The Best Sauerkraut for Probiotics and Gut Health: Functional Dietitian Picks

e’sOne thing I had to figure out early on during my gut-healing journey is that not all sauerkraut is created equal! (Most people don’t know that while all sauerkraut contains prebiotics, not all sauerkraut contains probiotics.)  In a nutshell:  the best sauerkraut for probiotics and for gut health is any type of raw (unpasteurized) sauerkraut which is doesn’t contain any sugar, vinegar, or preservatives such as lactic acid, sodium benzoate, or sodium bilsufate (since those ingredients all interfere with the process of “lactofermentation” responsible for making probiotics).

While thay may all sound confusing and complex at first glance, I’ve got you covered!  Keep reading, and I’ll walk you through step-by-step exactly how to choose a prebiotic-containing and probiotic-rich sauerkraut for optimal gut health. And just in case you aren’t into label reading, I’ve also done the “heavy lifting” for you and included a comprehensive list of all my favorite store-bought sauerkrauts with probiotics!

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

This article is meant to be educational and informative. This is not medical advice!  Please always consult holistic dietitian nutritionistfunctional 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

This article contains affiliate links*.  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:

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. 😉

The Best Store-Bought Sauerkraut Brands for Probiotics and Gut Health

Best store-bought sauerkraut brands

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

With this list, 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. You can find these 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!)

Best organic store-bought sauerkrauts

If you can find an organic version of raw sauerkraut, it’s better than non-organic.

That’s because conventional cabbage can be sprayed with certain chemicals found in pesticides and herbicides (like glyphosate) which, while beneficial for keeping weeds and insects away, may not be in our best interest to be consuming on-the-reg.

The following are my current favorite organic, raw, lacto-fermented sauerkrauts on the market:

Best non-organic store-bought sauerkrauts

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. 😀

(Learn more about how to bring raw sauerkraut into your life here!)

Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s)

Is sauerkraut a prebiotic or a probiotic food?

Since cabbage contains oligosaccharides, all sauerkraut is considered a prebiotic food!

However, only raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut made without any vinegar, sugar, or preservatives would be considered a probiotic food.

So sauerkraut is always a prebiotic food, and sometimes a probiotic food.

Refer to the above list as needed for the best probiotic sauerkraut options!

Is store-bought or homemade sauerkraut 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!

What’s the best grocery store sauerkraut?

The best grocery store sauerkraut options include, but aren’t limited to, the following brands which are organic and use high quality ingredients:

  • Pickled Planet (Whole Foods, natural food stores)
  • WildBrine sauerkruat (Whole Foods, Sprouts, and natural food stores)
  • Real Pickles sauerkraut (east coast only) – Whole Foods, Stop & Shop (MA – sometimes) and natural food stores

Why is sauerkraut good for gut health?

While sauerkraut isn’t good for everyone’s gut health, raw probiotic sauerkraut is generally beneficial for gut health in many cases.  This is because raw sauerkraut is a “functional food” rich in prebiotics and probiotics.

These are generally very good for gut health because they help us to digest our food, protect our gut lining from pathogens, and produce a substance called short-chain fatty acids or “post-biotics” which are anti-inflammatory.

Is Claussen sauerkraut good for you?

The answer to this question depends on who you ask, but I would say no.

Aside from being pasteurized, Claussen sauerkraut contains the following ingredients:  CABBAGE, SALT, WATER, SODIUM BENZOATE AND SODIUM METABISULFITE (TO PRESERVE FLAVOR).

Sodium benzoate, when paired with vitamin C, and exposed to light or heat, it forms benzene: a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).  (1)  And sauerkraut naturally contains vitamin C.  So, you do the math!

Generally I’m not a fan of sodium benzoate and choose to avoid it whenever possible.

Which store bought sauerkraut has probiotics?

Refer to the above list of sauerkraut options which are pre-made, available in stores (or online) and contain probiotics!

What’s the best way to eat sauerkraut for probiotics?

The best way to eat sauerkraut for probiotics is to NOT heat it or cook it, since this would kill off the probiotics.

It’s also a good idea to eat probiotic sauerkraut within ~30 minutes of a meal, since it will travel farther down into your gut when mixed with food.

Is canned sauerkraut a probiotic?

No, canned sauerkraut does not contain probiotics.  However, many variations of jarred sauerkraut do contain probiotics.

Is Bubbies sauerkraut raw?

No, Bubbies sauerkraut isn’t raw; however, it still contains probiotics and offers health benefits. I ate Bubbie’s sauerkraut throughout my healing journey (and still eat it often to this day) for probiotic benefits.

Is sauerkraut healthy for you?

Sauerkraut is a great source of prebiotics and sometimes probiotics. Raw sauerkraut in small quantities can be healthy for lots of people from a gut health standpoint, but it’s not for everyone.

People on sodium-restricted, low FODMAP, low histamine and/or low tyramine diets may find that sauerkraut may or may not healthy for them depending on the type and quantity of sauerkraut as well as your unique oral tolerance.

Is all sauerkraut good for you?

Nope!  Some sauerkraut is healthier than others.

The healthiest sauerkrauts are organic and raw (unpasteurized), and free of added sugar/vinegar or chemicals.

The unhealthiest sauerkrauts contain artificial food dyes, and potentially harmful preservatives like sodium benzoate.

Does Frank’s Kraut have probiotics?

No, Frank’s Kraut do not have probiotics.

(When in doubt, look on the label to see if a sauerkraut label says that the product “contains live active cultures”.)

Can you eat too much sauerkraut?

Yes! Too much of anything (even healthy foods) can and will become harmful for us.

Sauerkraut is very high in salt and sodium.

  • Too much sodium can be especially detrimental for people with kidney disease, kidney stones, and/or high blood pressure.

Sauerkraut can also be relatively high in FODMAPs, sulfur, tyramine, and histamine.

  • Theses types of constituents can sometimes cause diarrhea, gas, bloating, and/or upset stomach – especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and/or a histamine/tyramine intolerance.

Can you eat sauerkraut on an empty stomach?

Yes, it’s generally safe to eat sauerkraut on an empty stomach and you can still receive health benefits.

Should I be eating sauerkraut on an empty stomach?

You don’t necessarily have to be eating sauerkraut on an empty stomach in order to receive the health benefits! It just needs to be probiotic sauerkraut, and compatible with your bio-individuality.

Is Eden sauerkraut pasteurized?

According to their frequently asked questions page, it isn’t clear whether or not Eden Foods sauerkraut is pasteurized; however, it is “hot packed” which does denature and kill a significant amount of the probiotic bacteria produced during fermentation.

Are all fermented foods probiotic?

All probiotic foods are fermented; however, not all fermented foods are probiotic.

This is because fermented foods may contain vinegar, preservatives, and/or they may be pasteurized.

Each of those factors would disrupt and sterilize (kill) probiotic microbes.

Only raw, unpasteurized fermented foods without any vinegar or preservatives are probiotic foods.

Can sauerkraut cause diarrhea?

It depends!  In my world of gut health and nutrition, I refer a lot to the concept of bio-individuality.

In other words, everyone will have their own unique response to sauerkraut!

Some people may find that it improves digestion, while others may find that sauerkraut causes or worsens symptoms such as gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea.

This is because white cabbage sauerkraut is considered high FODMAP food not allowed on a low FODMAP elimination diet for folks with IBS.

  • If you find that white cabbage sauerkraut gives you diarrhea, consider trying a variation of red cabbage sauerkraut and see if it works better for you!

Does sauerkraut make you poop?

Sauerkraut won’t usually make you poop right away, unless you’ve got a severe intolerance to cabbage (a high FODMAP food).

However, in many cases I’ve noticed that eating sauerkraut can help some of my clients with regularity.

When in doubt, consider keeping a food-symptom journal (such as this paperback IBS Food Diary*) to identify food triggers, and listen to your body!

Is sauerkraut low FODMAP?

According to Monash University’s FODMAP app, up to 1/2 cup of red cabbage sauerkraut (drained) is considered low in fructose, lactose, mannitol, sorbitol, GOS, and fructans – all the different types of FODMAP constituents in foods.

However, variations of white cabbage sauerkraut are high in mannitol (a FODMAP).

If you’re on a low FODMAP diet, consider trying raw probiotic red cabbage sauerkraut to see if you tolerate it well!

Recommended reading:  When is Sauerkraut Low FODMAP?

Red Sauerkraut - half cup drained is low FODMAP per Monash FODMAP App

How much sauerkraut per person should we be eating for gut health?

It depends!  Some people benefit from eating sauerkraut while others don’t.

First and foremost, work with a gut health dietitian nutritionist to determine whether or not eating sauerkraut will be beneficial for you.

If it’s beneficial, my general recommendation is to start with a teaspoon of sauerkraut (with a meal) and see how you tolerate it.

A general therapeutic dose of probiotic sauerkraut for gut health benefits ranges between 1 teaspoon per day and 1/8 cup per meal.

When in doubt, consult your healthcare team and listen to your body!

More resources

Sauerkraut is only one type of probiotic food, and this article doesn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to probiotics and gut heatlh. There is so much more to the story! If you found this article helpful, you may also want to check out the following articles:

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.  However, it’s empowering to know how to “read between the lines” when looking at sauerkraut nutrition labels – so you can find 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.

Let’s stay connected!

If you’re navigating gut issues, please know that you’re not alone!  If you’d like to connect with other holistic-minded folks on similar journeys, and get more holistic insights related to gut health, I invite you to join my private Facebook community here.

Repair Your Gut With Holistic Nutrition and Herbs - Jenna Volpe - Facebook Group

XO – Jenna

10 thoughts on “The Best Sauerkraut for Probiotics and Gut Health: Functional Dietitian Picks”

    1. Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT

      Hey Joseph, yes – cooking probiotic sauerkraut will most likely kill the probiotic microbes, which are heat-sensitive in nature.

  1. I sauté my entree, remove from heat, add sauerkraut juices to the pan and then add the kraut as the pan cools down. This provides enough heat to slightly warm the kraut. Will the sauerkraut retain its probiotics if warmed in this way?

    1. Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT

      Hi Cate, it’s difficult to know for sure since the amount of heat being applied is subjective.
      I’m guessing you may lose some but not ALL of the probiotics, just based on speculation.
      But when in doubt, give it a try and see if you still experience the probiotic benefits! (Your body will tell you, if you notice a significant difference from eating probiotic sauerkraut from a gut health standpoint.)

  2. Of course, none of those recommended brands are in any of our local grocery stores, as is always the case. In our refrigerated section, we have Claussen – that’s it.
    Despite the added ingredients which make Claussen less than preferable, I can’t find a straight answer on if it’s heated during manufacturing. Claussen has always advertised “Always chilled. Never heated,” for their pickles, but sources say both yes and no when asking if their kraut is heated.
    And, I’m not making my own kraut. That’s not my thing!

    1. Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT

      Hi Cera, thanks for the feedback. I’m sorry you don’t have any of the options listed available locally. Ordering probiotic sauerkraut online can often give you more options to choose from, especially if you’d rather not make your own (which I totally understand!).

      I didn’t see anything about Claussen sauerkraut indicating that it contains live active cultures, and it contains sodium benzoate as a preservative which wouldn’t be necessary if it had probiotics. (Just my two cents!) But you do you. 🙂

  3. Thank you Jenna for all the great information. I’ve started taking a probiotic and have experimented with several different ones. I’ve also incorporated ACV to help lower my blood sugar.
    There’s so much information to wade through it gets very confusing.
    Then I remember as a kid , coming from a large German family that my parents made large crocks of sourkraut and the health benefits as a probiotic. I’v become interested in making an attempt to try my hand at making homemade sauerkraut.
    I’ll continue to investigate any recipes I come across and any that you might be able to supply would be greatly appreciated.
    I’ll look into the ones that you have posted and start there.
    Thank you for all the great information you’ve provided and
    will continue to read the articles that you post. You are a true blessing 👍.
    Robert

    1. Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT

      Hi Robert, thank you so much for your feedback and kind words! I’m glad you find my content helpful. I hope you enjoy the recipes (let me know how it goes) and continue to benefit from the articles!
      -Jenna

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