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 (1).
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 eight health benefits of sauerkraut, and provides a step-by-step guide for how to make your own.
Sauerkraut contains many nutrients important for optimal health. One cup (142 grams) provides you with (2):
- Calories: 27
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 7 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Sodium: 39% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 35% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 23% of the RDI
- Iron: 12% of the RDI
- Manganese: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 9% of the RDI
- Folate: 9% of the RDI
- Copper: 7% of the RDI
- Potassium: 7% of the RDI
Sauerkraut fermentation is the process of microorganisms on the cabbage digesting its natural sugars and converting them into carbon dioxide and organic acids.
Fermentation starts when yeast and bacteria that are naturally present on the cabbage, your hands and in the air come into contact with the sugars in the cabbage.
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 (4, 5). This is what makes sauerkraut more nutritious than raw cabbage or coleslaw.
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.
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 (6).
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 (4, 7, 8).
Probiotics like those in sauerkraut can help improve the bacterial balance in your gut after it's been disturbed by the use of antibiotics. This can help reduce or prevent antibiotic-provoked diarrhea (9, 10, 11).
However, according to some non-scientific sources, some types of sauerkraut may contain much higher amounts.
Different probiotic strains may also provide different advantages. Thus, consuming a wide variety of strains may give you a broader range of health benefits.
On this aspect, sauerkraut may have the advantage. Research has reported that one serving may contain up to 28 distinct bacterial strains (16).
Like most other fermented foods, sauerkraut also contains a variety of enzymes, which help break down nutrients into smaller, more easily digestible molecules (4).
Summary: Sauerkraut is a great source of probiotics, which provide many health benefits. It also contains enzymes that help your body absorb nutrients more easily.
Sauerkraut is a rich 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 help improve the balance of bacteria in your gut, which keeps your gut lining healthy.
Summary: Sauerkraut is rich in probiotics, vitamin C and iron, all three of which contribute to a stronger immune system.
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 (36, 37, 38, 39). Sauerkraut's high probiotic content may also contribute to a trimmer waistline.
The exact reasons aren't yet fully understood, but scientists believe that probiotics may have the ability to reduce the amount of fat your body absorbs from your diet (40, 41). Various studies report that participants given probiotic-rich foods or supplements lost more weight than those given a placebo (42, 43, 44). 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 (45).
However, these results are not universal. In addition, different probiotic strains may have different effects. Thus, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of sauerkraut-specific probiotic strains on weight loss (46, 47).
Summary: Sauerkraut's low calorie, high fiber and high probiotic content may help prevent weight gain and promote the loss of unwanted body fat.
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.
For instance, fermented, probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut contribute to the creation of a healthy gut flora, which research shows may help reduce stress and maintain brain health (51, 52, 53, 54).
Probiotics have been found to help improve memory and lower symptoms of anxiety, depression, autism and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (49).
Sauerkraut may also maintain brain health by increasing your gut's absorption of mood-regulating minerals, including magnesium and zinc (48).
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 (55, 56).
Individuals taking these medications should check with their doctor 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 help reduce stress and maintain brain health.
Cabbage, the main ingredient in sauerkraut, contains antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds that may help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Certain carcinogens are believed to become cancer-causing after they've been "activated" by particular enzymes.
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 three servings per week had a 72% lower risk of breast cancer than those who ate less than 1.5 servings per week (64).
A recent study in men shows cabbage had similar effects on the risk of prostate cancer (65).
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 help prevent cancer cells from developing and spreading.
Sauerkraut may contribute to a healthier heart.
Probiotics such as those found in sauerkraut may also help lower blood pressure slightly. People seem to achieve the best results when they take at least 10 million CFUs per day for longer than eight weeks (70).
Moreover, sauerkraut is one of the rare plant sources of menaquinone, more commonly known as vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 is believed to help reduce heart disease by preventing calcium deposits from accumulating in the arteries (71).
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 (72).
In another, women reduced their risk of heart disease by 9% for every 10 mcg of vitamin K2 they consumed per day (73).
For reference, 1 cup of sauerkraut contains about 6.6 mcg of vitamin K2 (74).
Summary: The fiber, probiotic and vitamin K2 content in sauerkraut may contribute to lower cholesterol levels, slight improvements in blood pressure and an overall lower risk of heart disease.
Sauerkraut contains vitamin K2, which plays an important role in bone health.
This is thought to contribute to stronger, healthier bones. In fact, several studies have shown that vitamin K2 may benefit bone health.
For instance, a three-year study in postmenopausal women observed that those taking vitamin K2 supplements experienced a slower age-related loss in bone mineral density (77).
Similarly, several other studies have reported that taking vitamin K2 supplements reduced the risk of spine, hip and non-spine fractures by 60–81% (78).
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.
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.
Summary: You will get the most benefits out of store-bought sauerkraut by opting for non-pasteurized varieties that contain no added sugars and no preservatives.
Making sauerkraut is easy, simple and inexpensive. Here's how:
- 1 medium green cabbage
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) non-iodized salt
- 2–3 carrots, shredded (optional)
- 2–3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)
- 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 oz (800 grams), which will fit a 1-quart (1-liter) jar.
- Add salt and massage it into cabbage mixture for a few minutes until brine starts accumulating at the bottom of your bowl.
- Pack cabbage mixture into a clean, 1-quart (1-liter) jar, pressing down to get rid of air pockets. Pour remaining brine into the jar. Air in the jar enables bad bacteria to grow, so make sure the mixture is completely submerged.
- Use the cabbage leaf you set aside earlier and cut it 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-oz 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 at room temperature and out of direct sunlight for 1–4 weeks.
If you're impatient to taste your creation, you can do so after at least seven days. The longer you allow it to ferment, the stronger the taste will be.
Here are some additional sauerkraut recipes:
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, both known for their health benefits, as well as many other nutrients.
Eating sauerkraut may help strengthen your immune system, improve your digestion, reduce your risk of certain diseases and maybe even help you lose weight.
To maximize the benefits, try eating a little bit of sauerkraut each day.