Raw Sauerkraut 101

Raw Sauerkraut 101

Raw sauerkraut is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve been leaning on this prebiotic and probiotic “functional food” as a dietary staple and ally since 2013 (when I began my gut-healing journey) – and I continue to enjoy it all the time, even now that I’m in remission from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut.

Once you learn why I love it so much, I bet you’ll want to give it a try, too!  Every spoonful of traditional raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut is packed with vitality, prebiotics, probiotics, gut-healing L-glutamine, immune-enhancing vitamin C, and more.

In this article I’ll share some easy ways raw sauerkraut can become a staple in your day-to-day routine, why it’s worth trying, and how you can determine if it’s a good fit for your individual needs.

Disclaimer:  This article was written solely for educational and informational purposes. Consult your doctor and a registered dietitian to learn more about whether or not raw sauerkraut is a good fit for you as part of your medical nutrition protocol, if you’re navigating medical issues of any kind.

What is sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut (German for “sour cabbage”) is cabbage which has been lacto-fermented or “pickled” – a process which makes the cabbage more nutritious, easier to digest, less perishable, and a tasty condiment.

The original appeal of fermented foods like sauerkraut was that it was a nice way to preserve vegetables, before our ancestors had refrigerators.

While it originally comes from Germany and China, this ancient staple has made a recent comeback as a modern-day “functional food” worldwide. This is due to its naturally high levels of probiotics and prebiotics, which support healthy digestion.

Unfortunately, however, at this day and age, not all sauerkraut is created equal!  Most of the commercially-made sauerkraut products on the market are pasteurized/sterilized, which means they don’t contain any probiotics.  This is deceiving, and worth learning about so you can make informed choices!

Raw vs pasteurized sauerkraut

If you desire to reap the many health benefits of sauerkraut, you will need to make (or find) a raw sauerkraut.  Sauerkraut is considered raw if it’s unpasteurized – or partially unpasteurized.

When a sauerkraut product (or any other kind of fermented veggies) has been pasteurized, it means it is sterilized and doesn’t contain any “life active cultures” (probiotics).

Since the probiotics in raw sauerkraut are responsible for the majority of sauerkraut’s benefits as a rising “superfood”, it’s definitely worth the extra effort to make sure you’re getting the good stuff!

(Feel free to check out my expert tips on how to choose the best sauerkraut for probiotics and gut health, here.)

Benefits of raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut

There are lots of reasons to incorporate some raw sauerkraut into your regular routine, but the top reasons (in my opinion) are the following:

  1. Probiotics
  2. Prebiotics
  3. L-glutamine
  4. Vitamin C

Probiotics

Raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut is naturally abundant in probiotics (healthy bacteria) for supporting better digestion, immunity, anti-inflammatory pathways, and mental health. (1, 2, 3)

Prebiotics

Raw sauerkraut is actually a 2-for-1 deal, because sauerkraut (even when pasteurized) may contain prebiotics – aka: undigestible fibers which feed and support the growth of probiotics in the gut.

  • A 2018 pilot study which compared raw vs pasteurized sauerkraut reported that people with IBS reported getting symptom relief even when they ate pasteurized sauerkraut. That is likely because of the prebiotics in cabbage! (4)

(Read more about prebiotics vs probiotics here.)

L-glutamine

L-glutamine is an amino acid which has been shown to help nourish, strengthen, and repair the cells of the gut lining.  (5)

A little-known but very important benefit of cabbage is that its juices are abundant in L-glutamine (6) which may explain why so many of my clients find having a spoonful of raw sauerkraut brine with meals to be soothing and settling for their gut in the early stages of their gut-healing journeys!

(Read more about L-glutamine for leaky gut, here.)

Vitamin C

While most people know that sauerkraut is good for gut health (due in part to its probiotics), most people aren’t aware that unpasteurized sauerkraut is very high in vitamin C, a potent antioxidant and essential micronutrient which supports immunity, resilience, skin healing, and lots more. (7)

You can read more about why I love sauerkraut here!

Types of sauerkraut

There are multiple types of raw sauerkraut, and each of them has something special to offer. Give each type of sauerkraut a try, and decide which one you prefer!

  1. Traditional green sauerkraut
  2. Red cabbage sauerkraut
  3. Sauerkraut with mixed fruit/veggies/herbs/spices

Green sauerkraut

This type of sauerkraut is made with green cabbage. I find it’s a little sweeter and more mild-tasting compared to red sauerkraut (which is more pungent and peppery), but the probiotic profile is very similar.

Red sauerkraut

This is the same thing as green sauerkraut, except that it’s made with red cabbage. Nutritionally, red cabbage contains a special type of antioxidant called anthocyanins; these are the pigments which give the cabbage its deep red and purple hues.

Sauerkraut with mixed fruit/veggies/herbs

There are really infinite ways to do this! It’s a nice way to switch things up, especially if you plan on eating sauerkraut long-term as part of a more holistic lifestyle. (Variety is always good!)

Basically, this is the same thing as “regular” sauerkraut except you just add different types of finely-chopped fruits, veggies (aside from cabbage) and herbs/spices into the mix. You can get very creative, or you can try a recipe like one of the options I’ve listed below.

How to get started enjoying raw sauerkraut

Make it

Making your own raw sauerkraut takes more time and effort, but it’s exponentially more cost-effective than buying it all the time.  Plus, it can be fun and empowering to DIY!

Below are a few of my favorite recipes for the different types of raw sauerkraut:

Buy it

As I mentioned earlier, not all store-bought sauerkraut is raw with live active cultures – but it’s still out there. You just have to know what to look for.

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

Eat it

If you enjoy (or don’t mind) the taste of sauerkraut, hopefully you’re sold on the benefits and would like to give it a whirl!

There are dozens of ways to consume raw sauerkraut for gut health; below are a few tips for beginners.

  1. Eat it with meals/snacks.
  2. Eat it within 30 minutes before or after a meal/snack.
  3. Swig the brine.

Have it with meals/snacks.

Generally speaking, if you’re going for the gut health benefits of raw sauerkraut, the best time to eat it is with other food, since this makes it easier for all the probiotics to reach your colon. (The closer to meal time, the better!)

  • Have it on the side with scrambled eggs/omelets.
  • Top your salads with a dollop of raw sauerkraut.
  • Add it to burgers, hot dogs, and/or sandwiches. (Sauerkraut is not just for Reubens!)

Take a spoonful within 30 minutes before / after meals.

While the best time to eat sauerkraut is with food, it’s not always practical – or enjoyable. (Take it from me! I’ve been around this block a few times.)

If you can take a spoonful of sauerkraut like medicine within less than 30 minutes of eating, research is suggesting that this should be enough time for the probiotic microbes in the raw sauerkraut to travel down to your colon and work their magic. (8)

Just the brine.

Some people don’t do well with the fibers in sauerkraut, especially if they’re dealing with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D). If that’s the case, you can take a swig of the brine (within 30 minutes or sooner of eating) or you can also add it to a green juice.

Raw sauerkraut: frequently asked questions

How much should I have?

This will vary from one person to another.

Generally a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sauerkraut a few times a day at meals is beneficial.

Is sauerkraut high or low FODMAP?

It depends!

Cabbage and sauerkraut (regardless of fermentation and pasteurization) can sometimes be considered high FODMAP foods, which means sauerkraut may worsen symptoms of gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea in some people with IBS and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Recommended reading:  When is Sauerkraut Low FODMAP?

Is sauerkraut better than probiotic supplements?

I find that in most cases, eating raw sauerkraut is better than taking a probiotic supplement because probiotic foods are more diverse and more bioavailable (easily used by the body) compared to their supplement counterparts.

But there are cases where some people can’t eat sauerkraut, and if that’s the case, it’s worth considering a probiotic supplement as a better alternative. (Consult your treatment team if you’re navigating a medical condition – never self-prescribe!)

Contraindications

In the world of nutrition and gut health, one size never fits all! Below are a few safety reasons some people may need to skip the sauerkraut (despite its general health benefits).

Make sure to review each of them in case any of it resonates with you or a loved one.

  1. High in salt (sodium)
  2. Not good for SIBO
  3. Certain types are high FODMAP in relatively small quantities
  4. Interacts with MAOI inhibitors
  5. High in histamine and tyramine

High in salt/sodium

There’s no such thing as a “low sodium” sauerkraut, since the salt is required for the probiotic microbes to ferment the cabbage.

If you have high blood pressure, heart failure, or kidney disease/kidney failure/kidney stones and you’ve been prescribed a low sodium diet, you should avoid all types of sauerkraut (even raw), or consult your doctor and registered dietitian before giving it a try.

Not good for SIBO

While sauerkraut is famous for its gut health benefits, it’s not for everyone with gut issues.

People with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (“SIBO”) tend to have adverse reactions to most types of probiotic foods, since they can amplify bacterial fermentation in the small intestine.

If you notice your IBS symptoms get worse when you eat sauerkraut, you should consider consulting your treatment team to rule out SIBO.  On the other hand, if you already know you have SIBO, you should get treated for the SIBO before introducing raw sauerkraut into your gut healing regimen.

High in FODMAPs

As I mentioned above, some types of sauerkraut are high in FODMAPs and as a cruciferous veggie, it can trigger or amplify symptoms of gas/bloating in anyone when consumed in excess.

Pay attention to this and listen to your body!

Consider keeping an IBS food diary if you’re unsure whether or not you react to the FODMAPs in sauerkraut.

Interacts with MAOI inhibitors

Sauerkraut (raw and pasteurized) is high in tyramine, which interacts with a certain class of medications called “Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors”.  If you’re taking this type of medication, you should have been given a pamphlet with low-tyramine diet guidelines.

Avoid sauerkraut if you’re taking an MAOI inhibitor or consult your treatment team if you aren’t sure!

High in histamine and tyramine

Last but not least, fermented foods (including raw probiotic sauerkraut) are high in histamine, which can worsen symptoms such as hives for people who have a histamine intolerance and/or Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS).

Tyramine can also trigger symptoms for some people with migraines, so this is something to consider.

Avoid sauerkraut or consult your treatment team if you have either of the above conditions or have bene prescribed a low-histamine or low-tyramine diet.

More articles you’ll love

If you’d like to learn more about all things sauerkraut, gut health, probiotics and prebiotics, make sure to check out these articles:

Conclusions

There’s a lot to love about raw sauerkraut! Whether it’s red or green or mixed with other types of lacto-fermened fruits/veggies/herbs, stre-bought or homemade, unpasteurized sauerkraut of all kinds is naturally loaded with probitoics, prebitoics, vitamin C, and L-glutamine for supporting a healthier gut.

Just make sure you’re looking for a product that is unpasteurized, vinegar-free, and specifies on the nutrition label that it contains “live active cultures” so you’re reaping all those amazing probiotic benefits.  You also want to make sure you’re eating it with food – or within less than 30 minutes of eating – so those probiotics and prebiotics can work their magic in your gut.

Sauerkraut isn’t for everyone, especially if you suspect you have SIBO, a histamine intolerance, or you’re prescribed a low-tyramine diet.  Make sure you’re working with a doctor and a registered dietitian to navigate these conditions which require very specific dietary modifications.

If you’d like to stay in the loop on all things gut health and holistic nutrition, I invite you to sign up for my weekly email newsletter & grab a free copy of my gut health nutrition guide:

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XO – Jenna

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