Kimchi: 6 Health Benefits Including Weight Loss | Signos

Kim-what? Learn more about kimchi, a spicy fermented Korean dish that improves digestion and helps with weight loss.

Kimchi-on-a-little-bowl
by
Laura M. Ali, MS, RDN, LDN
— Signos
Health & Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
March 5, 2023
— Updated:

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Korean cuisine has been gaining popularity since 2010, and the spicy, fermented side dish, kimchi, is one of its stars. A popular condiment on many menus, you may have also seen it in the produce section of your local store and wondered about it.

Kimchi originated in South Korea and is a regular part of most meals. It is often served as a side with eggs in the morning, as a condiment, or mixed into soups and main dishes for lunch and dinner.

It is made from napa cabbage, radishes, and scallions packed with salt, forming a brine. The vegetables are drained and mixed with a spicy sauce made with ginger, garlic, fish sauce, and a traditional spicy Korean chili paste called gochujang.2 The spice level varies based on the chef and can be mild or spicy.

Kimchi has become better known in the last decade due to its potential health benefits, including aiding in heart, brain, and gut health. This article will examine why you should try kimchi, some potential health benefits, and some quick and easy ways to introduce it into your diet.

Why is Kimchi Good for You?

In addition to being low in calories, it is packed with nutrients, including fiber, vitamin K, iron, and antioxidants. It also has both prebiotic and probiotic properties, which help keep your GI tract healthy and may help with weight loss and prevent other chronic diseases. 

1 cup of Kimchi contains3:

  • Calories - 22.5
  • Carbohydrates - 3.6g
  • Protein - 1.7g
  • Fat - 0.75g
  • Fiber - 2.4g
  • Sodium - 750mg
  • Vitamin K - 50% DV
  • Vitamin B6 - 18% DV
  • Iron - 20% DV
  • Potassium 4% DV
  • Folate - 20% DV
  • Calcium - 4% DV
  • Choline - 4% DV

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Health Benefits of Kimchi

Like other fermented foods, kimchi is rich in probiotics and contains the same healthy bacteria found in yogurt and kefir that supports digestion and GI health.

The ingredients used to make kimchi are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, which may help reduce inflammation and protect against various diseases.

Improved Digestion

Fermented foods have long been thought to help digestion through their probiotic effects. They provide healthy bacteria to the GI tract that stimulates the growth of our gut microbiome. This amounts to healthy GI tract bacteria that help digestion and protect us against infection.

In a recent small study, daily kimchi consumption decreased inflammatory bowel disease symptoms and improved immune markers.4 More research is needed, but like other fermented foods, there is reason to believe it can help support our gut health.

Support Heart Health

Probiotics and foods rich in probiotics have been shown to improve cholesterol levels. The type of bacteria found in dairy products and kimchi, Lactobacillus acidophilus, has some evidence to support its ability to help reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.5 

Additional research has found that in addition to its antioxidant properties, kimchi may help reduce LDL levels and decrease inflammation that may contribute to cardiovascular disease.6,7 

Weight Loss

Kimchi is low in calories and high in satiating fiber. It is also high in probiotics which help support weight loss.8 Beyond that, some evidence has found that kimchi may help support weight loss and reduce body fat. One small study found those who consumed fermented kimchi products had significantly reduced body weight as well as reduced waist-to-hip ratio after four weeks.9

Immune System Support

The ingredients in kimchi contain antioxidants, flavonoids, and anthocyanins, which support the immune system. Research has shown that once some of those ingredients are fermented, the levels of these nutrients increase.10

Support Brain Health

Fermented foods, including kimchi, have a positive impact on our gut microbiome, which directly links to our brains through something known as the gut-brain axis. This is a two-way communication system between our GI tract and brain. It carries signals and hormones that help regulate mood, stress, and weight. It may also have a role in the protection from chronic diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.11,12 More research is needed, but keeping our GI tract healthy may do more than just support our digestion.

Lower Blood Sugar

In addition to helping support weight loss, there is some evidence that kimchi may impact insulin sensitivity. A small study of people with prediabetes found 33 percent of those who ate fermented kimchi had improved glucose tolerance after four weeks.13 

While more research is needed in these areas, eating fermented foods like kimchi has shown promising health benefits.

How to Make Kimchi at Home

Kimchi is relatively easy to make at home but requires patience. It takes a few days to ferment, but in the end, you will have a delicious condiment that can add flavor to your meals.

The base of kimchi is cabbage. Napa cabbage is most commonly used, but if you cannot access this ingredient, regular cabbage will work just fine.

Start by washing the cabbage and cutting it into long thin strips. Next, place the cabbage in a bowl and toss it with non-iodized salt. Allow it to sit in the salt mixture for a few hours. Then cover it with water and let it sit overnight at room temperature.

The next day, drain the cabbage and squeeze all the water out. Toss it with other vegetables like strips of red pepper, scallions, carrots, and radishes. Mix Korean hot sauce, minced garlic, and minced ginger in a separate bowl. Add fish sauce, sugar, and vinegar to the bowl and stir to combine. Then coat the vegetables thoroughly with the spice mix. Cover, and let it sit at room temperature for a few days to ferment.

Once it is fermented, store it in the refrigerator. The kimchi will be kept in the refrigerator in a sealed jar for a few months, but the flavor will continue to develop and may become too sour, so it is best to eat it sooner rather than later.14 

Potential Downsides of Eating Kimchi

While kimchi is a healthy food to include in your diet, there can be some things to consider before diving in.

May cause bloating

This high-fiber food is made from cabbage, a known gas producer, and can cause bloating and GI upset if you aren’t used to eating it. While it can help improve some GI issues, you may need to introduce it slowly and eat a little at a time until your GI tract becomes accustomed to the dish.

Potential for food poisoning

There have been reports of food poisoning from kimchi, including an outbreak of E. coli in 2012 and another of norovirus in 2013. These were primarily attributed to the vegetables and fermentation process and storage conditions.15

If purchasing kimchi, buy it from a reputable company and always store your fermented product in the refrigerator for no more than two weeks.

Anyone who is immunocompromised or has a weakened immune system should avoid eating kimchi and other fermented foods.

3 Tasty Kimchi Recipes to Try at Home

Bibimbap

This traditional rice or noodle dish is topped with sliced cucumbers, cooked spinach, carrots, and bean sprouts with spicy kimchi mixed in and topped with a soft cooked egg.

Place noodles or rice in a wide bowl. Add carrots, cucumbers, sauteed spinach or bok choy, and bean sprouts. You can also add sauteed beef, chicken, or seafood. Top it with a soft cooked egg and serve kimchi on the side or mixed in.

Bowl-of-noodles-with-kimchi

Spicy Chicken with Kimchi and Cauliflower Rice

This “rice” dish is made with cauliflower to help reduce carbohydrates and calories. Saute the cauliflower “rice” in a large saute pan with a little oil over medium-low heat until tender. You can add some minced garlic to give it a bit more flavor.

Spoon it into bowls and top it with strips of roasted chicken coated with chili paste, spicy kimchi, mushrooms, and shredded sauteed bok choy.

Kimchi Soup

Saute onion and carrots in a small amount of oil in a large saucepan. Add sliced chicken breasts, ginger, and minced garlic, and cook until the chicken is firm and cooked. Add chicken broth to cover the chicken and kimchi to the saucepan.

Serve over rice or noodles, and add a few strips of red pepper and additional kimchi on the side.

Kimchi is a delicious ingredient to help spice up your meals. Add kimchi to scrambled eggs, put it on top of avocado toast, add it to a sandwich, or toss it with your lunchtime salad. There are many ways to incorporate this healthy, traditional Korean food into your meals.

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References

  1. Beaton, Kelly.  March 8, 2022.  From Kimchi to Bulgogi, Korean Cuisine Gaining Steam. The Food Institute. https://foodinstitute.com/focus/from-kimchi-to-bulgogi-korean-cuisine-gaining-steam/  Accessed: February 22, 2023. 
  2. Patra, J. K., Das, G., Paramithiotis, S., & Shin, H. S. (2016). Kimchi and Other Widely Consumed Traditional Fermented Foods of Korea: A Review. Frontiers in microbiology, 7, 1493. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2016.01493
  3. USDA Food Data Central. Cabbage, Kimchi. Accessed February 21, 2023. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170392/nutrients  
  4. Kim, H. Y., Park, E. S., Choi, Y. S., Park, S. J., Kim, J. H., Chang, H. K., & Park, K. Y. (2022). Kimchi improves irritable bowel syndrome: results of a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Food & nutrition research, 66, 10.29219/fnr.v66.8268. https://doi.org/10.29219/fnr.v66.8268
  5. Shimizu, M., Hashiguchi, M., Shiga, T., Tamura, H. O., & Mochizuki, M. (2015). Meta-Analysis: Effects of Probiotic Supplementation on Lipid Profiles in Normal to Mildly Hypercholesterolemic Individuals. PloS one, 10(10), e0139795. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0139795
  6. Woo, M., Kim, M., Noh, J. S., Park, C. H., & Song, Y. O. (2017). Preventative activity of kimchi on high cholesterol diet-induced hepatic damage through regulation of lipid metabolism in LDL receptor knockout mice. Food science and biotechnology, 27(1), 211–218. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10068-017-0202-3
  7. Kim, H. J., Noh, J. S., & Song, Y. O. (2018). Beneficial Effects of Kimchi, a Korean Fermented Vegetable Food, on Pathophysiological Factors Related to Atherosclerosis. Journal of medicinal food, 21(2), 127–135. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2017.3946
  8. Aoun, A., Darwish, F., & Hamod, N. (2020). The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Obesity in Adults and the Role of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics for Weight Loss. Preventive nutrition and food science, 25(2), 113–123. https://doi.org/10.3746/pnf.2020.25.2.113
  9. Kim, E. K., An, S.Y., Lee, M.S., Kim, T.H., Lee, H.K., Hwang, W.S., Choe, S.J., Kim, T.Y., Han, S.J., Kim, H.J., Kim, D.J., Lee, K.W. (2011). Fermented Kimchi Reduces Body Weight and Improves Metabolic Parameters in Overweight and Obese Patients. Nutrition Research. 31(6):436-443. 
  10. Raghuvanshi, R., Grayson, A. G., Schena, I., Amanze, O., Suwintono, K., & Quinn, R. A. (2019). Microbial Transformations of Organically Fermented Foods. Metabolites, 9(8), 165. https://doi.org/10.3390/metabo9080165
  11. Margolis, K. G., Cryan, J. F., & Mayer, E. A. (2021). The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: From Motility to Mood. Gastroenterology, 160(5), 1486–1501. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2020.10.066
  12. Kim, N., Lee, J., Song, H.S., Oh, Y.J., Kwon, M.S., Yun, M., Lim, S.K., Park, H.K., Jang, Y.S., Lee, S., Choi, S.P., Roh, S.W., Choi, H.J. (2022). Kimchi Intake Alleviates Obesity-Induced Neuroinflammation by Modulating the Gut-Brain Axis. Food Research International. 158: 111533. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2022.111533
  13. An, S. Y., Lee, M. S., Jeon, J. Y., Ha, E. S., Kim, T. H., Yoon, J. Y., Ok, C. O., Lee, H. K., Hwang, W. S., Choe, S. J., Han, S. J., Kim, H. J., Kim, D. J., & Lee, K. W. (2013). Beneficial effects of fresh and fermented kimchi in prediabetic individuals. Annals of nutrition & metabolism, 63(1-2), 111–119. https://doi.org/10.1159/000353583
  14. Imatome-Yun, N. (2022). Sriracha Kimchi. The Spruce Eats. Accessed 2/22/23. https://www.thespruceeats.com/korean-sriracha-kimchi-recipe-2118867
  15. Patra, J. K., Das, G., Paramithiotis, S., & Shin, H. S. (2016). Kimchi and Other Widely Consumed Traditional Fermented Foods of Korea: A Review. Frontiers in microbiology, 7, 1493. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2016.01493

About the author

Laura is an award-winning food and nutrition communications consultant, freelance writer, and recipe developer.

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