Well, according to www.germanfoodguide.com “Raw sauerkraut is a very healthy food. It is both very low in fat and high in vitamin C. It is also a good source of lactobacillus – even more than yoghurt.”
That all sounds fantastic but in journalism school they tell you to be cautious about your sources (I assume) so, no offence Germany but it’s sort of like Italy.com telling us mozzarella cures the common cold or Ireland.com suggesting the fountain of youth can be found at the bottom of a 10 pound bag of potatoes. We love you but we’re gonna need to see your references.
Ok, so here’s what we know from other sources. Sauerkraut is simply sliced cabbage, heavily salted and then covered in water and allowed to ferment for 4-6 weeks. Right out of the gate, you’re starting with cabbage, what nutritionist Johnny Bowden called “the most important vegetable in the world from the point of view of nutritional benefits and cancer-fighting ability,” in a July 9 New York Times article (only the freshest news here at SPC!) . In fact, one US researcher found that Polish women who ate sauerkraut three or more times per week were 70% less likely to get breast cancer than women who ate less than one and a half servings. After all, cabbage has its own nutrition benefits, being part of the Brassica family (which includes kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts) known for its health punch.
But it’s the fermentation process that takes cabbage to whole new healthy heights. That’s because fermenting the cabbage causes the growth of lactic acid bacteria, aka probiotics. According to UK nutritional therapist, Martina Watts, “the fibre and lactic acid bacteria improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel flora, protecting against many diseases of the digestive tract,” including irritable bowel syndrome, Candida, salmonella and E-Coli. Plus, in a 2002 Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry article, “Finnish researchers reported that fermenting cabbage also produces compounds known as isothiocyanates, shown in laboratory studies (in test tubes and animals) to prevent the growth of cancer.” In another animal study reported in Eating Well Magazine, “last year researchers at Seoul National University found that giving extract of kimchi (a Korean take on sauerkraut) to 13 chickens infected with avian flu seemed to help the birds fight the disease. Within one week, 11 of the birds had begun to recover.” To be fair this was a very small study and it’s unlikely we’ll all be getting sauerkraut prescriptions next flu season but it does lend some credibility to the fermented food.
The only potential downside to sauerkraut is its very high sodium content. For many people, particularly in North America where sodium is an issue anyway, adding something so salt-laden for the other health benefits mentioned might not be worth it. The good news is that a quick rinsing of sauerkraut eliminates a lot of the salt. The other good news? If you hate sauerkraut, you can get many of the same benefits from other fermented foods like miso, tempeh and high quality fermented yogurts and dairy products. The caveat: according to Dr. Weil “unfortunately, most commercially available sauerkraut is pasteurized and “dead” – that is, it lacks the beneficial bacterial cultures that make it so good for us. Instead, all you get is a lot of salt. To get the health benefits, look for fresh sauerkraut in the refrigerated sections of natural food stores and in barrels in delicatessens that still make their own. Or, even better, make it yourself – it’s not that difficult.” All worth it to elevate the lowly hotdog to health food status, dontcha think?