Traditional, lacto-fermented sauerkraut is getting a lot of attention, and for a good reason: it has much to offer the digestive and immune systems, and may also help with normalizing blood glucose. New research even suggests that it may offer a high level of protection against several cancers and depression.
What is lacto-fermented sauerkraut?
Cabbage has several strains of beneficial bacteria on its leaves. One is Lactobacillus, the same type found in yogurt. When fermentation takes place in salty brine, bacteria begin the work of digesting sugars in the cabbage and producing lactic acid as a product of their anaerobic metabolism. However, the lactic acid also inhibits the proliferation of less beneficial strains of bacteria, creating a probiotic-rich superfood!
What health benefits can I expect from lacto-fermented sauerkraut?
If you have recently finished a round of antibiotics, your intestinal bacteria have taken a beating. You can begin the long process of rebuilding this essential component of digestive and immune health with lacto-fermented sauerkraut. However, even in the absence of antibiotics, you may have a very unfavorable ratio of beneficial to harmful bacteria in your intestines — more than 500 strains are commonly represented —especially if you eat the typical American diet high in sugar and white flour products.
You depend on the beneficial bacteria for several things:
- Producing hormones that regulate fat storage (yes, an unfavorable balance of intestinal bacteria can short circuit your weight loss efforts!)
- Producing vitamin K and biotin, but more generally in aiding digestion
- Keeping the intestinal epithelium healthy and intact
- Preventing depression
Sauerkraut also has powerful anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Savoy cabbage is currently being researched for its rich supply of sinigrin, a glucosinolate that, when converted into the isothiocyanate, AITC, is powerfully protective against colon, prostate, and bladder cancers. Red cabbage, on the other hand is rich in glucoraphanin, a glucosinolate that is hydrolyzed to sulforaphane, an exceedingly potent anti-cancer agent also found in broccoli (and its sprouts).
When these cabbages are fermented, their cruciferous goodness is further magnified because their phytonutrient and micronutrient content is more readily absorbed. Flavonoids in fermented cabbage protect artery walls from oxidative damage. Cabbage, when eaten raw, lowers cholesterol, but fermenting it may increase its ability to bind bile acids. Sauerkraut (and traditionally cabbage juice) is also widely used to enhance the stomach’s secretion of hydrochloric acid.
How much sauerkraut should I eat?
Start slowly, perhaps a half-tablespoon per day. Some people may find symptoms worsening when they begin eating fermented foods. This is most likely caused by die-off of bad bacteria, and though not uncommon or particularly dangerous, can make you feel worse. You need to reintroduce beneficial strains into your system slowly.
Sauerkraut contains massive amounts of beneficial bacteria, far more than the strongest probiotics, in a small serving. Until your body becomes accustomed to its altered intestinal flora, proceed slowly. Eventually, you may want to learn how to make your own sauerkraut and make fermented veggies a daily part of your diet. Good health and long life await you!