Sauerkraut can be a healthy addition to the diet during early pregnancy due to its probiotic content. It provides key nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and fiber. Sauerkraut should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Too much can lead to gas and bloating. Raw sauerkraut may pose a small risk for foodborne illnesses, so cooked sauerkraut is recommended instead.
What is Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. It has a sour, salty flavor and is often used as a condiment or side dish. Sauerkraut has its origins in Germany but has become popular worldwide.
To make sauerkraut, shredded green or white cabbage is combined with salt and spices, then packed into jars or crocks. The cabbage releases liquid as it ferments, creating a brine that helps preserve the cabbage. The fermentation process takes 2-4 weeks at room temperature as the lactic acid bacteria convert the sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid.
In addition to cabbage, sauerkraut may contain other vegetables like carrots or onions. There are many different seasonings that can be added, such as caraway seeds, juniper berries, garlic, or dill. The end result is a tangy, crunchy food that is low in calories but high in beneficial probiotics.
Nutritional Profile of Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is an excellent source of certain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A 1/2 cup serving provides:
- 45 calories
- 9 grams carbohydrates
- 3 grams fiber
- 12% DV vitamin C
- 12% DV vitamin K
- 8% DV iron
- 7% DV manganese
- 4% DV folate
Sauerkraut is particularly high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that supports immune health and iron absorption. The vitamin K content also makes sauerkraut a good food for blood clotting.
In addition, sauerkraut contains beneficial phytochemicals like glucosinolates and isothiocyanates. These compounds have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and detoxification properties.
One of the biggest advantages of sauerkraut is that it provides probiotics, which are live microorganisms that confer health benefits when consumed. The lactic acid bacteria used to ferment sauerkraut are probiotics.
Some strains found in sauerkraut include:
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus lactis
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides
- Pediococcus pentosaceus
These microbes help populate the gastrointestinal tract with beneficial bacteria. This improves the gut microbiome balance and enhances immune function.
During pregnancy, probiotics may help reduce the risk of complications like:
- Gestational diabetes
- Vaginal infections
- Allergic diseases in infants
Probiotics may also decrease the chances of needing a cesarean section delivery. They help stimulate the immune system and prevent pathogens from colonizing the vaginal canal and gut.
Is Raw or Cooked Sauerkraut Better During Pregnancy?
Sauerkraut can be purchased raw or pasteurized. Raw sauerkraut has more probiotics since the live cultures have not been destroyed through heating. However, there are some safety concerns with raw sauerkraut.
Raw vegetables run a small risk of being contaminated with harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. Such foodborne pathogens can cause serious complications for pregnant women and the fetus. They are especially hazardous during the first trimester when key fetal development is occurring.
For this reason, the CDC recommends only consuming cooked sprouts and fermented foods, like sauerkraut, during pregnancy. Cooking sauerkraut eliminates the risk of foodborne illness. Even light cooking can kill pathogens. This may reduce probiotic counts as well, but not completely eliminate these beneficial microbes.
Pasteurized sauerkraut is another safer option since it has been heat processed to destroy any dangerous bacteria present. However, pasteurization also kills off many of the live probiotics. So for the best balance of safety and probiotics, cook raw sauerkraut lightly yourself before eating in early pregnancy.
Is too Much Sauerkraut Unhealthy?
Sauerkraut can be enjoyed as part of a healthy pregnancy diet. However, too much of even a good thing can lead to unwanted side effects. Consuming excessive amounts of sauerkraut may result in these issues:
- Gas and bloating: The high fiber and probiotic content in sauerkraut may cause gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort if overeaten.
- High sodium intake: Sauerkraut tends to be very salty, so too much can increase blood pressure and fluid retention.
- Nutrient imbalances: Overfilling on sauerkraut may displace other nourishing foods from the diet.
To prevent these negative effects, sauerkraut intake should be limited to about 1/2 to 1 cup per day as part of a varied diet. The lactobacilli in sauerkraut can also overcolonize the gut microbiome if consumed in excess.
When Should Sauerkraut Be Avoided in Pregnancy?
Certain individuals should exercise caution or completely avoid sauerkraut in early pregnancy or while trying to conceive:
- Listeria risk: Those at higher risk for listeria infections, like immune-compromised women, should avoid raw sauerkraut.
- Food intolerances: People with sensitivities to fermented foods, histamines, glutamates, or sulfites may experience adverse reactions to sauerkraut.
- Medication interactions: Sauerkraut may interfere with MAO inhibitor drugs.
- Gut disorders: Those with digestive conditions like IBS or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) may be negatively affected by sauerkraut.
- Tyramine sensitivity: Sauerkraut contains tyramine, which can cause high blood pressure in those with impaired MAO enzyme activity.
Additionally, those taking blood thinners like Warfarin should keep their vitamin K intake from sauerkraut consistent to avoid instability in anticoagulant therapy.
How Much Sauerkraut Can You Have While Pregnant?
During pregnancy, up to 1 cup of sauerkraut per day is considered safe and beneficial. Larger servings may trigger digestive upset or unhealthy sodium increases.
Here are some guidelines for healthy sauerkraut intake during the first trimester:
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup sauerkraut 1-2 times per day
- Always combine with probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, or kimchi
- Introduce slowly if not accustomed to fermented foods
- Pair with prebiotic foods like onions, garlic, beans, asparagus, oats
- Avoid eating it straight from the jar to control portion size
- Look for unsweetened, low-sodium varieties
- Drain excess liquid to reduce sodium content
Consuming sauerkraut as part of a mixed meal will help prevent intestinal issues. Sauerkraut is also lower in sodium and higher in probiotics when homemade.
Healthy Ways to Eat Sauerkraut During Pregnancy
Here are some nutritious and delicious ways to eat sauerkraut in early pregnancy:
- Sauerkraut scramble: Saute scrambled eggs with sauerkraut, onions, spinach, and mushrooms for a protein-packed breakfast.
- Sauerkraut salad: Toss chopped sauerkraut with avocado, grapefruit, and red onion with an olive oil dressing.
- Fish tacos: Top baked cod with sauerkraut, tomatoes, avocado, and Greek yogurt sauce in a whole grain tortilla.
- Turkey Reuben: Layer cooked turkey, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing between rye bread.
- Sausage and sauerkraut: Braise turkey kielbasa, sliced apples, and sauerkraut together for a hearty dinner.
- Sauerkraut soup: Simmer chicken broth with sauerkraut, potatoes, carrots, smoked sausage, and dill.
Substitute sauerkraut for coleslaw in sandwiches and wraps. It can also make a tangy topping for roasted beets, pork chops, or pierogies.
Potential Health Benefits of Sauerkraut in Pregnancy
Incorporating sauerkraut into a balanced pregnancy diet may offer advantages like:
- Improved digestion: The fiber, enzymes, and probiotics in sauerkraut all support the gastrointestinal system.
- Lower blood pressure: Sauerkraut is a good source of potassium, which plays a role in healthy blood pressure.
- Immune stimulation: The probiotics and antioxidants in sauerkraut strengthen the immune system.
- Detoxification support: Isothiocyanates help the liver process toxins and hormones more efficiently.
- Better iron absorption: The vitamin C in sauerkraut enhances the uptake of plant-based iron sources.
The nutrients and probiotics in sauerkraut may help reduce the risk of complications and support the health of both mother and baby. More research is still needed on the direct effects of sauerkraut consumption during pregnancy.
Possible Downsides of Eating Too Much Sauerkraut
While sauerkraut is largely healthy in moderation, excessive intake may cause some undesirable effects like:
- Bloating, gas, diarrhea from high fiber/probiotic content
- Nausea, headaches, rapid heart rate from high tyramine levels
- Harmful sodium excess leading to fluid retention and high blood pressure
- Nutrient deficiencies from displacing other healthy foods
- Weight gain if consuming calorie-dense varieties
There is also a theoretical risk of probiotics translocating outside the gastrointestinal tract and causing infections in immune-compromised individuals. Those with underlying health conditions should exercise particular caution with probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut.
The Bottom Line
Sauerkraut can be safely enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet during early pregnancy. It provides beneficial nutrients like vitamins C and K, antioxidant phytochemicals, and a dose of probiotics. These compounds support immune function, digestion, detoxification, and potentially even disease prevention.
However, portions should be limited to about 1/2 to 1 cup per day. Excess sodium, gas-producing fibers, probiotics, and biogenic amines in larger amounts may trigger abdominal issues or biochemical imbalances. Pasteurized or cooked sauerkraut is recommended to avoid the small risk of foodborne pathogens. As always, speak with your doctor about any dietary changes during pregnancy.