Obesity: How three servings per day of kimchi can help lower risk

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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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.”

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