An old Polish proverb says that where there’s beet soup and sauerkraut, there’s plenty. This had never been more obvious than when the famous British explorer James Cook started bringing pickled cabbage on his sea voyages because experience had taught him that it can help prevent scurvy.
Modern research, however, tells us that there are plenty of health benefits to consuming sauerkraut. It is a reliable source of both vitamin C and probiotics, but also additional nutrients with immunity boosting and disease fighting properties.
Home-made sauerkraut packs more antioxidants and cancer-fighting agents than raw cabbage
A 2004 study carried out by a team of scientists at Cornell University, revealed that phytochemicals in pickled cabbage carry powerful antioxidants. For their research, the scientists looked at the health effects of both raw and fermented cabbage. The red variety was found to be up to four times more potent than green cabbage, with red home pickled cabbage ranking highest among the processed cabbages. Home pickled cabbage is also nutritionally superior to commercially available cabbage, showing six times the content of antioxidants found in canned cabbage.
Other studies into the benefits of consuming cruciferous vegetables have found evidence that sauerkraut is a powerful cancer fighter, mainly via two compounds that are the by-product of fermentation. Isothiocyanates are known to inhibit carcinogenesis and tumorigenesis, and are considered medically useful against cancer proliferation. Sulforaphan, on the other hand, is currently tested in numerous clinical trials, and is thought to be most effective against prostate cancer.
Probiotics found in fermented foods are essential to good health
The main active probiotic found in sauerkraut is Lactobacillus, which converts sugars and starches into lactic acid. The presence of live Lactobacilli in the gut eases digestion, increases vitamin intake, stimulates the pancreas and supports immunity. A 2009 trial that analyzed the therapeutic properties of Lactobacillus, managed to demonstrate that some strains of bacteria can fight cancer and prevent tumor development. Supplementing the diet with Lactobacillus reduced the risk of cancer development, as well as the incidence of colonic tumors.
Lactobacilli are thought to play a role in women’s health as well, by restoring and maintaining the physiological balance of the female reproductive system. Their low pH tolerance enables Lactobacilli to generate hydrogen peroxide against Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, and thus help promote vulvovaginal health.
Fermented beverages, like water kefir, can supplement a healthy diet
Fortunately, Lactobacillus is not hard to find, and sauerkraut isn’t the only food item that has it. Lactobacillus species are used to ferment an assortment of foods and beverages, including yoghurt, cheese, cider, pickles and kefir.
Water kefir grains, for example, contain a symbiosis of Lactobacilli and yeasts. A study published in 2011 in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that Lactobacillus accounts for approximately 80% of the bacteria in water kefir produced using a mixture of water, dried figs, a slice of lemon and sugar.
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