This Processed Food Is Good for You
Every state is quirky. In some parts of Maryland, longtime natives shun the green bean casserole for Thanksgiving and put a big bowl of health food on the table.
If you’re smiling already, you guessed it. Sauerkraut.
Not that the holiday version dressed with a little bacon, brown sugar and grated apple is as perfect as the basic product, but sauerkraut is definitely up to some good. Because it starts with cabbage, it’s loaded with fiber, and vitamins C, K, and B6. Sauerkraut is also rich in iron and manganese. It contributes some copper to your diet, too.
Technically, sauerkraut is a processed food because it is fermented before eating. This is one time when processed is good.
When cabbage turns into sauerkraut, the magic of fermentation is what takes the lowly healthy cabbage to another plane. Then it becomes an impressive probiotic food.
A cup of sauerkraut contains about 3 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of beneficial bacteria. That’s rich. But what is even more virtuous is the variety. Many low-priced probiotics contain only a strain or two of bacteria. Sauerkraut contains around 28 strains.
Sauerkraut is known to improve digestion because of those probiotics and enzymes. The effect, as with many good natural products, occurs slowly and gently. There is some quick benefit, though. As Marylanders know, on the holiday table with fatty, rich foods in abundance, the acid of sauerkraut helps settle the stomach.
Another reason to embrace sauerkraut is its potential in controlling weight. That happens for two reasons. Sauerkraut itself is low in calories, so eating more of it during a meal means eating less of high-calorie alternatives. But in one experiment where volunteers were required to overeat, sauerkraut had a surprising effect. The volunteers were split into two groups. Both groups overate the same amount. One group got a probiotic pill; the other a placebo. With the extra calories, both groups gained weight, but those who got the probiotic gained about half as much body fat.
To get the full benefits, though, there are some guidelines. Making your own is ideal, but most of us don’t. That means choosing the right version at the grocery store. The most important thing to look for is sauerkraut that is not pasteurized. The heat of pasteurization destroys the probiotic bacteria. Sauerkraut doesn’t really need the extra processing. At refrigerator or cellar temperatures, it stays good for months as long as it is covered to keep dust and any other contaminants out.