A one-cup serving of sauerkraut provides about a quarter of our daily value for vitamin K, 35 percent of our vitamin C, 12 percent of iron, four grams of fiber and only 32 calories—all more bioavailable because of the fermentation process.
But beyond its basic nutrient profile—which is a great one—sauerkraut has emerged as an important super food that provides a number of potential health benefits. Here are five of them.
1. Prevent Cancer
In 2005, researchers from Poland reported that high cabbage/sauerkraut intake in girls 12-13 years old through adulthood reduced risk of breast cancer. Women who ate at least three servings a week of raw or short-cooked cabbage and sauerkraut had a significantly reduced risk compared to those who had only one serving per week.
The scientists theorized that the “glucosinolates” in cabbage (natural components in many pungent plants) helped decrease DNA damage and cell mutation, and also blocked processes that stimulated excessive cell growth, which typically leads to tumors. The fermentation process breaks down the glucosinolates into “isothicyanates” and other compounds that encourage precancerous cells to self-destruct.
Other studies have reported similar findings. In 2012, Nutrition Cancer showed that consumption of cabbage and sauerkraut was connected with a significant reduction in breast cancer incidences. A second 2012 study also reported that raw cabbage and sauerkraut juices could affect the genes involved in the activation of carcinogens, exerting anticarcinogenic activity.
2. Boost Immunity
Sauerkraut is a good source of probiotics—friendly bacteria that help boost immunity. In 2005, scientists found that it contained bacteria (lactobacillus) that could combat bird flu. Researchers actually gave kimchi—a spicy cabbage dish similar to sauerkraut—to chickens infected with bird flu, and one week later most had recovered.
In a 2012 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, scientists found that the probiotics like those found in sauerkraut raised levels of the immune system antibody IgG3 by as much as 66 percent.
A later 2013 study also found that fermented sauerkraut juice could be used “as an antifungal and antibacterial agent to cure infectious diseases.” In fact, the juice performed more efficiently against fungal infectious agents than a commercially available antibiotic.
Sauerkraut is so efficient at protecting us from infections that it’s been called “the next chicken soup.”
3. Ease Digestion—a Better Source of Probiotics than Yogurt!
In addition to boosting immunity, the probiotics in sauerkraut help ease digestion, rebalancing the gut and improving overall health. In fact, pickled veggies like sauerkraut, pickles, olives, kimchi, and others have long been served with meals to improve digestion.
The fermentation creates an acidic environment where friendly flora can proliferate. Sauerkraut has more good-for-you probiotics than even yogurt. In fact, sauerkraut was an old folk remedy for constipation and other forms of stomach upset, and is now thought to help with bloating, traveler’s diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well.
A 2006 study in The Journal of Applied Microbiology noted that the lactic acid bacteria in sauerkraut help improve not only immune function, but the health of the intestinal tract. Because it’s not heated or pasteurized, it’s packed with enzymes that make it easy to digest. It provides about 16 percent of your daily fiber requirement, which is also good for digestion and a healthy heart.
4. Control Blood Sugar Levels
Fermented foods like sauerkraut slow down stomach emptying, which helps to reduce blood glucose levels. A 2012 animal study, for example, found that fermented mung bean extracts significantly reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic mice. An earlier 2005 human study found that lactic-acid fermented foods like sauerkraut could reduce blood sugar spikes after meals, creating results comparable to Metformin, the leading diabetic medication.
A more recent 2013 study found that participants who ate kimchi every day saw drops in fasting blood glucose levels after just one week.
5. Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
In the study above, researchers found that in addition to controlling blood sugar levels, daily intake of kimchi also helped lower cholesterol levels. Those who had the highest total cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol levels had the largest dips in those readings—suggesting the food may be particularly helpful in those struggling with high cholesterol numbers. Some researchers think that the probiotics in the food bind to the cholesterol in the small intestine, preventing absorption, but we need more research to know exactly how it works.
An earlier 2011 study found that not only did kimchi help reduce fasting glucose and cholesterol, but it also helped reduce blood pressure and body weight. Participants who ate the fermented food once a day for two weeks showed significant decreases in body weight, body mass index, and body fat, as well as waist-hip ratio and fasting blood glucose. Differences in blood pressure and cholesterol were significantly greater in the group eating fermented kimchi than in those who ate fresh kimchi.
Researchers concluded that fermentation creates more beneficial effects because of the increase in lactic acid bacteria—the same one that’s in sauerkraut.
Do you consume sauerkraut or other fermented foods regularly? Please share any tips you may have.
* * *
Joint Association of High Cabbage/Sauerkraut Intake at 12-13 Years of Age and Adulthood with Reduced Breast Cancer Risk in Polish Migrant Women: Results from the US Component of the Polish Women’s Health Study (PWHS) ?Abstract # 3697, Dorothy Rybaczyk-Pathak, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.?Poster Session C. 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, November 2, 2005, http://www.aacr.org/home/public–media/aacr-press-releases.aspx?d=553.
Szaefer H, et al., “Modulation of CYP1A1, CYP1A2, and CYP1B1 expression by cabbage juices and indoles in human breast cell lines,” Nutr Cancer, 2012 Aug; 64(6):879-88, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22716309.
Szaefer, H, et al., “Modulation of carcinogen metabolizing cytochormes in P450 in rat liver and kidney by cabbage and sauerkraut juices: comparison with the effects of indole-3-carbinol and phenethyl isothiocyante,” Phytother Res 2012 Aug; 26(8): 1148-55, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22173777.
Jasper Copping, “Sauerkraut could fight bird flu, say scientists,” Telegraph, November 15, 2005, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/3326273/Sauerkraut-could-fight-bird-flu-say-scientists.html.
Pundir Ram Kumar, et al., “Fermented Sauerkraut Juice as Antimicrobial Agent: An In Vitro Study,” International Research Journal of Pharmacy, 2013, 4(12): 46-49, http://www.irjponline.com/admin/php/uploads/2079_pdf.pdf.
Giuliano Rizzardini, et al., “Evaluation of the immune benefits of two probiotic strains Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis, BB-12 and Lactobacillus paracasei ssp. paracasei, L. casei 431 in an influenza vaccination model: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study, British Journal of Nutrition, March 2012; 107(6):876-884, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8369014&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S000711451100420X.
Jessica Brusco, “What Are the Health Benefits of Sauerkraut as a Fermented Food?” SF Gate, http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/health-benefits-sauerkraut-fermented-food-8989.html.
Yeap SK, et al., “Antihyperglycemic effects of fermented and nonfermented mung bean extracts on alloxan-induced-diabetic mice,” J Biomed Biotechnol. 2012;2012:285430, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23091343.
Karen Vaughan, et al., “Vinegar, lemon juice and lactic acid fermented fruits and vegetables can reduce blood sugar spikes, lower the glycemic index of foods being fermented, and can cause weight loss. Information on how to make lactic acid fermented foods,” Alternative Health, January 29, 2005, http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com/alternative-health/vinegar-lemon-juice-and-lactic-acid-fermented-fruits-and-vegetables-can-reduce-blood-sugar-spikes-lower-the-glycemic-index-of-foods-being-fermented-and-can-cause-weight-loss-information-on-how-to-m.
“Kimchi each day keeps the doctor away? Korean superfood credited with lowering cholesterol, fasting blood glucose,” NY Daily News, Marhc 5, 2013, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/kimchi-cholesterol-lowering-superfood-study-article-1.1279677.
Seoyoung, “Korean fermented Kimchi reduces body weight and high blood pressure,” CNN, November 24, 2011, http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-708294.
Kim EK, et al., “Fermented kimchi reduces body weight and improves metabolic parameters in overweight and obese patients,” Nutr Res, 2011 Jun;31(6):436-43, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21745625.