You might be an avid sauerkraut fan if you slather it on your hot dog or pile it onto your Reuben sandwich. On the other hand, sauerkraut might be a food that you’ve never tried — or have any intention of trying. You might change your mind, however, once you learn how this “sour cabbage” can help improve your health.
Origins of sauerkraut
The word “sauerkraut” might lead you to believe that this food originated in Germany. It’s true that sauerkraut has been a staple in the German diet since the 1600s. But according to the website germanfoods.org, sauerkraut is a Chinese invention, dating back to more than 2,000 years ago, when the Chinese fermented cabbage in rice wine. It’s thought that this fermented cabbage fed the builders of the Great Wall of China during the winter months. A thousand years later, Ghenghis Khan brought this fermented cabbage to Europe. The Europeans then began to ferment cabbage using salt instead of rice wine. Salting the cabbage extracted water and allowed this mixture to ferment, “turning the sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid which served as a preservative,” says the website thespruceeats.com.
While we tend to think of sauerkraut as being German food, this cabbage delicacy is enjoyed by many countries in Europe, including Poland, France, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Russia. Sauerkraut made its way across the pond to North America when the English and German settlers arrived, and it’s long been associated with German communities, such as the Amish, in the U.S.
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Health benefits of sauerkraut
You might find it hard to believe that sauerkraut has much to offer in the way of nutrition and health. Surprisingly, it does! Here’s the lowdown:
It promotes gut health.
Sauerkraut is a wealth of good bacteria called probiotics. Probiotics keep your digestive tract happy and healthy, but their benefits extend beyond that: They are thought to reduce inflammation, prevent and treat vaginal and urinary tract infections (UTIs), lower cholesterol levels, and maybe even lessen anxiety and depression.
It supports a healthy immune system.
It can help you reach and stay at a healthy weight.
While eating sauerkraut won’t magically burn off unwanted pounds, it can be a part of a weight-loss plan. That’s because this cabbage dish is low in calories and high in fiber — a winning combination to keep you feeling full, longer. There’s also some research to indicate that sauerkraut’s probiotics could help lessen weight gain and promote weight loss (although more research is needed in this arena).
It might give your mood a boost.
Sure, you might feel happy munching on a hot dog with sauerkraut, but sauerkraut itself may help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, thanks to — again — probiotics, but also promoting the uptake of magnesium and zinc in the gut.
It might lower your risk of cancer.
Cabbage contains a compound called sulforaphane, which is also found in broccoli and kale. Sulforaphane may prevent the growth of cancer cells. And studies show that a higher intake of cruciferous veggies, including cabbage, is linked with a reduced risk of cancer.
Can eating sauerkraut help with diabetes?
In addition to the above benefits, sauerkraut, along with other fermented foods, may play a role in helping to manage blood sugars by improving insulin secretion from the pancreas and decreasing insulin resistance. While more research is needed, that fact that sauerkraut is low in calories and high in fiber makes it a good choice if you have diabetes.
One cup of canned sauerkraut contains:
- 45 calories
- 0.3 grams of fat
- 10 grams of carbohydrate
- 6 grams of fiber
- 2 grams of protein
- 1,560 milligrams of sodium
- 401 milligrams of potassium
One of the drawbacks of commercially prepared sauerkraut is its high sodium content. Fortunately, you can purchase lower-sodium varieties that may have closer to 400 milligrams of sodium.
Raw vs. canned sauerkraut
Some proponents of sauerkraut recommend eating raw sauerkraut rather than canned. With canned sauerkraut, the cabbage is sterilized with heat and then put into glass jars. The heating process may cause the sauerkraut to lose some of its health benefits (including loss of probiotics); plus, it may look yellow in color and taste different. Raw or fresh sauerkraut will be crunchy, have a tangier taste, and have a fresh color.
Tips for purchasing and using sauerkraut
- Buy sauerkraut from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Sauerkraut from the shelf may have undergone pasteurization, which can kill good bacteria.
- Read the label and choose brands that don’t contain preservatives.
- Choose sauerkraut that contains just cabbage and salt, and no sugar.
- Treat sauerkraut like a condiment to help limit your sodium intake.
- Try it on eggs, mashed into avocado, in a burrito, or blended into a salad dressing, suggests the website Fermented Food Lab.
You can even try your hand at making your own sauerkraut, but if you do, be sure to use sterile equipment and follow the recipe and directions very carefully.