Sauerkraut combines the health benefits offered by all cruciferous vegetables (a category which includes cauliflowers and brussel sprouts as well as cabbage) with the probiotic advantages derived from the fermentation process.
Cabbage offers a host of health benefits. It is high in vitamins A and C. Studies have shown the cruciferous vegetables can help lower cholesterol levels. Cabbage also provides a rich source of phytonutrient antioxidants. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory properties, and some studies indicate it may help combat some cancers. However, this already helpful vegetable becomes a super food when it is pickled.
The fermentation process used to make sauerkraut was probably first developed centuries ago simply as a means of preserving vegetables for easy consumption throughout the winter. The health benefits derived from pickling vegetables were already well-known to early civilizations. Historical evidence suggests laborers on the Great Wall of China consumed a version of the pickled cabbage dish 2,000 years ago.
Traditional Chinese has long prescribed sauerkraut juice as a home remedy for many common ailments. The armies of Genghis Khan most likely first brought the dish to Europe. The Roman army traveled with barrels of sauerkraut, using it to prevent intestinal infections among the troops during long excursions.
In periods and cultures when natural healing methods fell into disuse, people consumed fewer fermented foods and were subject to more illness. Scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) killed many British sailors during the 1700s, especially on longer voyages. In the late 1770s, Captain James Cook circumnavigated the world without losing a single sailor to scurvy, thanks to the foods his ship carried, including sixty barrels of sauerkraut.
Mainstream health experts began to pay renewed attention to sauerkraut after a study published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2002. Finnish researchers reported that in laboratory studies, a substance produced by fermented cabbage, isothiocyanates, helped prevent the growth of cancer.
Even before the laboratory study, however, alternative health experts extolled the healing benefits of sauerkraut because of the lactic acid bacteria produced as a side-effect of the pickling process.
Healthy human colons contain many beneficial bacteria which feed on the waste left over from our digestion, creating lactic acid. Without these beneficial bacteria the human digestive system becomes home to harmful parasites and yeasts, resulting in the condition of candida.
Sauerkraut provides a high density source of a wide range of beneficial live bacteria which assist in the digestive process. Consuming a serving of sauerkraut can give your body as much of a health boost as many of the expensive probiotic drinks and supplements sold in stores. However, most commercially sold sauerkraut has lost most of their beneficial bacterial organisms. To gain the most benefits from sauerkraut, you may want to purchase it freshly made, or learn how to make your own.
If you want to explore recipes for making sauerkraut and other fermented dishes, an excellent place to start is with Sandor Ellis Katz’s Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live Culture Foods.
In his book, Katz points out that “Fermentation not only preserves nutrients, it breaks them down into more digestible forms.” Katz, who also wrote The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements, recommends not only eating sauerkraut but drinking the juice which he calls “a rare delicacy and unparalleled digestive tonic.”
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