Sauerkraut is a type of fermented cabbage with major health benefits.
It’s thought to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. Back then, fermentation was one of the methods used to keep foods from spoiling quickly.
Sauerkraut survived the test of time to become a popular side dish and condiment in many cultures. It’s especially appreciated in Germany, where its name comes from.
Due to the fermentation it undergoes, sauerkraut offers nutrition and health benefits far beyond those of fresh cabbage.
This article outlines 8 health benefits of sauerkraut and provides a step-by-step guide for how to make your own.
1. Sauerkraut is very nutritious
Sauerkraut contains many nutrients important for optimal health. One cup (142 grams) provides:
- Calories: 27
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 6 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Sodium: 41% of the daily value
- Vitamin C: 23% of the daily value
- Vitamin K1: 15% of the daily value
- Iron: 12% of the daily value
- Manganese: 9% of the daily value
- Vitamin B6: 11% of the daily value
- Folate: 9% of the daily value
- Copper: 15% of the daily value
- Potassium: 5% of the daily value
Sauerkraut is particularly nutritious because it undergoes fermentation, a process during which microorganisms on the cabbage digest its natural sugars and convert them into carbon dioxide and organic acids.
Fermentation starts when yeast and bacteria that are naturally present on the cabbage and your hands, as well as in the air, come into contact with the sugars in the cabbage.
Sauerkraut fermentation creates conditions that promote the growth of beneficial probiotics, which are also found in products like yogurt and kefir.
Probiotics are bacteria that provide powerful health benefits. They also help make foods more digestible, which increases your gut’s ability to absorb the vitamins and minerals they contain.
However, unlike cabbage, sauerkraut can be high in sodium. Keep this in mind if you’re watching your salt intake.
Summary: Sauerkraut is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Its probiotics also help your body absorb these nutrients more easily, which is what makes sauerkraut more nutritious than raw cabbage or coleslaw.
2. Sauerkraut improves your digestion
Your gut is said to contain over 100 trillion microorganisms or “gut flora,” which is more than 10 times the total number of cells in your body.
Unpasteurized sauerkraut contains probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that act as the first line of defense against toxins and harmful bacteria. They can also improve your digestion and overall health.
Probiotics like those in sauerkraut can help improve the bacterial balance in your gut after it has been disturbed by the use of antibiotics. This can help reduce or prevent antibiotic-provoked diarrhea.
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Research also shows that probiotics help reduce gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and symptoms linked to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Probiotic supplements may contain anywhere from 1–50 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) per dose. In comparison, 1 gram of sauerkraut may contain 1,000–100 million CFUs.
Different probiotic strains may provide varying advantages. Thus, consuming a wide variety of strains may give you a broader range of health benefits.
In this regard, sauerkraut may have the advantage. Research has reported that one serving may contain up to 28 distinct bacterial strains.
Like most other fermented foods, sauerkraut contains a variety of enzymes, which help break down nutrients into smaller, more easily digestible molecules.
Summary: Sauerkraut is a source of probiotics, which provide many potential health benefits. It also contains enzymes that help your body absorb nutrients more easily.
3. Sauerkraut boosts your immune system
Sauerkraut is a source of immune-boosting probiotics and nutrients.
For starters, the bacteria that populate your gut can have a strong influence on your immune system. The probiotics found in sauerkraut may help improve the balance of bacteria in your gut, which helps keep your gut lining healthy.
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A stronger gut lining helps prevent unwanted substances from “leaking” into your body and causing an immune response.
Maintaining a healthy gut flora also helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and may even boost the production of natural antibodies.
Moreover, regularly consuming probiotic foods like sauerkraut may reduce your risk of developing infections, such as the common cold and urinary tract infections.
If you do get sick, regularly consuming probiotic-rich foods may help you recover faster.
In addition to being a source of probiotics, sauerkraut is rich in vitamin C and iron, both of which contribute to a healthy immune system.
In particular, upping your vitamin C intake when you have the common cold may help you get rid of symptoms more quickly.
Summary: Sauerkraut is a source of probiotics, vitamin C, and iron, all of which contribute to a stronger immune system.
4. Sauerkraut may help you lose weight
Regularly consuming sauerkraut may help you lose weight and keep it off.
That’s partly because sauerkraut, like most vegetables, is low in calories and high in fiber. High-fiber diets keep you fuller for longer, which may help you naturally reduce the number of calories you eat each day.
Sauerkraut’s probiotic content may also contribute to a trimmer waistline.
The exact reasons aren’t yet fully understood, but scientists believe that certain probiotics may have the ability to reduce the amount of fat your body absorbs from your diet.
Various studies report that participants given probiotic-rich foods or supplements lost more weight than those given a placebo.
A recent study even reports that purposely overfed participants given probiotics gained about 50% less body fat than overfed participants given a placebo. This suggests that a probiotic-rich diet may even help prevent weight gain.
However, these results are not universal. In addition, different probiotic strains may have varying effects. Thus, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of sauerkraut-specific probiotic strains on weight loss.
Summary: Sauerkraut’s low calorie, high fiber, and high probiotic content may help prevent weight gain and promote the loss of unwanted body fat.
5. Sauerkraut helps reduce stress and maintain brain health
While your mood can affect what you eat, the reverse is also thought to be true. What you eat can affect your mood and brain function.
An increasing number of studies are discovering an intimate connection between your gut and brain.
They’ve found that the type of bacteria present in your gut may have the ability to send messages to your brain, influencing the way it functions and perceives the world.
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For instance, fermented, probiotic foods such as sauerkraut contribute to the creation of a healthy gut flora, which research shows may help reduce stress and maintain brain health.
Probiotics have been found to help improve memory and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, autism, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Sauerkraut may also maintain brain health by increasing your gut’s absorption of mood-regulating minerals, including magnesium and zinc.
That said, some researchers warn that compounds in sauerkraut may interact with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), a type of medication prescribed to treat depression, anxiety disorders, and Parkinson’s disease.
Individuals taking these medications should consult their healthcare provider before adding sauerkraut to their diet.
Summary: Sauerkraut promotes healthy gut flora and may increase the absorption of mood-regulating minerals from your diet. Both of these effects help reduce stress and maintain brain health.
6. Sauerkraut may reduce the risk of certain cancers
Cabbage, the main ingredient in sauerkraut, contains antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds that may help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Researchers believe these compounds may help reduce DNA damage, prevent cell mutations, and block the excessive cell growth that typically leads to tumor development.
The cabbage fermentation process may also create particular plant compounds that suppress the growth of precancerous cells.
Certain genes are associated with an increased risk of cancer. The expression of these genes is sometimes modulated by chemical compounds in the food you eat.
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Two recent studies suggest that cabbage and sauerkraut juice may help reduce the risk of cancer by reducing the expression of cancer-associated genes.
In another study, researchers observed that women who ate a lot of cabbage and sauerkraut from their teens into adulthood had a reduced risk of breast cancer.
The women consuming more than 3 servings per week had a 72% lower risk of breast cancer than those who ate less than 1.5 servings per week.
Another study in men shows cabbage had similar effects on the risk of prostate cancer.
However, the number of studies is limited, and not all studies found the same results. Thus, more are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Summary: Sauerkraut contains beneficial plant compounds that may reduce the risk of cancer cells developing and spreading.
7. Sauerkraut may promote heart health
Sauerkraut may contribute to a healthier heart.
That’s because it contains a good amount of fiber and probiotics, both of which may help reduce cholesterol levels.
Probiotics such as those found in sauerkraut may also help lower blood pressure slightly in people with hypertension. People seem to achieve the best results when they take at least 10 million CFUs per day for longer than 8 weeks.
Moreover, sauerkraut is one of the rare plant sources of menaquinone, more commonly known as vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 is believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing calcium deposits from accumulating in the arteries.
In one study, regular intake of vitamin-K2-rich foods was linked to a 57% lower risk of dying from heart disease over the 7–10 year study period.
In another, women reduced their risk of heart disease by 9% for every 10 mcg of vitamin K2 they consumed per day.
For reference, 1 cup of sauerkraut contains about 6.6 mcg of vitamin K2.
Summary: The fiber, probiotic, and vitamin K2 contents of sauerkraut may contribute to lower cholesterol levels, slight improvements in blood pressure, and a lower risk of heart disease.
8. Sauerkraut contributes to stronger bones
Sauerkraut contains vitamin K2, which plays an important role in bone health.
More specifically, vitamin K2 activates two proteins that bind to calcium, the main mineral found in bones.
This is thought to contribute to stronger, healthier bones. Several studies have shown that vitamin K2 may benefit bone health.
For instance, a 3-year study in postmenopausal women observed that those taking vitamin K2 supplements experienced slower rates of age-related loss in bone mineral density.
Similarly, several other studies have reported that taking vitamin K2 supplements reduced the risk of spine, hip, and non-spine fractures by 60–81%.
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However, some of these studies used supplements to provide very high doses of vitamin K2. Thus, it’s unknown whether the vitamin K2 you’d get from eating sauerkraut alone would provide the same benefits.
Summary: Sauerkraut contains vitamin K2, a nutrient that promotes healthier, stronger bones.
How to shop for sauerkraut
You can find sauerkraut easily in most supermarkets, but not all types you’ll come across will be the same.
To ensure you get the most out of store-bought sauerkraut, try to keep these simple tips in mind:
- Avoid pasteurized varieties. Off-the-shelf sauerkraut is typically pasteurized, a process that kills the beneficial probiotics. Refrigerated varieties are less likely to be pasteurized, but check the label to be sure.
- Avoid preservatives. Many store-bought sauerkraut brands contain preservatives, which may lower the probiotic count.
- Avoid added sugars. Sauerkraut should only contain two basic ingredients: cabbage and salt. Some varieties may also add extra vegetables, but avoid those that add sugar or anything else to the mix.
Alternatively, to make sure you get all the health benefits of sauerkraut, you can make it yourself.
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Summary: You will get the most benefits out of store-bought sauerkraut by opting for non-pasteurized varieties that don’t contain added sugars or preservatives.
How to make sauerkraut
Making sauerkraut is easy, simple, and inexpensive. Here’s how:
- 1 medium green cabbage
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of non-iodized salt
- 2–3 carrots, shredded (optional)
- 2–3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)
Have a 1-quart (1-liter) jar ready to keep the sauerkraut in, a 4-ounce (120-mL) smaller jar to press it down, and a kitchen scale to weigh your cabbage mixture.
- If you wish to add carrots and garlic, start by placing them in a large bowl.
- Discard the outer leaves of your cabbage, setting one nicer leaf aside. Then, slice the cabbage into quarters, leaving the core in. This makes shredding easier.
- Shred the cabbage quarters into the large bowl with the carrot and garlic mix. Incorporate enough cabbage to bring the total weight up to 28 ounces (800 grams), which will fit a 1-quart (1-liter) jar.
- Add salt and massage it into the cabbage mixture for a few minutes until brine starts accumulating at the bottom of your bowl.
- Pack the cabbage mixture into a clean, 1-quart (1-liter) jar, pressing down to get rid of air pockets. Pour the remaining brine into the jar. Air in the jar enables harmful bacteria to grow, so make sure the mixture is completely submerged.
- Trim the cabbage leaf you set aside earlier to the size of your jar opening. Place it in the jar on top of the mixture to prevent veggies from floating to the surface.
- Place a 4-ounce (120-mL) jelly jar with no lid inside the larger jar, on top of the mixture. This will hold your veggie mixture below the brine during fermentation.
- Screw the lid onto your 1-quart (1-liter) jar. It will press the jelly jar down, keeping your cabbage mixture below the brine. Leave the lid slightly loose, which will allow gases to escape during the fermentation process.
- Keep it at room temperature and out of direct sunlight for 1–4 weeks.
Keep in mind that the larger the head of cabbage you start with, the sweeter and better your sauerkraut will taste.
If you’re impatient to taste your creation, you can do so after 7 days. The longer you allow it to ferment, the stronger the taste will be.
Summary: Follow the steps above to make your own inexpensive, tasty sauerkraut at home.
Sauerkraut is incredibly nutritious and healthy.
It provides probiotics and vitamin K2, which are known for their health benefits, and many other nutrients.
Eating sauerkraut may help you strengthen your immune system, improve your digestion, reduce your risk of certain diseases, and even lose weight.
To reap the greatest benefits, try eating a little bit of sauerkraut each day.