There are so many reasons to recommend this simple food for everyone really – and so few people know about the powerful health benefits of Sauerkraut.
What is this anyway?
Why is it so good for you?
And how to fit it into your diet?
I recommend sauerkraut for so many of my clients – and usually, the answer is a polite reluctance.
Even if it’s cheap and widely available in shops and supermarkets – it is not a widely used ingredient in the United Kingdom.
It’s fact that Sauerkraut is not a traditional English food – nowadays it is imported from Germany or Poland and even its German name is so strange for the English ears. But bear with me and you will see there is nothing scary about this food.
What is Sauerkraut anyway?
Sauerkraut is a fermented food – basically pickled cabbage. The word itself sauerkraut simple means ‘sour cabbage’ and it’s made similarly to pickled cucumber or kimchi. The cabbage is shredded, salted and left naturally fermented in an airtight container stored at 15 °C (60 °F) or below for weeks or even for months-.
Sometimes sliced apples, grated carrots and spices too (black peppercorns, bay leaves and caraway seeds) are added to the cabbage. During the fermentation, a wide diversity of beneficial bacteria grow on the raw cabbage leaves and these give the distinctive flavour and high nutritional value for the end product: a soft, tangy and very tasty vegetable. Fermentation is also a way of preservation and it was widely used in the old times before refrigerators and freezers were invented – not just in Europe but in Asia too. This way makes it possible to preserve nutrient-rich vegetables for the winter months without additives or without freezing it.
Why is Sauerkraut good for you?
Most of the people in the UK could definitely benefit from the consumption of sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is a brilliant source fibre, B, C and K vitamins, minerals like calcium and magnesium, antioxidants – and as a bonus it’s fermented – so it’s easier to digest and contain lactobacillus bacteria.
Let’s see bit by bit:
It’s rich in fibre
96% of the sauerkraut is basically cabbage. This means that one serving is of your five a day, low in calories – plus it provides a high amount of fibre which is vital for a healthy digestion and weight loss.
Packed with vitamins
Sauerkraut is not just rich in vitamin B, C and K but it’s an extraordinary source of these vitamins as the fermentation increases the bioavailability of them. This means that our bodies can absorb more vitamins from the fermented cabbage than from the raw vegetable itself!
Rich in minerals
Sauerkraut is rich in minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, manganese and magnesium.
High in antioxidants
Sauerkraut is high in the antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin and isothiocyanates. Zeaxanthin – together with lutein, vitamin C and E – is vital in eye health, lowers the risk of cataracts and other eye diseases. Isothiocyanates are linked to a lower incident of cancer (especially colon cancer). Studies proved that isothiocyanates produced in sauerkraut fermentation not just inhibit the growth of cancer cells but even kill the cancerous cells.
The enzymes in sauerkraut make easy to our digestive tract to break down food (sugars and starches). This means that not just the fermented cabbage itself is digested easily but it helps us to digest other heavy and/or industrial food too – reducing bloating, constipation, obesity and fatigue.
Provides live Lactobacilli
The live unpasteurized and uncooked sauerkraut contains Lactobacillus bacteria – a friendly bacteria similar to live bacteria cultures in yoghurt. There is an incredibly diverse bacteria culture in naturally fermented sauerkraut and this helps us to maintain a healthy gut flora. Why is so important to keep our bacteria flora in our gut happy? Because basically, they make us able to break down food and to make it easier for our body to extract and absorb the nutrients in the food. They also protect us from illnesses, play a role in metabolism and produce vitamins.
When is recommended to eat regularly Sauerkraut?
- When you need to rebuild your gut microbiome (flora of microbes in the gut) after surgery or antibiotic-course
- When you want to lose weight
- When you suffer from IBS
- When you suffer from any kind of digestive problems
- When you do not eat dairy products – especially dairy products with live cultures like yoghurt
- When you have cancer or you would like to prevent cancer
- When your immune system needs a boost
How to find the real Sauerkraut?
Be careful as the health benefits listed above true only for the real, naturally fermented sauerkraut and not the quickly pickled cabbage using vinegar or additives. Sometimes it’s heated to get a soft texture but the high temperature reduces the vitamin content and kills all beneficial bacteria. Unfortunately, modern manufacturers try to speed up the fermentation process by adding vinegar – so the product can hit the supermarket shelves within a week instead of waiting for nature to do the job in 4-10 weeks. (The same happens to soy sauces and other fermented foods too.) The added vinegar makes the taste sour but there will be no beneficial enzymes and probiotics in the final product.
Before buying it have a look at the ingredients list (no vinegar, yeast and sugar added to the good stuff) and look for the “live sauerkraut” or “naturally fermented” claims on the package.
You can make your own sauerkraut too – if you are adventures. You can find the method online, just google “how to make sauerkraut” or look it up on Pinterest.
How to make Sauerkraut part of your diet?
Probably this what needs a little bit of imagination. Introducing a food, what has not been part of the traditional family recipes – it’s not easy, I admit.
But remember: eating only a small amount of sauerkraut regularly is more than enough to provide the health benefits listed above.
(Actually, too much sauerkraut can cause bloating and gas.)
Here are a few ideas where Sauerkraut can play a role:
- Use it on burgers instead of ketchup and mustard
- Add to your Jacket potato
- Eat it in sandwiches
- Eat it with tuna salad or it can be the base for any salad
- Eat it as a pickle with roast meat or sausage – can be a perfect and compulsory side dish on barbeques or at Sunday lunch
- Fry it in a little oil in a pan, add sliced apple and this is a perfect side dish to roast pork
- Use it in stews instead of raw cabbage – it definitely gives a sour kick to the meal. If the sauerkraut is too sour – just simply rinse it with clean water before adding it to your meal.
- Sauerkraut also can be the base of very tasty and filling casseroles like this recipe:
Sauerkraut Casserole with Quorn
Time: 60 minutes
Nutritional info (per serving):
Calories: 199; Cah: 25g; Fat: 6g; Protein: 10g
1 jar sauerkraut (about 800g), drained
350g Quorn mince
1 onion, finely chopped
100 ml uncooked brown rice
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
200ml kefir or low-fat cream Fraiche
Cook the brown rice according to package instructions and let it cool down a little bit.
Heat the olive oil and fry the onion then add the Quorn and the garlic. Fry for 5 minutes then let it cool down a bit.
Mix the Quorn and onion with the cooked rice, egg and season.
Put half of the sauerkraut into a baking dish, spread it evenly, then spread the rice mixture over it. Cover with the rest of the sauerkraut, pour the kefir on the top and bake it on 180C for 30-40 minutes.