Most people know that garlic, beans, and whole grains offer many heart health benefits. But there’s a surprising food that ranks right up there with those heart-healthy foods: sauerkraut. There are five ways that this overlooked superfood can boost your heart health.
Research in the medical journal Food and Function found that unpasteurized sauerkraut contained a potent probiotic known as wild lactobacillus plantarum FC225, to which many of sauerkraut’s heart-healing abilities could be attributed. Upon investigation, the scientists conducting the study found that the probiotic-rich sauerkraut helped in the following ways:
- reduced cholesterol levels
- reduced triglyceride levels
- significantly increased levels of two powerful antioxidants known as superoxide disumutase (SOD) and glutathione
- decreased the degradation of fats in the body (a process known as lipid peroxidation)
Antioxidants like SOD and glutathione eliminate harmful free radicals–charged molecules that damage tissues and cells in the body, including the heart and blood vessels.
When cabbage or other ingredients are turned into sauerkraut through the brining and fermentation process, the numbers and varieties of beneficial microbes significantly increases. Additionally, many of the nutrients found in the cabbage or other vegetables become more absorbable to the body. The process also allows the food to last much longer than it would without fermentation.
Unfortunately most of the sauerkraut sold in grocery stores has been pasteurized thereby killing all of the beneficial microbes in the process and offering little nutritional value. More stores are starting to offer non-pasteurized sauerkraut, which are usually kept in the refrigerator section. Be sure that the product you select contains “live cultures” as indicated on the label otherwise it is unlikely that it contains any probiotics at all. Some of the brands that indicate that their products contain live cultures include: Noona’s, Pickled Planet and Wild Brine.
Of course, the best way to ensure your sauerkraut is full of active microbes is to make your own. While you may have heard that it is a difficult process, it is actually quite easy. Once you’ve made your first batch of sauerkraut you’ll find it simple to do it again. It is easy to create different flavor combinations simply by adding different ingredients. Apple cabbage is excellent. Garlic and chili are also great additions to cabbage for a delicious spicy sauerkraut. The options really are endless.
If you’re not a fan of the traditional-tasting store-bought sauerkraut, there are many other commercial alternatives with unique and delicious flavor combinations, such as curry cauliflower, beet and red cabbage, seaweed and ginger, to name a few.
Some of the health benefits of sauerkraut include its ability to increase your digestive health, boost your circulation, protect your heart health, provide you with quick energy, stimulate your immune system, strengthen your bones, reduce your overall cholesterol levels, eliminate inflammation, protect against certain cancer, and even improve your vision and skin health.
Although as a child, you may not have liked the taste or smell of sauerkraut (I know I didn’t), this slightly unique form of finely cut cabbage can be a major source of health benefits for you! Basically, sauerkraut is cabbage that has been fermented, which is where the distinct sour taste comes from. It is popularly used as a side dish or even as a condiment in certain cultures, which can be added to sausage or hot dogs. Fermented foods are commonly found in cultures throughout the world, but sauerkraut is one that has managed to find a global market, and is popular throughout Europe, Asia, and America.
Historical records point to its origin being somewhere in China, having been brought to Europe at some point during the Roman Empire. Pickled or fermented foods like sauerkraut were very valuable in the era before refrigeration, as it allowed food to stay fresh during long journeys. Many people now associate sauerkraut with Eastern European countries and Germany, which does feature it heavily in certain cultural dishes, but it is truly an international favorite. The fermentation process of sauerkraut is similar to the process of making kimchi or pickles, meaning that heat is not applied during the process, as this will kill the bacteria that makes the fermentation process possible. Besides being a delicious addition to a number of meals, sauerkraut also makes for a health addition to any diet. Let’s take a look at some of the nutritional elements that make this “sour cabbage” so important!
Nutritional Value of Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut contains high levels of dietary fiber, as well as significant levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and various B vitamins. Furthermore, it is a good source of iron, manganese, copper, sodium, magnesium, and calcium, in addition to contributing a moderate amount of protein to your diet.
Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Energy Production:The high levels of ironfound in cabb age (sauerkraut) can be very beneficial for the body in a variety of ways. First of all, iron helps to contribute to energy production, as it increases the body’s metabolism and also boosts circulation, which increases oxygenation of organs and cells. This increased blood flow is a result of more RBC, of which iron is a key component. High iron levels helps prevent anemia (iron deficiency) and the side effects associated with that condition (headaches, fatigue, cognitive impairment).
Digestive Health: Cabbage is famed for its high fiber content, which is well known as one of the key points in any diet for the benefit of digestive health. Sauerkraut obviously shares this benefit, and can help to move food through the bowels, eliminating constipation, bloating, cramping, and excessive gas along the way. By regulating your digestive and excretory system, you can also prevent more serious conditions, like gastric ulcers and even colon cancer.
Heart Health: Fiber may be commonly consumed for digestive health, but it is also very important for thehealth of your heart. Fiber is able to scrape off dangerous cholesterol from the walls of arteries and blood vessels by binding with the fats and cholesterol and removing them from the body. Therefore, less cholesterol enters the bloodstream and your overall cholesterol level is balanced. This can prevent atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, and a variety of other cardiovascular issues.
Eye and Skin Health: Sauerkraut also contains quite a few carotenes and a significant amount of vitamin A. This essential vitamin acts as an antioxidant, as do the carotenes, and eliminate free radicals from the body’s systems, which are the dangerous byproducts of cellular metabolism that can cause healthy cells to mutate. Sauerkraut has been linked to improved eye health, as vitamin A reduces the chances of macular degeneration and cataract formation. Furthermore, in terms of the skin, vitamin A helps to maintain the integrity of your skin, slowing down the appearance of wrinkles, eliminate blemishes, and generally keeping your skin looking young and healthy, thanks to the free-radical neutralizing powers of sauerkraut!
Immune System Booster: As most people know, when you’re feeling under the weather, have some orange juice, as it’s such a rich source of vitamin C. Well, a single serving of sauerkraut has 35% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C, which is one of the most important elements of our immune system. Vitamin C stimulates the production of white blood cells and increases cellular regeneration and repair, while also playing a key role in the formation of collagen, a foundational component for almost every part of our body, including organs, blood vessels, skin, hair, muscles, and bones.
Inflammation Reduction: If the many vitamins and minerals present in sauerkraut weren’t enough, there are also certain organic compounds found in this cabbage variant that work as anti-inflammatory agents. Phytonutrient antioxidants contained in sauerkraut can double as anti-inflammatory agents, reducing the pain and discomfort of joints, muscles, or other inflamed areas.
Cancer Prevention: Although research is still underway to reveal the exact impact of sauerkraut on cancerous cells, the presence of antioxidant compounds in sauerkraut (as with all cruciferous vegetables) means that free radicals can be eliminated, which are one of the main causes behind cancerous cell formation.
Strong Bones: The wide range of minerals found in sauerkraut make it ideal for building strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. The high level of vitamin K (23% of daily recommended intake in a single serving), which is a somewhat uncommon mineral, is particularly important for maintaining the integrity and strength of your bones, as vitamin K produces the proteins that regulate bone mineralization!
A Final Word of Warning: Despite all of these health benefits, sauerkraut is very high in sodium, which can be a dangerous dietary addition to people suffering from various cardiovascular and renal diseases. Speak to your doctor about an appropriate level of sauerkraut consumption if you suffer from these types of health concerns.