Like other fermented foods, sauerkraut contains hefty amounts of beneficial bacteria—and those bacteria turn the fiber you eat into butyrate, a powerful fatty acid.
Butyrate “exerts a potent anti-microbial action against bacteria, viruses and toxins,” says Dr. Roberto Berni Canani, MD, PhD, of the European Laboratory for the Investigation of Food Induced Diseases, University of Naples.
According to his and other studies, butyrate protects against colon cancer.
How so? Butyrate exerts several positive effects on colon cells, he explains:
It regulates cell growth and differentiation. (Cancer cells that are well differentiated, or low grade, behave more like normal cells; they grow more slowly and are less likely to spread than poorly differentiated ones.)
“It stimulates the growth of normal healthy cells and inhibits the growth of abnormal, potentially cancerous ones.”
And it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities.
And there’s more, plenty more. Butyrate heals the lining of the colon and can lessen the side effects of chemo, says Dr. Jeanne Wallace, a PhD in nutrition who runs a consulting company for people with cancer.
Plus, by promoting good colon health, it can protect you against other kinds of cancers—including estrogenic ones. Sound like an odd connection?
Your liver breaks down estrogens and other toxins and then dumps them into your gut, where fiber binds them and moves them out your body– or so you hope. If your colon doesn’t function well— your transit time is slow, you don’t have enough fiber or good intestinal bacteria—all those bad bacteria thriving in your gut can re-absorb the hormones and carcinogens and put them back into your system.
For that reason, nutrition consultants often recommend fiber, fermented foods AND a good brand of probiotics, which also contain lots of healthy bacteria.
Sauerkraut has firepower— butyrate, fiber AND from the cruciferous family of veggies. Few foods can boast all that. Trouble is: many people don’t like its strong taste. To soften the bite, add some mustard, peppercorns, juniper berries and/or grape tomatoes.Then, toss some caraway seeds on top to neutralize the after-effects.
And there you have it–another simple, anti-cancer concoction to add to your growing repertoire.
Author’s note: Choose unpasteurized sauerkraut; pasteurization destroys the active bacteria. That means opting for local brands (and asking if they’re unpasteurized) instead of the big commercial ones. Or as Dr. Andrew Weil suggests, you could make it yourself.
And don’t go overboard on amounts. Too much salt and salty foods can cause stomach cancer. A small portion of fermented foods once a week seems fine. You can also get that butyrate by consuming foods filled with fermentable fiber.