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Experts say it’s relatively simple to add kimchi to foods you already eat. Charlotte Hu/Stocksy
  • Eating up to three servings of kimchi a day is associated with a lower risk of obesity compared to eating one serving or less or more than five servings daily, according to a new study.
  • Fermented foods may have positive metabolic effects thanks to the pre-biotic and probiotic nutrients that occur as part of the fermentation process.
  • While excessive kimchi consumption is not recommended, adding more fermented vegetables to your diet could be one way to promote better metabolic and microbiome health, the researchers said.

People who regularly eat the fermented vegetable dish kimchi — up to three times daily — may lower their risk of obesity.

That’s according to a study published today in the journal BMJ Open.

In it, researchers from Korea looked at data from more than 100,000 participants ages 40 to 69 who were part of the nationwide Health Examinees study and used body mass index (BMI) scores to determine the obesity rates of study subjects.

The researchers reported that there appeared to be a dose-response relationship between kimchi consumption and health benefits up to a point.

For instance, eating up to three servings of kimchi per day was associated with an 11% lower prevalence of obesity compared to those who ate less than a serving daily.

Specific kimchi types also showed a positive effect.

Three or more daily servings of cabbage kimchi among men was associated with a 10% lower prevalence of overall obesity as well as a 10% lower prevalence of abdominal obesity compared to those who ate less than one serving daily.

Among women, two or three daily servings of cabbage kimchi were associated with an 8% lower occurrence of obesity while less than one serving was associated with a 6% lower occurrence of abdominal obesity.

Meanwhile, even half servings or smaller of radish kimchi (25 g per day for men and 11 g per day for women) was associated with an 8% and 11% lower risk of abdominal obesity among men and women, respectively.

That said, excessive kimchi consumption saw these gains evaporate with the study data showing a “J-shaped curve.” With more than five servings of kimchi daily, participants were more likely to have obesity than their counterparts who ate a more moderate amount.

“The study illustrates that while moderate kimchi intake can yield probiotic benefits, excessive consumption might negate benefits due to its high sodium content,” said Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition consultant for Diabetes Strong Inc. who was not involved in the study.

“While this study doesn’t establish causation, it adds to the body of research supporting the inclusion of probiotic foods in the diet to promote gut microbiome diversity and subsequent weight management outcomes,” Costa told Medical News Today.

While this study might point to some of the benefits of kimchi, experts cautioned there are limitations to how much we can draw from an observational study of a specific population.

“The study may have some validity. However, one downfall is that it is limited to the Korean population, which consumes fermented foods as part of their diet on a regular basis,” Yelena Wheeler, MPH, RDN, a dietitian based in the Los Angeles area who was not involved in the research, told Medical News Today. “Therefore, one of the challenges with such a study would be applying it to a population of various backgrounds that do not consume fermented foods. In that case, it would be more difficult to obtain food frequencies of fermented foods from a varied population group that does not typically consume those types of foods.”

“As we learn more about the intricate relationship between gut microbiome and overall health, it becomes increasingly clear that dietary factors play a crucial role in maintaining this delicate ecosystem,” Costa added. Previous research has shown that probiotic-rich fermented foods, such as kimchi, can promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and help regulate metabolism, and we don’t need to consume probiotics in excessive amounts to see results. Low to medium doses of probiotics consumed through fermented foods have been shown to reduce BMI and weight, offering a viable, natural alternative for managing obesity.”

Many fermented foods that people in the United States eat regularly contain these probiotics.

“Kimchi and fermented foods contain various types of probiotics, often those which are lactic-acid based such as Lactobacillus species, as well as prebiotics, which support these microbes to live and thrive,” Sarah Herrington, a nutritionist at Brio-Medical in Arizona who was not involved in the research, told Medical News Today. “These types of gut modulators can support a gut environment with healthy diversity that can positively influence metabolic health.”

In fact, previous Lactobacillus research showing anti-obesity health benefits was among the reasons the researchers pursued this particular study.

So, should we all start eating kimchi with our toast and eggs? The bottom line is that adding more kimchi or similar fermented foods to your diet in moderation likely isn’t going to hurt.

“Eating kimchi three times per day is only realistic if you enjoy eating kimchi,” Herrington said. “A serving of kimchi is usually only a few tablespoons worth, so in terms of volume, it can easily be added to meals. It’s great on top of grains, salads, eggs, rice, as well as meat such as pork or beef.”

“Sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables are made in a similar manner to kimchi, so an individual could easily vary these options,” she added.