Sauerkraut—fermented cabbage—isn’t just for hot dogs anymore. In addition to its deliciously tart taste, exciting research showcases the many health benefits of eating sauerkraut (with live cultures) on a regular basis. Here are some of the best reasons to love sauerkraut:
1. Anti-Fungal Properties: What if I told you that sauerkraut contains beneficial bacteria that are miniature anti-fungal manufacturing facilities? It sounds more like science fiction than science fact but it is true. Some of the probiotics in sauerkraut produce compounds to kill some species of Candida fungi, which are frequently involved in vaginal or intestinal infections. Published in the Journal de Mycologie Medicale, scientists found that the probiotics actually produced anti-fungal compounds to kill Candida—a common cause of vaginal or intestinal infections.
2. Boosts Athletic Performance: According to research published in Current Sports Medicine Reports, scientists found numerous sports-performance benefits of eating probiotic-rich foods, including reducing allergic conditions and enhancing recovery from fatigue, as well as improving immune function.
3. Helps Heal the Heart: Naturally-fermented foods like sauerkraut have been shown to boost levels of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, which are powerful antioxidants that protect the heart against cellular damage from free radicals.
4. Anti-Cancer Benefits: Scientists at the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, found that regularly eating fermented cabbage can help to regulate estrogen levels. Excess levels of estrogen have been linked with the development of estrogen-dependent breast cancers.
5. Regulates Hormones: Because sauerkraut can help reduce excessive levels of estrogen, it may be helpful with the treatment of many other hormonally-linked health concerns, including: menstrual difficulties and mood imbalances.
6. Prevents of Food Poisoning: Research shows that probiotics found in sauerkraut demonstrate antibacterial activity against harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and Shigella. Salmonella can cause food poisoning. Shigella are similar bacteria that also cause diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.
7. Anti-Viral Properties: Sauerkraut frequently contains the beneficial bacteria L. plantarum which has been found to have anti-viral effects. This makes sauerkraut a potential functional food in the treatment of colds, flu and chronic fatigue syndrome.
8. Gives Your Gut a Boost: With so many beneficial bacteria found in sauerkraut, enjoying it on a regular basis is a great way to boost the health of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
9. Great Taste and Versatility: Sauerkraut is delicious on its own, on top of your favorite vegan or turkey hot dog, on a black bean burger, or as a side dish to accompany just about any type of meal.
Unfortunately, most commercially-sold sauerkraut doesn’t contain any beneficial probiotics. Many commercial sauerkraut manufacturers have taken shortcuts in the making of sauerkraut to increase their profits. Instead of waiting for natural fermentation to occur, many instead employ an artificial pickling-type process using white vinegar which doesn’t contain any probiotics.
Those companies that stay true to natural processes still frequently pasteurize their sauerkraut so it can remain on grocery store shelves for longer periods. This pasteurization or heating process during bottling kills any live cultures that are needed for the health benefits of sauerkraut. Choose only sauerkraut with live cultures found in the refrigerator section of your health food or grocery store. Better yet, it is easy to make your own at home.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is a registered nutritionist and international best-selling and 19-time published book author whose works include: The Probiotic Promise: Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out.