Sauerkraut, or "sour cabbage," is an example of a fermented food that's loaded with lactic acid probiotics. The sauerkraut bacteria provide you with tons of health benefits, but they also increase the shelf life of the sauerkraut because they act as a preservative.
But you may be more concerned with whether or not sauerkraut can give you all the probiotics you need so that you don't have to take a supplement. The short answer is yes.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut are one of the richest sources of probiotics out there. A 2-tablespoon serving of sauerkraut meets the recommended CFUs, or colony-forming units, that you need per day.
Sauerkraut Probiotic Types
The sauerkraut fermentation process produces a specific type of probiotic bacteria called lactic acid bacteria, or LAB. According to an August 2016 report in Functional Foods in Health and Disease, lactic acid bacteria is one of the most well-established and well-studied group of probiotics.
These types of probiotics have been shown to help:
- Eliminate diarrhea and constipation
- Improve irritable bowel syndrome
- Fight urinary and yeast infections
- Boost immune function
- Prevent illness and infection
- Digest lactose in those who are lactose intolerant
A May 2018 issue of Foods points out that there are three main species of lactic acid bacteria in sauerkraut. They are:
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus plantarum
However, sauerkraut also can contain other species in different concentrations depending on the method of fermentation and the time the sauerkraut was allowed to ferment. Each batch of sauerkraut can contain different species of gut-friendly probiotics in different proportions, making your sauerkraut a unique fermented food each time you get a new batch.
Sauerkraut Bacteria Count
But even though there's a wide array of sauerkraut bacteria, the question becomes whether or not sauerkraut can provide you with all of the probiotics you need. There's a big push toward taking a probiotic supplement every day, but you don't hear as much about sauerkraut benefits and including fermented foods in your diet to meet your needs of probiotics instead.
However, researchers from the August 2016 report in Functional Foods in Health and Disease wanted to see if sauerkraut could give you all the probiotics you need, so they compared different portion sizes of sauerkraut to some probiotic supplements to see how they stacked up.
The researchers tested 2-tablespoon, 1/2-cup and 1-cup servings of sauerkraut and found that the smallest 2-tablespoon serving of sauerkraut contained 1 million colony-forming units (or CFUs), which was enough to give you all the probiotics that you need for the day.
Read more: Can You Eat Too Much Sauerkraut?
In September 2018, researchers from PLOS One chimed in saying that not only does sauerkraut contain a hefty dose of probiotics, but those probiotics are also resistant to a low pH. In other words, the sauerkraut bacteria could survive the passage through your stomach acid and make it to your small intestine where it needs to grow and colonize to carry out its health benefits.
But it's important to keep in mind that researchers found that shelf-stable sauerkraut was pasteurized and processed so much that there was little to no bacteria left in it. They noted that to reap the sauerkraut benefits, you either need to make your own sauerkraut or find refrigerated, unprocessed sauerkraut that's been handled with care and not processed.