“Best Sauerkraut for Gut Health” was written by soon-to-be-Registered Dietitian Samantha Kane and edited by Angela Lago, MS, RD, LDN.
What’s the perfect mix of salty, sour, and tangy in a delicious trifecta? If you miraculously guessed Sauerkraut, it might be time for you to play the lottery! Do you get confused when trying to decide what the best sauerkraut for gut health is? If so, then you’re in the right place, friend!
What makes this electrifying veggie so amazing? I’ll give you a hint, it starts and ends with all things gut health.
Table of Contents
What is Sauerkraut?
Let’s begin by answering the question, “What is sauerkraut?”. Simply stated, sauerkraut is cabbage that is fermented using lactic acid bacteria. Sauerkraut, when translated into English, means “sour cabbage”.
Now that we know that sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, let’s learn a little more about the fermentation process. Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of organic matter by either a bacteria, yeast, or mold.
For cabbage specifically, it’s important to know that plenty of beneficial bacteria already exists on its leaves. Interestingly, other than the lactic acid, no additional bacteria needs to be used.
To finalize the fermentation process, brine (salt + H20) is added to the cabbage. It is then placed in an airtight jar or container in the fridge for as little as three days for a small single-serving batch.
When preparing larger batches, the sauerkraut needs several weeks to reach its peak tangy flavor. Technically, it is safe to eat at each stage of the fermentation process, but the longer it ferments the more intense the flavor becomes.
Sauerkraut has a double dose of health benefits due to not only the cabbage itself, but also the lactobacillus bacteria that is at the center of the fermentation process.
Research continues to demonstrate how even minimal amounts of bacteria in the form of probiotics have positive impacts on many aspects of our health. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria or yeasts found in both food and supplement forms for easy intake.
A single serving of raw cabbage contains 4 grams of healthy dietary fiber. Fiber is important for digestion because it increases the weight and size of stool. This creates more regular bowel movements, preventing both diarrhea and constipation.
Current recommendations state that American women should strive to get approximately 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should aim for a minimum of 38 grams per day. Unfortunately, only about 5% of Americans meet the minimum recommendations for fiber.
The probiotics in sauerkraut also aid healthy digestion. These good bacteria work to break down non-digestible fibers while building a diverse microbiome.
You may find it interesting to know that without healthy bacteria in our gut, even healthy foods cannot pass through the digestive tract as efficiently. This may result in bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
As if better digestion wasn’t enough, sauerkraut also helps prevent a plethora of chronic diseases. I can almost hear you thinking, “How on earth can cabbage reduce inflammation?”.
Matter of fact, a healthy gut reduces incidence of disease by reducing chronic inflammation.
Interestingly, the cabbage itself offers antioxidant properties from nutrients such as vitamin C, while the sauerkraut has probiotics to strengthen the gut by assisting in the digestion and absorption of key nutrients.
More research is still underway, but to date, probiotic fiber-rich foods like sauerkraut are showing promising health benefits for longevity and an improved quality of life without chronic disease.
Contains Key Micronutrients
While fermented foods contain a plethora of key micronutrients, sauerkraut specifically is loaded with Vitamins C and E. Lets lift the veil on why this nutrient rich food is so good for you.
A national survey conducted by NHANES from 2007 to 2010 revealed that 88.5% of the U.S. population is deficient in Vitamin E, and 38.9% for Vitamin C!
Vitamin E is a fundamental nutrient because it protects your skin, eyes, nerves, and brain health. Signs of deficiency include muscle weakness, vision problems, and loss of feeling in limbs.
Vitamin C strengthens our immune system against stressors like illness and inflammation.
A deficiency in vitamin C may lead to a disease called scurvy. Quite frankly it’s as scary as it sounds, causing swollen and bleeding gums, tooth loss, and skin lesions.
All in all, sauerkraut’s micronutrient content helps protect our bodies from disease. I don’t know about you, but for me this is even more of a reason to make consumption a daily ritual!
Types of Sauerkraut
This may not be new news to you, but did you know that there are different variations of Sauerkraut? You may find it interesting to know that while sauerkraut can be made with just cabbage alone, it is commonly coupled with other vegetables like carrots, garlic, or beets.
When paired with beets, the result is a beautiful red and pink color. For this reason it is often marketed as “ruby kraut”. It most definitely lives up to that dazzling name with its bright standout colors on the supermarket shelves!
Vinegar Based Kraut
Pay close attention to this next part! Some sauerkraut is made with just vinegar and no beneficial bacteria. This is NOT considered a fermented food and would not be the best sauerkraut for gut health.
While the vinegar-based sauerkraut is still delicious, it lacks the same staggering health benefits as the sauerkraut fermented with living bacteria. Living bacteria are protective probiotics that strengthen the health of our gut.
If this sounds confusing, keep reading for more details on this concept below!
Best Sauerkraut for Gut Health
If there’s ONE thing to remember here, it’s that pickled vegetables simply jarred in vinegar are NOT necessarily fermented. This may be confusing at first, but once you make your first distinction on your next supermarket trip, you won’t forget it!
So how do you do that exactly?
Read Nutrition Labels
Simplicity is best! I recommend looking for sauerkraut containing ingredients you can pronounce without difficulty. The best sauerkraut for gut health will have a clear label citing something along the lines of:
Look for the Bubbly
Additionally, when you peer into the jar, there will be bubbles inside the liquid that can be seen from the outside. These bubbles are the telltale signal that there are LIVING organisms inside. These organisms are the beneficial bacteria that populate your gut and provide amazing health benefits to your body.
Avoid Added Sugar
Beware of added sugar as some companies like to sneak them into our favorite fermented foods. Remember, to make a healthy AND delicious fermented food, sugar is not required to get the job done. It simply takes beneficial bacteria + brine (salt + H2) in a jar with an airtight lid.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans consume 17 pounds of added sugar per year, per PERSON! This is bad news for your health, as sugar can lead to systemic inflammation and chronic disease.
Let’s not have our dear Sauerkraut contribute to this alarming statistic unnecessarily. It tastes just as amazing without it, I promise.
Popular Ways to Enjoy Sauerkraut
Remember, the taste can be described as a tangy twist. If it had to be compared to another relatable food, I would say it’s a cross between the punch of a pickle with the subtle saltiness of hearts of palm.
Below are some quick and simple meal ideas that can easily incorporate sauerkraut for flavor enhancement and elevated health!
- On top of scrambled or fried eggs + toast
- Inside a hummus and veggie sandwich
- On top of guacamole
- With a snack plate of crackers, hummus, and olives
- On any type of meat-based sandwich (turkey, chicken, beef)
- Add tang to a hamburger or hot dog
- Extra pizazz for a salad
- Create a salty-sweet, crunchy cranberry tuna salad
While Sauerkraut may still be unfamiliar to many, the combination of its supportive health benefits and unique tangy flavor has given rise to its sudden popularity.
Make sure to consider this information when looking to buy the best sauerkraut for gut health. Your health and taste buds will undoubtedly thank you for adding sauerkraut into your daily routine!
The purpose of this information is to inform and empower the reader to make positive lifestyle changes. The intent is not to replace medical advice or instructions given by your doctor or healthcare provider.
Angela Lago is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and holds a Master’s of Science in Nutrition. She is passionate about researching the connection between gut health and mental wellness. Learn more about Angela’s journey from being depressed, anxious, and sleep deprived to being happy, healthy, and thriving!