Similar to kimchi, sauerkraut is a traditionally-German dish made from cabbage fermented with spices. Often served raw, many women are concerned that sauerkraut might cause food poisoning or be otherwise unsafe during pregnancy.
Despite being a fermented veggie, sauerkraut can still be safe to eat throughout pregnancy, so long as it is prepared properly. Choosing pasteurized versions, as well as thorough cooking, are both ways to decrease your risk of foodborne illness.
Not only is sauerkraut packed full of gut-friendly bacteria and other health benefits, but it is a popular craving too! I’ll break down ways to shop and prepare safe sauerkraut, as well as what to watch for when dining out.
Craving Sauerkraut During Pregnancy: What Does it Mean?
Sauerkraut lands itself on the list of sour foods that many women crave throughout pregnancy (not surprising, given that ‘sour’ is literally in the name). If you have never been a fan of this polarizing food, it can be especially surprising to find yourself jonesing for a bowl of tangy, fermented sauerkraut.
Similar to other sour foods, there is a potential reason that you have started craving sauerkraut. Many women report that sour foods and drinks help to settle their stomachs when feeling nauseous!
While this more commonly leads to cravings for lemon, sour candies, and other citrus fruits, sauerkraut’s classic tang fits the bill as well. Amplify this two-fold for both sauerkraut’s tang and host of natural probiotics, and you’ve got yourself a craving!
For more details on cravings for other sour foods, check out our article “Why Am I Craving Sour Stuff During Pregnancy.”
Is Sauerkraut Safe for Pregnant Women to Eat?
Due to sauerkraut’s similarity to other fermented foods, such as kimchi and kefir, it is natural to wonder whether the same foodborne illness considerations are true to sauerkraut as well.
Depending on where you live, you might find different types of sauerkraut in your local shops. European and American Midwest readers are more likely to have a wider selection, including pasteurized and unpasteurized versions.
Readers from other areas are likely more familiar with canned sauerkraut which is typically pasteurized to maintain a longer shelf-life.
The main concern when it comes to eating unpasteurized foods during pregnancy is the risk of bacterial contamination. The FDA recommends that pregnant individuals avoid unpasteurized foods to reduce risk of foodborne illness, which can be serious for both mom and unborn baby (source: FDA).
However, one of the benefits of fermented foods like sauerkraut (which I’ll discuss more below) is their healthy bacteria- otherwise known as probiotics (source: American Pregnancy Association).
Pasteurization kills off pathogens, making foods safer for those with weakened immune systems- including pregnant women. This process doesn’t just kill off bad bacteria, but also the beneficial ones.
During pregnancy, the risk of foodborne illness just doesn’t outweigh the probiotic benefits so it is safest to opt for pasteurized versions of sauerkraut and use them within their best-by dates. Because pasteurization isn’t standard across all brands and types of sauerkraut, most pasteurized versions will say so- just check the label.
If pasteurized sauerkrauts aren’t an option in your area, another way to decrease your chances of foodborne illness is to thoroughly cook the sauerkraut before eating. Unlike other fermented foods, many popular sauerkraut dishes are meant to be served hot making this option more appetizing.
Dishes such as Reuben sandwiches, kielbasa and sauerkraut, and German potato salad rely on sauerkraut as a star ingredient, but what about the remainder of the meal? Are there any other considerations to watch out for?
When dining out, you may have to ask for any deli sandwiches (i.e: Reuben) to be heated for longer or for the beef to be heated separately before grilling.
What Are the Benefits of Sauerkraut for Pregnancy?
If you choose to eat a ‘safe’ version of sauerkraut, there is no shortage of potential health benefits for both you and your growing baby.
The active probiotics in sauerkraut help to give your gut good bacteria. These bacteria help to break down the foods you eat, keep harmful bacteria out, and even provide immune support (source: World Journal of Gastroenterology).
Research has also shown that sauerkraut is a good source of vitamin C, which can further boost your immune system (source: Global Advances in Health and Medicine).
It’s no secret that sauerkraut offers a number of benefits, including for pregnant folks! Despite being a fermented food, the tangy cabbage can still be safe to enjoy while pregnant so long as you choose pasteurized or fully-cooked varieties.