and cheapest is wild fermentation like I described. It requires just salt and cabbage. If you feel you are at risk for tyramine or histamine intolerance, I recommend using cultured fermentation by getting a lactobacillus culture.
Directions for Making Sauerkraut
I recommend checking out the Real Food Dietitians website for how to make a good sauerkraut. Here is my simplified version:
- 1 head of red cabbage or green cabbage, preferably organic
- non-iodized salt, about 1 tbsp
- wide-mouth quart-size mason jar
- vegetable pounder*.
- Peel off the outer leaves of a cabbage, then slice the cabbage finely with a sharp knife on a cutting board.*I prefer to use a slicing food processor to slice the cabbage because I don’t risk cutting my fingers! You can find a food processor here.
- Then, massage the chopped cabbage with salt, wait 45 minutes and massage the cabbage again. You can use a vegetable pounder for this task as well.
- Next, tamp down the salted cabbage with a vegetable pounder in a large quart size wide-mouth mason jar to release the cabbage juice. Make sure the liquid or brine covers all of the cabbage at this point. I recommend using a vegetable pounder like one you can find here*.
- Place a cabbage leave cut to the size of the jar on top of the cabbage to help keep the sliced cabbage submerged.
- Place a small glass weight on top to weigh it all down, such as a a very small glass jar.
- Loosely place a lid on top, making sure it is loose enough so gases can be released from the jar.
- Store the brined cabbage in low light and at room temperature for 7-14 days, and make sure to check on it every day to make sure all the cabbage is covered by the liquid brine.
Buy Raw Sauerkraut
If you don’t want to wait for sauerkraut to ferment, you can always buy some high quality raw sauerkraut brands at your local store.
- You might like Healing Sauerkraut that you can find here*.
- You can find Superkraut Crispy Curry Raw Organic Sauerkraut here*.
*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
How to Ferment Foods
Here is a general overview of fermenting foods. As you can see, fermenting fruits and vegetables can be quite easy once you get started. *Image used with permission from M. Swain, PhD from Biotechnology Research International [R].
How to Use Sauerkraut
An important note about raw sauerkraut use: it is a very potent probiotic, so start slow when first introducing this food.
A teaspoon is plenty on the first few days of trying raw sauerkraut. If all goes well, you can increase this amount to a tablespoon a day, and then gradually increase as desired.
My favorite way to eat sauerkraut is like a raw condiment with meals or simply on a fork straight from the jar. It doesn’t have to be complicated! Sauerkraut pairs nicely with meat dishes, salads, soups, and more.
Sauerkraut and sausage is a favorite German meal. Just be sure to eat it raw for beneficial probiotic and enzyme effects.
Eating cooked sauerkraut is still very healthy. This is because it will contain some molecular mimicry of the probiotic; think of how the influenza vaccine is delivered; as dead virus. Our body recognizes immune particles from dead probiotic or bacteria even if they aren’t living [R].
Precautions with sauerkraut are few and far between, but there are a few things to be aware of when adding sauerkraut or other probiotic-rich foods to your diet. Sauerkraut benefits and side effects can go hand in hand because it is a potent food. It is unlikely to cause health problems, but be aware that anything so potent can also create temporary digestive discomfort in sensitive people.
Start with just a small spoonful a day to prevent and digestive distress.
Some people have a difficult time tolerating histamine and tyramine that is present in sauerkraut. However, new data suggests that most sauerkraut is quite low in these compounds. Sauerkraut may be free of all histamine and tyramine content if it is first inoculated with lactobacillus [R].
Although probiotics foods are generally safe, be sure to check with your doctor before changing anything in your healthcare routine. When used moderately, sauerkraut can even be eaten on a low sodium diet.
The information on this website is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice. Have a digestive health question? Reach out to me here.
Join the Healthy RD Community
Sign up and receive special health offers, deeply science and experience-based content, and news sent directly to your inbox.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.