Up until a year and a half ago, I never gave a second thought to sauerkraut…and I’d just assumed I didn’t like it–of course I’d never even tried it. The only acknowledgement I ever gave to sauerkraut was during any sort of German festival, even then I always considered it to be merely a condiment of which I didn’t need. It doesn’t necessarily look appealing and it always seemed like it would be a distraction from the food I actually wanted to eat (meat).
But then, I stumbled across a mention of sauerkraut as I was on one of my many searches for a diet to heal/help Crohn’s. I found this article in the middle of one of my “Crohn’s+raw milk” bring-me-the-answers-of-the-universe Google searches that featured the story of a young man who was suffering from Ulcerative Colitis (an Inflammatory Bowel Disease that is similar to Crohn’s). At the bottom of the story, he outlined his healing diet, which I noted included grass-fed meats and healthy fats (which peaked my interest because that was inline with the Dr. Axe Healing Diet I mentioned in my last post) and fermented foods (including sauerkraut) as the second item on the “Do” list. This instantly intrigued me because, as I’ve said before, lettuce (or any type of green vegetable for that matter) was/is pure evil in my book because it sends me into great digestive distress. But here was this guy on the Internet, suffering from a very similar disease, and healing himself with a diet that included a lot of sauerkraut (fermented cabbage). The article touched on the reason why this is possible…fermented foods are broken down by probiotics that help to repopulate the gut with good bacteria, thereby making them easier to digest. Hello sauerkraut.
Upon further investigation, I learned that fermented foods also allow the nutrients in them to be made more bioavailable, easier for the body to absorb. I’ve now become a fermenting fanatic, but when I first stumbled across this idea, I had no idea what it was…therefore, I will share the most basic of what I learned with you now 🙂
Fermentation is the ancient way of preserving foods (prior to canning and refrigeration). There is wild yeast and bacteria on every surface, everywhere, in our environments. In the case of sauerkraut, when the bacteria that is on the cabbage is trapped in an environment without oxygen and with a little bit of salt, the bacteria go to work digesting all the natural sugars available. This process converts those sugars into lactic acid, which creates an environment where bad bacteria die and good bacteria thrive, and serves as a preservative for the cabbage without the need for refrigeration. The end result is a delicious, crunchy, tangy cabbage that is full of good bacteria and nutrients. Here is a good, brief description of the process. The more I started to learn about gut health, leaky gut, and my own gut microbiome, the more signs were pointing to the fact that I needed good bacteria in my gut…and sauerkraut seemed to be an easy answer; lots of nutrients, fiber, and something my digestive system could handle. So, jumping in head first–because I’m too impatient to take things slow–I started eating sauerkraut for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…and any snack in between.
I started off by eating the Wildbrine brand of sauerkraut that I found at Whole Foods and discovered that I actually did really enjoy the taste of it. But, because I was eating so much of it, I decided that I needed to learn to make it myself. For anyone who has ever shopped at Whole Foods knows, buying plain cabbage is a whole heck of a lot cheaper than buying tons of anything at Whole Foods. This meant I had to learn the time-honored tradition of fermenting vegetables, of which I knew nothing about. After a year and a half, I think I’ve perfected my two flavors of sauerkraut (plain and a mildly-spicy jalepeño sauerkraut) that I’ll share the recipes for in one of my next posts.
I truly believe that incorporating old-fashioned, raw, organic, fermented sauerkraut in my diet has been one of the best things…if not the best thing…I have done for my health. I attribute much of my current gut health to the vast amounts of sauerkraut I’ve been eating. Real food is always better than a supplement and sauerkraut is full of probiotics and is high in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and various B vitamins. It is also a good source of iron, manganese, copper, sodium, magnesium, and calcium. And the best part of all, it boosts the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties. Here’s a quick article that gives a nice overview about the best of the sauerkraut benefits.
When it comes to gut health, sauerkraut is king. I still eat sauerkraut at every meal; I even take it to restaurants with me and travel with it on vacation. If there’s just one easy thing I could tell most everyone to do to improve their health and immune system, it would be to eat sauerkraut! Stay tuned for my recipes!