What’s the Best Sauerkraut for Probiotics and Gut Health?

Nowadays, with IBS, leaky gut, and other digestive health issues exponentially on-the-rise, holistic and functional nutrition practitioners worldwide are leaning more on “functional” fermented, probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut to help support people suffering from digestive woes. But unfortunately, choosing the best sauerkraut for probiotics and gut health is no longer as easy and simple as it once was, probably because of the controversial nature of the food and healthcare industry.

(Many of my clients over the years have agreed they’d rather look for a needle in a haystack than try to navigate the health food & supplement aisle of a supermarket on their own!  Enough said…) 

In efforts to provide you with some clarity to cut through any confusion, overwhelm, decision fatigue, or “analysis paralysis” you may be going through when it comes to finding or making a sauerkraut that actually contains probiotics for a healthier gut, I’ve decided to unpack everything for you in this article!

Disclaimer

This article is meant to be educational and informative. This is not medical advice!  Please always consult a doctor and a functional dietitian-nutritionist if you’re on medication and/or navigating health issues, since nutrition is not “black and white” and one size never fits all.

Disclosure

As an Amazon Associate, I make a commission for any purchase made through my Amazon-Whole Foods affiliate* links below, at no extra cost to you!

What is sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut (translating from German to English as “sour cabbage”… go figure!) is essentially just cabbage that has been lacto-fermented in its own brine of cabbage juice and salt for a period of time.  

  • This popular traditional German staple food has been around for hundreds of years, and was officially named “sauerkraut” back in the 1600s according to GermanFoods.org.

What is lacto-fermentation?

The process of lacto-fermentation (which is required in order to make traditional sauerkraut) occurs when certain types of naturally occurring bacteria from the food (in this case, fresh cabbage), when submerged in a salt brine, chemically alter and break down fibers and carbohydrates from that food in ways that enhance its digestibility and boost its nutritional value for humans. 

(This is a very win-win situation!)

Why lacto-fermentation?

While not all fermentation is always a good thing, in the case of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and pickles to name a few, the lacto-fermentation process is beneficial and done on purpose!

Natural preservation of foods 

Our ancestors relied heavily on lacto-fermentation because they didn’t yet have refrigerators, so fermentation allowed for them to preserve fresh produce (i.e. cabbage) which would otherwise perish and expire pretty quickly. 

Increased nutritional value of foods

When a food like cabbage is fermented in its own juices to become sauerkraut, it also becomes more nutritious because these probiotic microbes produce nutrients such as vitamin C in the process of fermenting the food!

Enhanced digestibility of foods

Lacto-fermentation can help tough, fibrous foods like cabbage to become more digestible by breaking them down, which could be compared to “par-cooking” vegetables before using them in a recipe. 

Traditional lacto-fermented sauerkraut and other fermented foods also naturally provide a generous dose of “good” probiotic bacteria when done properly. (Probiotics are our allies when it comes to breaking down and digesting food in the gut!)  

Long story short, traditional sauerkraut and other naturally probiotic-rich fermented foods have been recently making a full-circle debut as a hot commodity in my world of functional nutrition.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics, as mentioned above, are “good”, healthy, beneficial bacteria or yeast which live in our body and which can also reside in certain types of probiotic-rich foods such as traditional lacto-fermented sauerkraut.

Probiotic microbes are known to support our gut microbiome, which is an ecosystem of trillions of microbes living in the gut and impacting not just digestion but virtually every aspect of health! 

Bottom line: probiotics need us to live, and we also need them. 

  • This mutually benefical dynamic is known as ‘symbiosis’. Fancy, I know!

Probiotic health benefits 

Probiotics help us to digest our food more easily; they help make vitamins for our health; they even nourish and protect the cells that make up our gut lining! 

These allies serve as our first line of defense in the gut, in that they fight off and keep out “bad” parasitic microbes as well as any substances that our body has deemed toxic or unsafe.  

They also help keep the bad stuff out of the body, while making it easier for the good stuff (like carbs, fats, proteins, and micronutrients) to enter into the body!  

Probiotics, dysbiosis, and gut health (oh my)

I could probably spend an entire year nerding out JUST on dysbiosis (an imbalance of “good” and “bad” microbes in the gut), but I’ll spare you! 😎

Dysbiosis is a modern-day health epidemic which has been linked to digestive issues of all kinds. It’s when your gut doesn’t have enough probiotic microbes, which creates an opportunity for “bad” harmful microbes to start growing out of control, leading to a “domino effect” cascade of other problems if left unchecked.

Our modern-day culture has predisposed people (especially millennials and younger generations) to dysbiosis and subsequent leaky gut / immune imbalance, due to the overuse of antibiotics in mainstream healthcare as well as in sanitizers, livestock, and more. 

(The overuse of antibiotics is only one of multiple underlying causes of dysbiosis! This is something we discuss more in-depth in my Complete Gut Repair Roadmap online program.)

For now, just keep in mind that fermented probiotic foods are helpful and necessary to rebalance the gut microbiome in ways that can change the trajectory of your digestive health for the better. 😉

While sauerkraut and other fermented foods aren’t always good for everyone with gut health issues, sauerkraut can still be worth trying in many cases for people looking to improve their digestion! (This isn’t medical advice; please work with a functional dietitian-nutritionist if you’re unsure.)

What is the best sauerkraut for gut health?

In general, the best sauerkraut for gut health (for those who tolerate it well) is a sauerkraut which serves as a natural food source of probiotics.

(While this may sound like a no-brainer, keep reading! I’m about to explain why finding sauerkraut with probiotics can get tricky, and what to do about it.)

Does all sauerkraut have probiotics?

While technically all sauerkraut is fermented, what most people don’t realize is that not all sauerkraut out there nowadays contains probiotics, thanks to the processed food industry. 🙁

  • Some versions of sauerkraut (as well as kimchi and pickles) are made with vinegar and/or sugar, which both inhibit the growth of “good” probiotic bacteria in fermented foods.
  • Most commercially made sauerkraut products you’ll find in stores are pasteurized, which likely means they don’t contain probiotics.

Does store-bought sauerkraut have probiotics?

As you may already know, in the world of nutrition, nothing is ever black-and-white.

That said, while a select few store-bought sauerkraut products do contain probiotics, the majority of sauerkrauts available on the shelves in supermarkets have actually been pasteurized and sterilized, and/or they contain certain ingredients which limit/prevent the growth of probiotics.

Pasteurizing a food or drink means to treat it with heat or radiation, which will partially or completely sterilize it, killing off all microbes (including the good guys).

  • While pasteurization can be helpful for increasing a food’s shelf life and/or reducing the likelihood of food poisoning (such as in cases of factory-farmed dairy which can often carry Listeria), the collateral damage from pasteurization is that all the “good” beneficial probiotic microbes that support gut health also get killed off.

Common ingredients added to store-bought sauerkraut such as sugar, vinegar, and preservatives are intended to enhance the taste and preserve the shelf-life of sauerkraut, but these ingredients unfortunately inhibit the fermentation process.  

  • That being said, sauerkraut products made with sugar, vinegar, and/or other preservatives will likely not have probiotics.

How to know if sauerkraut contains probiotics or not

“Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day… teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” – Unknown

You’re more than welcome to refer to the list below of my favorite store-bought probiotic-containing sauerkraut brands and recipes…

But in lieu of teaching you to fish, I figured it would be empowering for you to first learn how to navigate sauerkraut nutrition labels on your own! 😉

That said, if you’re interested in better understanding the “methods behind the madness” when it comes to choosing the best sauerkraut for probiotics and gut health, feel free to check out my step-by-step tutorials below.

How to Know If Store Bought Sauerkraut Contains Probiotics - 4 Steps

Step 1:  Look in the refrigerated section

Keep in mind that while all probiotic sauerkraut is refrigerated, not all refrigerated sauerkraut contains probiotics.  

However, looking only in the refrigerator for raw sauerkraut brands at your supermarket will likely make your quest for the store-bought sauerkraut with probiotic a bit quicker and easier!

To further narrow down your options, you’ll want to check the label of each refrigerated sauerkraut option to verify that it contains probiotics.

Step 2:  Look for keywords on the label

While this step isn’t 100% “fool proof” in that some unpasteurized sauerkraut products can still be made with sugar or vinegar, I’ve found that most probiotic sauerkraut products will list or mention at least one of the following somewhere on their labels: 

  • “Contains live active cultures”
  • “Probiotic”
  • “Live” (indicates presence of probiotics)
  • “Raw” (indicates product has not been pasteurized/sterilized)
  • “Unpasteurized” 

In some cases, the product may be partially pasteurized (such as in cases of Bubbie’s sauerkraut) but since it’s not fully pasteurized, it may still contain probiotics.

Either way, I highly recommend proceeding to step 3 to verify whether or not a particular brand of store-bought sauerkraut contains probiotics!

Step 3:  Avoid certain ingredients

If your goal is to incorporate sauerkraut as a “functional food” to provide you with probiotics for gut health (versus just using it as a condiment on your Reuben sandwiches or hot dogs), you’ll want to make sure the sauerkraut you choose doesn’t contain any of the following ingredients:

  • Food dyes
  • Vinegar of any kind
  • Sugar of any kind
  • Preservatives such as:
    • Sodium benzoate
    • Sodium bisulfate 
    • Lactic acid

Long story short:  when looking at the ingredient list on a sauerkraut nutrition label, the only ingredients you should see listed to verify your sauerkraut contains probiotics are cabbage and salt, and optionally some other veggies and/or herbs for extra flavor and spice.

Does organic matter?

Generally speaking, it’s considered better than not for your sauerkraut to be organic (to reduce and minimize consumption of pesticide residues from the cabbage and for the sake of our environment).

But in the grand scheme of things, making sure your sauerkraut is organic is not going to impact the probiotic count the way vinegar, sugar, and pasteurization do.

  • The middle of the cabbage is not directly sprayed with chemicals like pesticides, herbicides or fungicides – it’s just the very outer layer which is often removed.

“Organic” also doesn’t necessarily mean that a sauerkraut product contains probiotics! 

Either way, I’ve noted which of the U.S. store-bought probiotic sauerkraut products below are organic in cases that’s something you’d like to take into consideration. 😉 

Best store-bought sauerkraut brands

If you’re a sauerkraut “novice” and you’re in the early stages of trying sauerkraut to see if it helps you feel better, starting by sampling a few different store-bought probiotic sauerkraut products might make the most sense.

While there’s a slight learning curve when it comes to finding probiotic sauerkraut in supermarkets, the good news is it can be done! 

You’ve got options, my friend. The only decision you’ll need to make at this point is which brand, flavor and ingredient combo you’d like to try first.

Below are my favorite go-to brands of sauerkraut with probiotics which can be found in certain supermarkets, Amazon’s Whole Foods pick-up/delivery, and/or ordered online.  

(Keep in mind, this list is not exhaustive – you’ll likely be able to find even more pre-made probiotic sauerkraut products at local health food stores and farmers’ markets!)

Is store-bought or homemade better?

The main benefit of going with a store-bought probiotic sauerkraut is the convenience aspect.  It’s SO much more convenient and time-saving to purchase done-for-you raw probiotic sauerkraut than to make it at home!  

On the other hand, the cost difference in making your own versus buying probiotic sauerkraut is pretty exponential.

That said, if you’re on a tighter budget and/or you’re already an avid sauerkraut consumer and finding you seem to go through those jars pretty quickly, DIY probiotic sauerkraut might be the best next step for you on your journey!  With just a little practice, making your own raw sauerkraut with probiotics is actually a pretty simple and easy process.  (The hardest part, in my opinion, is the time and effort it takes to shred the cabbage…) 

Either way, speaking first-hand as someone who has endured and prevailed on a gut-healing journey, I personally think it’s worth trying out both options (store-bought and homemade sauerkraut) and then deciding for yourself what you prefer!

Homemade probiotic sauerkraut recipes

Whether you’re new to the fermentation craft or you’re already a sauerkraut connoisseur (or anything in between), I think you might also enjoy trying out the following homemade probiotic sauerkraut recipes:

How to incorporate probiotic sauerkraut into meals

While probiotic sauerkraut is a prime example of “food as medicine” in that it’s a functional food which serves the purpose of supporting better gut health, sauerkraut can still be fun and tasty as an integral part of your holistic lifestyle!

Below are a few ways I like to incorporate probiotic sauerkraut into my meals for optimal gut health:

  • Add sauerkraut to sandwiches or wraps
  • Top your salads with a spoonful of sauerkraut
  • Include a spoonful of sauerkraut on burgers

…Or to keep things simple, you can also use the “down-the-hatch” method where you basically just eat a spoonful of sauerkraut on its own before or after a meal. 😀

The bottom line

Finding the best sauerkraut for probiotics to support a healthier gut doesn’t have to be confusing or complex, as long as you know what to look for!

The specific sauerkraut brands and products recommended in this article are guaranteed to provide you with probiotics, but it’s also helpful and empowering to know how to “read between the lines” when looking at sauerkraut nutrition labels so you can identify probiotic sauerkraut on your own.

When shopping for sauerkraut at a grocery store, ruling out any options that contain vinegar, sugar, and preservatives on the ingredient list and/or looking for keywords such as “raw”, “probiotic” or “unpasteurized”, on the label will help you to quickly identify which sauerkraut options are best, by process of elimination.

Buying probiotic sauerkraut at the store is far more convenient and time-saving compared to making your own; however, learning how to make your own sauerkraut using one of the DIY recipes listed above as a guide can be a budget-friendly alternative which will allow you to eat plenty of probiotic-rich sauerkraut on your gut-healing journey, while also saving lots of money over time!

Sauerkraut can be healthy for some people and harmful for others. Consult your healthcare team if you’re unsure whether sauerkraut is a good fit for you or not.

If you’re interested in getting more customized advice, receiving more clarity, and making more progress on your gut-healing journey, I invite you to join me in the next round of the Complete Gut Repair Roadmap online group program!