Sauerkraut Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Sauerkraut

Getty Images / Kseniya Ovchinnikova

Sauerkraut, meaning “sour cabbage” in German, is a tangy slaw of fermented cabbage. Though it’s known as a German national dish, the practice of fermenting cabbage dates back to ancient China. With a simple recipe that often uses only shredded cabbage and salt, this zesty condiment is very low in calories. Meanwhile, as a fermented food, it’s an excellent source of probiotics—the good bacteria that help your microbiome thrive.

Although you might think sauerkraut is inseparable from bratwurst, it can be used as a condiment on numerous other foods or eaten as a side dish in its own right. Here’s a look at the nutrition, health benefits, and culinary uses of sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information, for ½ cup (70 grams) of sauerkraut, has been provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 28
  • Fat: 1.75g
  • Sodium: 463mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugars: 1g
  • Protein: 0.5g

Carbs

The majority of calories in sauerkraut come from carbohydrates. Of the 3 grams of carbs in a ½ cup serving, 2 grams are from fiber and 1 gram is from naturally occurring sugar.

Fats

Sauerkraut isn’t a high-fat food, with just under 2 grams of fat per serving. However, different sauerkrauts may contain more or less fat, depending on their recipe.

Protein 

Sauerkraut contains very little protein. Each serving provides approximately 0.5 grams.

Vitamins and Minerals

At 463 milligrams per ½ cup, sauerkraut is quite high in sodium. People who need to limit sodium in their diet may want to eat sauerkraut sparingly. On the positive side, however, it also has significant amounts of vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K, and iron.

Health Benefits

May Boost Gut Flora and Weight Loss

Since sauerkraut is so low in calories and carbohydrates, it can be a tasty, savory condiment compatible with weight loss efforts—especially if it replaces other higher-calorie foods. Meanwhile, this pickled cabbage’s high probiotic content might be another point in its favor for weight loss. Research has shown a link between the health of gut flora and a lower likelihood of obesity.  

May Boost Mental Health

Although more research is needed, some studies have raised the possibility that probiotics in fermented foods could help improve mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. This may be possible because of the connection between the gut and the brain.

May Boost Digestion

Sauerkraut’s probiotic benefits continue! Due to the combination of sauerkraut’s friendly gut bugs and its substantial fiber content, it could help smooth your digestion. Research has linked probiotic supplementation to improvements in both constipation and diarrhea. One small Norwegian study particularly examined sauerkraut’s digestive effects. Researchers found that IBS patients who ate sauerkraut daily for six weeks had fewer symptoms.

May Reduce the Risk of Some Cancers 

Sauerkraut could play a role in keeping certain kinds of cancers at bay. Some research has indicated that raw or fermented cabbage might modulate the expression of certain genes related to cancers of the breast, pancreas, prostate, stomach, and lungs.

Compatible with Many Diets

As a minimally processed food with a short ingredient list, sauerkraut is compatible with many special diets. People on a Paleo, keto, whole30, vegan, and vegetarian diet can all include sauerkraut in their menu.

Allergies

Although sauerkraut’s simple ingredients—cabbage and salt—are not common allergens, it is possible to be allergic to this dish. Some people are allergic to sulfur-based compounds in sauerkraut called sulfites. This is much more common for people who have asthma or other allergies—but even with these conditions, the risk of a sulfite allergy is relatively low. Studies report only three to 10 percent of people with asthma are sensitive to sulfites.

Adverse Effects

Most people will benefit from including sauerkraut in their diet, and adverse effects are unlikely. However, people with certain health conditions may need to be careful about spreading a bit of this German favorite on their brats or potato pancakes. If you have a histamine intolerance, for example, sauerkraut is a food to avoid. The bacteria that create its signature sour flavor also increase its histamine content.

Sauerkraut also contains tyramine, a substance that can spell trouble for people who are prone to migraines. This is because tyramine affects the neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for modulating pain. If you know high-tyramine foods are a trigger for your headaches, steer clear of sauerkraut.

Additionally, the tyramine in sauerkraut may interact with a class of medications known as MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors). These drugs are usually prescribed to treat depression or anxiety disorders. People who take them are usually advised to take high-tyramine foods like sauerkraut out of their diet.

Finally, people who need a low-sodium diet should use sauerkraut sparingly. Sauerkraut is quite high in sodium.

Varieties

The simple ingredients of sauerkraut provide a blank canvas for all sorts of additions. You can include extra shredded veggies like carrots, peppers, or onions for a unique flavor spin, or try various combinations of herbs, spices, or types of vinegar. Even fruit (especially apples) sometimes makes an appearance in sauerkraut recipes. Although you may not see multiple varieties on store shelves, in your own home kitchen, there’s no limit to the varieties of sauerkraut you can cook up.

When It’s Best 

When you purchase sauerkraut at the store, there’s no way of knowing when its cabbage was harvested—so there aren’t any rules for when it’s best. On the other hand, for making your own sour, salty condiment, late-season cabbage is recommended. Choose a cabbage head that’s firm, without signs of wilting or disease.

Storage and Food Safety

A sealed, unopened jar of sauerkraut should be stored in a cool, dry place. Once you open the jar, be sure to re-seal and refrigerate any leftovers.

Homemade sauerkraut comes with somewhat different instructions for food safety. While a mixture is in the fermentation stage—which can take up to three or four weeks—it should be stored at 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Thereafter, you can keep it in the fridge for several months. Sauerkraut can also be frozen, but since it has such a long life when refrigerated, freezing may not be necessary.

How to Prepare

Making your own sauerkraut is surprisingly easy. Start by shredding a head of cabbage. Toss with sea salt (a good rule of thumb is 1 ½ teaspoons of salt per pound of greens). Let sit until cabbage begins to release some of its juices, which should take about 20 minutes. Squeeze the mixture with your hands or pound it to help it release even more juice. Pack the mixture into a glass jar with a resealable lid, making sure the cabbage is submerged entirely in liquid. Seal and let ferment in a cool, dark place for up to one month.

Recipes

Healthy Sauerkraut Recipes to Try

Try sauerkraut as a tasty topping or side dish with any of these recipes:

·     Healthy Chicken Breakfast Sausage

·     Low Calorie Potato Skins

·     Tender Roasted Carrots with Orange and Fresh Herbs

·     Anti-Inflammatory Kale and Potato Hash with Fried Egg and Tomato

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