The Gut Guide: Sauerkraut
The continuation of “The Gut Guide” leads us to a remarkable superfood when it comes to gut health. In our The Gut Guide: Microbiome post, we said that sauerkraut is a PRObiotic-rich fermented food. Although it is made up of German words sauer and kraut, and it is a part of German cuisine, this gut superfood originated elsewhere – China. (1) Sauerkraut is cabbage that is naturally fermented, which means that the microorganisms are not added; the live bacteria are naturally present. (1) Fermentation is a process in which bacteria are in charge of transforming one food into another. The gut-healing live bacteria help strengthen our gut microbiome and fight the bad, disease-causing bacteria.
A Brief History – Sauerkraut as a Cure for Scurvy
In order to find the cure for scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), the British admiralty sponsored voyages to the Pacific, according to the Journal of Medical Humanities. At the time, deaths at sea were very common and scurvy was known as the “plague of the Sea.” One of the captains, James Cook, used sauerkraut as one of the tools for combating scurvy. As an antiscorbutic (a food or a drug that can prevent or cure scurvy), sauerkraut contributed to Cook’s win against scurvy. (2)
Benefits of Sauerkraut
- A great source of probiotics and a powerful antioxidant
- Excellent source of vitamin E and C
- Neutralizing free radicals (atoms that cause illnesses)
- Anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic (cancer-protective) properties
- Enhances iron absorption (3,4)
Undeniable Connection - Sauerkraut and Gut Health
It is no wonder we use the word gut to describe a feeling that tells us whether something is good or bad, wrong or right. According to Harvard Health, the vagus nerve is what allows for the connection between our brain and our gut to happen. This is why many medication side effects are related to the gut. (5)
A healthy gut flora is extremely important. The dysfunction of the microbiome can lead to diseases such as obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, etc. (5)
It is important to note that by introducing probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, we can maintain the gut homeostasis. Sauerkraut serves as a great source of lactic acid bacteria. (3)
These bacteria alter gut microbiota and keep the gut environment healthy.
What to Look For?
The best sauerkraut is the one that is raw. Raw sauerkraut contains more bacteria strains and all the goodness we need for that healthy gut. (6) If you do not have time to make sauerkraut at home or to wait for it to ferment, there are a couple of important things to pay attention to when going to the store (7):
- Whether packed in a jar or a pouch, sauerkraut is typically found in the refrigerator section(the cold temperature slows down lacto-fermentation and the change of flavors)
- Look for unpasteurized sauerkraut (pasteurization is the heating process that kills the good bacteria)
- Find sauerkraut products that contain cabbage and salt (those are the only two ingredients needed for fermentation)
- Avoid sauerkraut that contains ingredients such as sugar and vinegar
- There might be additional vegetables included with the sauerkraut and that is okay!!
How Much Sauerkraut is Enough for a Healthy Gut?
Scientific evidence suggests that the dosage of probiotics depends on the type that we are ingesting. (8) Although ideal frequency and dosage have not been determined yet, the general rule of thumb is that we should try to incorporate them into our daily meals as much as we can. (9) Some studies suggest that 7-10g of sauerkraut daily helps with digestion and gastrointestinal tract health. (10)