BiotiQuest® Gut Health & Probiotics Blog with Martha Carlin

The Best Time to Eat Sauerkraut for Gut Health

Martha Carlin | Apr 25, 2024 | 8 minute read

Adding fermented foods and whole foods to your daily diet is gaining popularity as a way to achieve optimal gut health. Eating sauerkraut is one of the most popular choices when it comes to choosing a fermented food for digestive health. Figuring out the best time to eat sauerkraut for gut health and how much sauerkraut to eat in a day can be tricky when you're just starting on your fermented foods journey!

Join us as we unravel the best way to get your daily dose of probiotic foods rich in healthy bacteria and add sauerkraut to your daily diet for a healthier gut. Variables that make your homemade sauerkraut the best sauerkraut ever, and how eating sauerkraut provides you numerous health benefits and supports a healthy gut microbiome. Let's dive into how you can consume sauerkraut for healthy digestion, and relief from digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome.

Why eat sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut or sour cabbage is a powerful fermented food rooted in Asia and Europe. Today, you have choices galore when selecting your sauerkraut, from homemade sauerkraut to store-bought sauerkraut and pasteurized or unpasteurized sauerkraut.

Consuming sauerkraut not only provides you with high nutritional value and healthy bacteria good for your gut flora, but it also adds a punch of flavor to your daily diet. But not all sauerkraut has the same effect on your gut microbiome, if you want to incorporate sauerkraut into your daily diet, then homemade or store-bought unpasteurized sauerkraut is the way to go.

Commonly made with just fresh cabbage and salt, sauerkraut can be embellished in several ways, from caraway seeds, peppercorn, to shredded carrot or beetroot, etc. Eager to eat sauerkraut or fermented cabbage for better gut health? Check out my favorite fermented cabbage recipes here!

Homemade sauerkraut for gut health: How does it work? 

Probiotic foods and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi go through a fermentation process called Lacto-fermentation. Massaging salt into the freshly shredded cabbage breaks down plant cell walls and releases stored water. The naturally present beneficial bacteria (lactic acid bacteria or LABs) and yeasts in fresh cabbage help ferment sauerkraut and thrive in high salt concentrations of about 2.25% to 2.5%.

Once the salted cabbage is in jars, the fermentation process starts with a rapid growth of yeasts and bacteria such as D. hansenii, L. plantarum, L. mesenteroides, etc., feeding on vegetable sugars.

D. hansenii strains, the most dominant yeast strain, show the highest degree of killer activity that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and yeasts. As the fermentation process progresses and the pH decreases, yeast count decreases, and the abundance of LABs increases.

It can take, approximately, 2–3 weeks for the desirable degree of fermentation to occur, and the final pH of the sauerkraut stays at 3.5 to 3.8. A longer fermentation is preferred as it’s not only rich in prebiotics but also has higher counts of prebiotics and postbiotics (lactic acid, acetic acid, ethanol, CO2, mannitol, and other beneficial compounds) that aid in digesting food and relieving digestive discomfort.

Importance of salt concentration in probiotic foods such as sauerkraut

To achieve the desirable texture, taste and aroma, and probiotic profile, salt plays a crucial role in determining the health, taste, texture, and aroma of your sauerkraut. Low salt concentrations can result in a kraut that is soft and soggy at best.

  • If the salt brine is too diluted, harmful pathogens (spoilage bacteria) can find a foothold in the ferment and cause it to go bad.
  • If the salt concentration is too high (more than 3%), the growth of a yeast called Rhodotorula will turn your kraut pink and may develop off flavors.

Beneficial bacteria in sauerkraut for optimal gut health

Fermented vegetables introduce a diverse range of healthy bacteria to your gut, and consuming fermented foods like sauerkraut is an excellent way to increase the probiotic content of your diet. Probiotic-rich foods contain beneficial bacteria such as L. mesesnteroides, L. acidophilus, L. paracasei, L. plantarum, etc. 

In addition to creating flavor compounds, different Lactobacillus strains can produce a variety of antimicrobial substances, including lactic acid and bacteriocins that inhibit the growth of pathogens and spoilage bacteria.

The most abundant types of bacteria found in sauerkraut are Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Actinobacteria. Firmicutes and Actinobacteria decompose sugar in the kraut during the fermentation process and produce ethanol and acetic acid, increasing the acidity of the kraut. Additionally, beneficial digestive enzymes, known as proteases, glycases, and amylases accelerate the fermentation.


Digestive enzymes and organic acids in fermented food can help take some load off your pancreas. The natural acidity of sauerkraut boosts your stomach acid (HCL) and enables you to digest your food better. As you age, your capacity to optimally digest food is reduced, and a steady and consistent intake of fermented foods at meal times can help improve gut health and add more diversity to your gut microbiota.

Some beneficial bacteria found in sauerkraut and other probiotic-rich foods are:

  • L. mesenteroides
  • L. acidophilus
  • L. paracasei
  • L. plantarum
  • P. pentosaceus
  • W. cibaria

Health benefits of eating sauerkraut

Incorporating sauerkraut in your diet, either homemade or store-bought sauerkraut, can provide numerous probiotic benefits for your gut flora and gut health. Sauerkraut is rich in beneficial probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics and has been associated with several health benefits such as:

Digestive and Metabolic Health

  • High levels of beneficial bacteria protect against harmful pathogens such as shigella, salmonella, and E. coli. LABs support improvements in digestive issues such as diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, candida infection, etc.
  • Associated with weight loss and weight management, improves cholesterol levels in the blood, and boosts digestion and bowel movements.

Rich in Nutrients

  • High levels of nutrients with antioxidant properties like vitamin C and vitamin E, beta-carotene, folic acid, flavonoids, polyphenols, and glucosinolates (GLS). Rich in cystine and tyrosine amino acids that help reduce oxidative stress in cells.
  • Increased bioavailability of minerals including calcium, selenium, potassium, magnesium, and iron.

Supports immune function

  • Supports antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer activity.
  • Boosts the immune system and can support a healthy intestinal barrier.

Precautions before consuming sauerkraut

Although eating raw sauerkraut (unheated and unpasteurized) is generally beneficial for gut health, there are a few conditions where replacing sauerkraut with another fermented food might be the better option. Consider switching to a different fermented food, such as homemade yogurt, if:

  • You have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
  • You are sensitive to dietary histamine (histamine intolerance).
  • You've been prescribed MAOIs (medications used to treat depression and anxiety) Warfarin or Coumadin (blood thinners).
  • You have hypertension.
  • You struggle with thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism.


When to eat sauerkraut for gut health

Consistency and variety are key when you consume sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables for probiotic benefits. The best time to eat sauerkraut might differ for different people and will depend on their familiarity with fermented foods.

Consuming sauerkraut for optimal gut health benefits should be done either before a meal or with a meal, as it increases the survival of probiotics through harsh stomach acids. Eating raw sauerkraut 30 minutes before your meal helps your digestive system break down your meal better and to allow the probiotics present in the sauerkraut to get past the stomach and reach the small intestine.

Survival of beneficial bacteria is higher when there's a fat source in the meal (like yogurt, cheese, ghee, etc.). On the other hand, probiotics taken 30 minutes after a meal showed low survival rates through the stomach.

How much sauerkraut should I eat in a day?

Figuring out how much sauerkraut to eat can be tricky at first. If you've just started incorporating fermented foods into your diet, it's prudent to take it slow. Start with a tablespoon once a day with a meal. If you prefer, and it agrees with your digestive system, you can even eat it as a snack between meals.

Whether you eat it on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before a meal, or as a topping or side dish with your meal, you can work up to approximately 1-2 ½  ounces per day for long-term gut health benefits.

Fermented foods and probiotics for optimal gut health

There's a variety of other probiotic foods including fermented vegetables and fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir that can add variety to your meals throughout the day.

Front view of glass bottle containing 30 capsules of Sugar Shift antibiotic supplment.Take your gut health a step further by incorporating our probiotic Sugar Shift® into your health regime. Rich in beneficial bacteria such as L. mesenteroides and L. plantarum, Sugar Shift can support your gut health and gut diversity.

Dr.William Davis, cardiologist, and author of the New York Times Bestselling Wheat Belly books and Supergut, states, “Sauerkraut and kimchi also often contain the microbe, Leuconostoc mesenteroides… this microbe is a producer of the sugar, mannitol… Mannitol reduces blood sugar and may even dissolve the alpha-synuclein that accumulates in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. (For these reasons, Leuconostoc mesenteroides is one of the species in the BiotiQuest Sugar Shift probiotic that, in limited experiences, reduces blood sugar in most people and, Martha tells me, has anecdotally slowed and partially reversed the symptoms of her husband’s and a few others’ Parkinson’s disease.)”

Curious about additional fermented foods you can try? Check out the top ten best fermented foods for better gut health!

With gratitude,

Martha Carlin photo Martha Carlin, is a “Citizen Scientist”, systems thinker, wife of Parkinson’s warrior, John Carlin, and founder of The BioCollective , a microbiome company expanding the reach of science and BiotiQuest, the first of it’s kind probiotic line. Since John’s diagnosis in 2002, Martha began learning the science of agriculture, nutrition, environment, infectious disease, Parkinson’s pathology and much more. In 2014, when the first research was published showing a connection between the gut bacteria and the two phenotypes of Parkinson’s, Martha quit her former career as a business turnaround expert and founded The BioCollective to accelerate the discovery of the impact of gut health on all human disease. Martha was a speaker at the White House 2016 Microbiome Initiative launch, challenging the scientific community to “think in a broader context”. Her systems thinking background and experience has led to collaborations across the scientific spectrum from neuroscience to engineering to infectious disease. She is a respected out of the box problem solver in the microbiome field and brings a unique perspective to helping others understand the connections from the soil to the food to our guts and our brains.

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