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Health benefits of kimchi

9 unique health benefits of kimchi

Kimchi is a Korean cabbage dish known for its pungent aroma and spicy kick. Here are nine surprising benefits of kimchi.

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This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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Last updated on September 6, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on August 11, 2022.

Historically, growing fresh vegetables throughout the year hasn’t always been possible.

Therefore, people have developed food preservation methods, such as pickling and fermentation — a process that uses enzymes to create chemical changes in food.

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made with salted fermented vegetables. It typically contains cabbage and seasonings like sugar, salt, onions, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers.

It may also boast other vegetables, including radish, celery, carrot, cucumber, eggplant, spinach, scallions, beets, and bamboo shoots.

Though kimchi is usually fermented for a few days to a few weeks before serving, it can be eaten fresh or unfermented immediately after preparation.

This dish is not only delectable but also offers many health benefits.

Here are nine surprising benefits of kimchi.

1. Kimchi is packed with nutrients

Kimchi is packed with nutrients while being low in calories.

On its own, Chinese cabbage — one of the main ingredients in kimchi — boasts vitamins A and C, at least ten different minerals, and over 34 amino acids.

Since kimchi varies widely in ingredients, its exact nutritional profile differs between batches and brands. All the same, a 1-cup (150-gram) serving contains approximately:

Many green vegetables are good sources of nutrients like vitamin K and riboflavin. Because kimchi often comprises several green veggies, such as cabbage, celery, and spinach, it’s a great source of these nutrients.

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Vitamin K is essential in many bodily functions, including bone metabolism and blood clotting, while riboflavin helps regulate energy production, cellular growth, and metabolism.

What’s more, the fermentation process may develop additional nutrients that are more easily absorbed by your body.

Summary: Kimchi has an excellent nutritional profile. The dish is low in calories but packed with nutrients like iron, folate, and vitamins B6 and K.

2. Kimchi contains probiotics

The lacto-fermentation process that kimchi undergoes makes it particularly unique. Fermented foods have an extended shelf life and an enhanced taste and aroma.

Fermentation occurs when starch or sugar is converted into alcohol or acid by organisms like yeast, mold, or bacteria.

Lacto-fermentation uses the bacterium Lactobacillus to break sugars down into lactic acid, which gives kimchi its characteristic sourness.

This bacterium may offer several benefits when taken as a supplement, including treating conditions like hay fever and certain types of diarrhea.

Fermentation also creates an environment that allows other friendly bacteria to thrive and multiply. These include probiotics, which are live microorganisms that offer health benefits when consumed in large amounts.

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They’re linked to the prevention and treatment of several conditions, including:

Remember that many of these findings are related to high-dose probiotic supplements and not the amounts found in a typical serving of kimchi.

The probiotics in kimchi are believed to be responsible for many of its benefits. Nonetheless, more research on the specific effects of probiotics from fermented foods is needed.

Summary: Fermented foods like kimchi offer probiotics, which may help prevent and treat several conditions.

3. Kimchi may strengthen your immune system

The Lactobacillus bacterium in kimchi may boost your immune health.

In a study in mice, those injected with Lactobacillus plantarum — a specific strain common in kimchi and other fermented foods — had lower levels of the inflammatory marker tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) than the control group.

Because TNF alpha levels are often elevated during infection and disease, a decrease indicates that the immune system works efficiently.

A test-tube study that isolated Lactobacillus plantarum from kimchi demonstrated that this bacterium has immune-enhancing effects.

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Though these results are promising, human research is needed.

Summary: A specific strain of Lactobacillus found in kimchi may boost your immune system, though further research is necessary.

4. Kimchi may reduce inflammation

Probiotics and active compounds in kimchi and other fermented foods may help fight inflammation.

For example, a mouse study revealed that HDMPPA, one of the principal compounds in kimchi, improved blood vessel health by suppressing inflammation.

In another mouse study, a kimchi extract administered at 91 mg per pound of body weight (200 mg per kg) daily for two weeks lowered levels of inflammation-related enzymes.

Meanwhile, a test-tube study confirmed that HDMPPA displays anti-inflammatory properties by blocking and suppressing the release of inflammatory compounds.

However, human studies are lacking.

Summary: HDMPPA, an active compound in kimchi, may play a large role in reducing inflammation.

5. Kimchi may slow aging

Chronic inflammation is not only associated with numerous illnesses but also accelerates the aging process.

Interestingly, kimchi possibly prolongs cell life by slowing this process.

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In a test-tube study, human cells treated with kimchi demonstrated increased viability, which measures overall cell health, and showed an extended life span regardless of age.

Still, overall research is lacking. More studies are needed before kimchi can be recommended as an anti-aging treatment.

Summary: A test-tube study indicates that kimchi may slow the aging process, though more research is necessary.

6. Kimchi may prevent yeast infections

Kimchi’s probiotics and healthy bacteria may help prevent yeast infections.

Vaginal yeast infections occur when the Candida fungus, which is usually harmless, multiplies rapidly inside the vagina. Over 1.4 million people in the United States are treated for this condition yearly.

As this fungus may develop antibiotic resistance, many researchers are looking for natural treatments.

Test-tube and animal studies suggest that certain strains of Lactobacillus fight Candida. One test-tube study even found that multiple strains isolated from kimchi displayed antimicrobial activity against this fungus.

Regardless, further research is necessary.

Summary: Probiotic-rich foods like kimchi may help prevent yeast infections, though research is in the early stages.

7. Kimchi may aid in weight loss

Fresh and fermented kimchi are both low in calories and may boost weight loss.

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A 4-week study on 22 people with excess weight found that eating fresh or fermented kimchi helped reduce body weight, body mass index (BMI), and body fat. Additionally, the fermented variety decreased blood sugar levels.

Keep in mind that those who ate fermented kimchi displayed significantly greater blood pressure and body fat percentage improvements than those who ate the fresh dish.

It’s unclear which properties of kimchi are responsible for its weight loss effects — though its low-calorie count, high fiber content, and probiotics could all play a role.

Summary: Though the specific mechanism isn’t known, kimchi may help reduce body weight, fat, and even blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

8. Kimchi may support heart health

Research indicates that kimchi may reduce your risk of heart disease.

This may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties, as recent evidence suggests that inflammation may be an underlying cause of heart disease.

In an 8-week study in mice fed a high cholesterol diet, fat levels in the blood and liver were lower in those given kimchi extract than in people in the control group. In addition, the kimchi extract appeared to suppress fat growth.

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This is important as fat accumulation in these areas may contribute to heart disease.

Meanwhile, a weeklong study including 100 people found that eating 0.5–7.5 ounces (15–210 grams) of kimchi daily significantly decreased blood sugar, total cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels — all risk factors for heart disease.

All the same, more human research is needed.

Summary: Kimchi may lower your risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation, suppressing fat growth, and decreasing cholesterol levels.

9. Kimchi is easy to make

Though preparing fermented foods may seem like a daunting task, making kimchi at home is fairly simple if you adhere to the following steps:

  1. Gather ingredients of your choice, such as cabbage and other fresh vegetables like carrot, radish, and onion, along with ginger, garlic, sugar, salt, rice flour, chili oil, chili powder or pepper flakes, fish sauce, and saeujeot (fermented shrimp).
  2. Cut and wash the fresh vegetables alongside the ginger and garlic.
  3. Spread salt in between the layers of cabbage leaves and let it sit for 2–3 hours. Turn the cabbage every 30 minutes to evenly distribute the salt. Use a ratio of 1/2 cup (72 grams) of salt to every 6 pounds (2.7 kg) of cabbage.
  4. To remove the excess salt, rinse the cabbage with water and drain it in a colander or strainer.
  5. Mix the rice flour, sugar, ginger, garlic, chili oil, pepper flakes, fish sauce, and saeujeot into a paste, adding water if necessary. You can use more or less of these ingredients depending on how strong you want your kimchi to taste.
  6. Toss the fresh vegetables, including the cabbage, into the paste until all the veggies have been thoroughly coated.
  7. Pack the mixture into a large container or jar for storage, and seal it properly.
  8. Let the kimchi ferment for at least three days at room temperature or up to 3 weeks at 39°F (4°C).

To make a version suitable for vegetarians and vegans, simply leave out the fish sauce and saeujeot.

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If you prefer fresh over fermented kimchi, stop after step 6.

If you choose fermentation, you’ll know that it’s ready to eat once it smells and tastes sour — or when tiny bubbles begin to move through the jar.

After fermentation, you can refrigerate your kimchi for up to 1 year. It will continue to ferment but at a slower rate due to the cool temperature.

Bubbling, bulging, a sour taste, and a softening of the cabbage are perfectly normal for kimchi. However, if you notice a foul odor or any signs of mold, such as a white film atop the food, your dish has spoiled and should be thrown out.

Summary: Kimchi can be made at home using a few simple steps. Typically, it needs to ferment for 3–21 days, depending on the surrounding temperature.

Does kimchi have any downsides?

In general, the most significant safety concern with kimchi is food poisoning.

Recently, this dish has been linked to E. coli and norovirus outbreaks.

Even though fermented foods don’t typically carry foodborne pathogens, kimchi’s ingredients and the adaptability of pathogens mean that it’s still vulnerable to them.

As such, people with compromised immune systems may want to practice caution with kimchi.

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Also, the nitrite content of kimchi varies by type and how it’s prepared. Depending on the preparation, you can minimize the nitrite content.

Furthermore, the histamine content of kimchi varies by the product and how it’s produced.

That said, purchasing the kimchi from a reliable source and correctly storing the kimchi can minimize the risk of any adverse effects.

Finally, although people with high blood pressure may have concerns about this dish’s high sodium content, a study in 114 people with this condition showed no significant relationship between kimchi intake and high blood pressure.

Summary: Kimchi has very few risks. Nonetheless, this dish has been tied to outbreaks of food poisoning, so people with compromised immune systems may want to use extra caution.

Summary

Kimchi is a sour Korean dish often made from cabbage and other vegetables. Because it’s a fermented food, it boasts numerous probiotics.

These healthy microorganisms may give kimchi several health benefits. It may help regulate your immune system, promote weight loss, fight inflammation, and even slow the aging process.

If you enjoy cooking, you can even make kimchi at home.

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