Is Sauerkraut Low FODMAP (Spoiler Alert - It Depends) - By Jenna Volpe - Whole-istic Living

When is Sauerkraut Low FODMAP?

Whether you love sauerkraut as a condiment or probiotic functional food (or a bit of both), if you’re navigating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)  you may find yourself wondering – is sauerkraut low FODMAP? 

Unfortunately I can’t give you a straight “yes or no” answer here – because it actually depends on the type and the amount of sauerkraut you’re consuming at any given time.

For example, up to 1/2 cup of drained red cabbage sauerkraut is considered low FODMAP, while 1/2 cup of drained white cabbage sauerkraut is very high in FODMAPs. (1)

On the other hand, 2 tablespoons of green/white cabbage sauerkraut is considered low FODMAP. (1)

In this article I’ll dive deeper into which types and amounts of sauerkraut are low FODMAP (and why), while other variations are high FODMAP, based on my findings via the Monash University FODMAP App.

Disclaimer:  This article was written for general educational purposes, to complement and enhance – but not replace – 1:1 nutrition consultation with a FODMAP-trained gut health registered dietitian!  

What is sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut is a type of fermented or pickled cabbage which got its name from our German ancestors. (In German, the word sauerkraut actually translates to “sour cabbage”.)

Traditionally, our ancestors in Germany and in ancient China made this fermented and/or pickled cabbage (respectively) as a way to help preserve the cabbage for longer periods of time. (They didn’t have refrigeration back then, so they needed to get innovative!)

Nowadays, sauerkraut is still around as a popular modern-day condiment and sometimes even consumed as a probiotic functional food, for gut health benefits.

Many variations of traditional German sauerkraut contain caraway seeds or other herbal add-ins like dill, garlic, etc.

Each of the different variations of sauerkraut on the market has its own unique nutritional composition, biochemical properties, FODMAP content, and potential health benefits (or lack thereof).

Types of sauerkraut

Sauerkraut can be categorized based on the preparation method (pickled or fermented), as well as the type of cabbage used (red, green, napa, or savoy cabbage).

There are also infinite flavor blends of sauerkraut on the market which may include different blends of herbs, spices, fruits, and/or other veggies (in addition to the cabbage base).

Lacto-fermented probiotic sauerkraut

Traditionally, in German culture, sauerkraut is lacto-fermented in a brine of its own natural juices and sea salt, in an anaerobic (“without air”) environment for about a week at room temperature. 

This type of sauerkraut is a natural food source of probiotics, because the cabbage and its juices in the salt brine create an ideal environment for lactobacillus probiotic microbes to thrive and grow.

(Check out my easy lacto-fermented probiotic sauerkraut recipe here!)

However, note that not all sauerkraut is fermented or probiotic. 

In fact, most of the sauerkraut you’ll encounter in supermarkets nowadays is pickled, and subsequently sterilized.

Pickled sauerkraut

As I mentioned earlier, cabbage can be preserved or “pickled” without being fermented.

Pickled cabbage is a form of sauerkraut in which the cabbage was simply submerged in a vinegar-based brine, or a brine containing another type of preservative (such as lactic acid or sodium benzoate) which, while preventing spoilage and increasing digestibility, sterilizes even the probiotic microbes in the process.

(The ancient Chinese method of preserving cabbage involved vinegar, so this would be pickled versus fermented cabbage.)

Note that pickled cabbage doesn’t contain probiotics, while fermented sauerkraut (as long as it’s raw and unpasteurized) usually does contain probiotics.

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

Red cabbage sauerkraut

Red cabbage sauerkraut or “red sauerkraut” is any type of sauerkraut which is made with a base of red cabbage.

It can be fermented or pickled, probiotic or sterilized. It can be made plain or with additives.  

Sauerkraut made with red cabbage is going to be significantly higher in anthocyanins – the antioxidants responsible for its deep red-purple pigment.

Some of the most popular red sauerkraut recipes integrate beets and/or red onions, which can complement and enhance the red-purple pigment and flavors of the red cabbage.

Green/white cabbage sauerkraut

Much like red cabbage sauerkraut, green/white cabbage sauerkraut is any type of sauerkraut made using green (aka “white”) cabbage.

Napa (Chinese / “wombok”) cabbage sauerkraut

Sauerkraut made with napa cabbage (aka “Chinese cabbage” or “wombok” cabbage) is more tender, milder tasting, and slightly sweeter than other types of green/white sauerkraut.

The leaves of napa cabbage are a pale yellow-green color, so the sauerkraut will appear a very light yellow-green color.

This cabbage is also significantly lower in FODMAPs compared to savoy and other green variations of cabbage. (More on this soon!)

Savoy cabbage sauerkraut

While this may go without saying, savoy cabbage is made using savoy cabbage as the base. 

This is a darker and deeper green color compared to green cabbage, aka “white cabbage” and napa cabbage sauerkraut.

Learn more about these 4 different types of cabbage (and their key differences) here!

Flavored sauerkrauts

Lastly, I wanted to reiterate there are infinite variations of flavored sauerkrauts or “krauts” on the market, including but certainly not limited to:

  • Garlic sauerkraut
  • Turmeric sauerkraut
  • Onion sauerkraut
  • Beet and carrot sauerkraut
  • Apple sauerkraut
  • etc.

(The key takeaway when it comes to flavored sauerkrauts is that any add-in will potentially alter the FODMAP content of your sauerkraut.)

Now, let’s talk about FODMAPs.

What does low FODMAP mean? (Quick review of FODMAPs)

“FODMAP” is a clinical acronym which stands for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols.

In other words, FODMAPs include four different categories of fermentable carbohydrates which are notorious for triggering symptoms of IBS including but not limited to:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Nausea

The low FODMAP diet (which essentially excludes all high FODMAP foods) is often prescribed or recommended for folks with IBS, as a way to find symptom relief and to identify symptom trigger foods.

When it comes to cabbage and sauerkraut, the FODMAP content is a bit confusing – so I turned to Monash University (the leading authority in all things FODMAPs and the low FODMAP diet) to gain some insight!

FODMAPs in cabbage and sauerkraut 

When it comes to cabbage and sauerkraut, the FODMAP content is pretty variable depending on the type and amount of cabbage/sauerkraut.

Below is a chart on the FODMAPs types and amounts in the different variations of cabbage and sauerkraut, based on my Monash FODMAP app findings. (1)

Cabbage Portion FODMAPs present (if any) High or low FODMAP?
Green (white/common) cabbage, raw ¾ cup

1 cup

1 ½ cups

N/A

Sorbitol (moderate) 

Sorbitol (high)

Low FODMAP

High FODMAP

High FODMAP

Red cabbage, raw ¾ cup

1 ½ cups

2 cups

N/A

Fructans (moderate)

Galacto-oligosaccharides / “GOS” (moderate) and fructans (high)

Low FODMAP

High FODMAP

High FODMAP

Napa (Chinese / “wombok”) cabbage, raw 1 cup

6 ⅔ cups

N/A

Fructans (moderate)

Low FODMAP

High FODMAP

Savoy cabbage, raw ½ cup

¾ cup

1 cup

N/A

Fructans (moderate)

Fructans (high)

Low FODMAP

High FODMAP

High FODMAP

Sauerkraut type Portion FODMAPs present (if any) High or low FODMAP?
Green (white/common) cabbage sauerkraut, drained 2 tablespoons

¼ cup

½ cup

N/A

Mannitol (moderate)

Mannitol (high)

Low FODMAP

High FODMAP

High FODMAP

Red cabbage sauerkraut, drained ½ cup or less

1 cup

N/A

Fructans (moderate)

Low FODMAP

High FODMAP

Napa (Chinese / “wombok”) cabbage sauerkraut ½ cup or less N/A (presumably) Low FODMAP (presumably)
Savoy cabbage sauerkraut 1 tablespoon or less N/A (presumably) Low FODMAP (presumably)

Note that any sauerkraut made with high FODMAP add-in ingredients (like onions and/or garlic and/or apples, etc.) will inherently contain higher amounts of FODMAPs compared to a plain or traditional sauerkraut (which often contains caraway seeds, a type of low FODMAP herb in small quantities of 2 teaspoons or less per serving).

Low FODMAP sauerkraut – types and serving sizes (list)

Based on the above data, we can conclude (and/or safely presume) the following types and amounts of sauerkraut (whether fermented or pickled) are low FODMAP as long as they’re plain or flavored exclusively with low FODMAP herbs/spices, fruits and/or veggie add-ins:

  • 2 tablespoons or less of green/white/common cabbage sauerkraut
  • ½ cup or less fo red cabbage sauerkraut
  • ½ cup or less of napa/Chinese/wombok cabbage sauerkraut
  • 1 tablespoon or less of savoy cabbage sauerkraut 

Related articles & recommended reading

Sauerkraut and probiotics

If you love sauerkraut and other probiotic foods half as much as I do, make sure to check out the following articles and resources:

FODMAPs

Navigating IBS and the low FODMAP diet? You might find these articles on the low FODMAP diet helpful!

Final thoughts 

Sauerkraut is sometimes, but not always, low FODMAP.  It depends on the type of cabbage, the amount of sauerkraut, and any additional ingredients in your kraut of choice (think: garlic, onions, apples, etc.) which would change the inherent FODMAP content of sauerkraut.

Generally, sauerkraut made with either red cabbage or napa cabbage is low FODMAP if you’re consuming it in portions of 1/2 cup or less per serving (which I think is significant!).

On the other hand, green/white cabbage and savoy cabbage tend to be higher FODMAP, due to their sorbitol and fructan content, respectively.

If you’re simply looking to integrate a spoonful or two of probiotic sauerkraut per day for the gut health benefits, you can most likely tolerate this amount of any sauerkraut from a FODMAP standpoint as long as you’re keeping the above considerations in mind.

Next steps

Looking to learn more about what to eat for your gut health? Make sure to download my free gut health nutrition guide: 5 Common IBS Diet Mistakes to Avoid When Healing Your Gut!

Free Download - 5 Diet Mistakes to Avoid When Healing Your Gut - by Jenna Volpe RDN LD CLT

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