If you haven’t tried kimchi, you’re missing out on probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and other health benefits.
Kimchi is an integral part of Korean cuisine and culture. In its most basic form, kimchi is made from fermented cabbage, fermented fish, and spicy spices like Korean chili peppers, although it can be made from hundreds of vegetables and other ingredients. It is often treated as a condiment, but kimchi is traditionally eaten as a side dish.
“I’ve eaten all kinds of kimchi all my life and even helped my grandmother make it as a kid,” says Maggie Moon, RD, a Korean-American nutritionist and owner of Kimchi Curious, a website dedicated to the taste of kimchi. “Kimchi is essential to the Korean diet. You’ll almost always find it on the table by itself as a banchan (side dish), but it can also appear in soups, stews, cold noodle dishes, fried rice, savory pancakes, and more. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for kimchi, and Moon reminds us that every Korean household has their preferred way of making it.
Related: Fermentation: This ancient technique holds the key to our plant-based future
How you eat kimchi depends in part on what stage it is in—whether it’s freshly made or has been fermenting for a while. “Kimchi is meant to be enjoyed in all its stages as it transforms from fresh and crunchy to wilted and pleasantly spicy,” Moon explains. “Older, hotter kimchi is best for savory pancakes, stews, and fried rice, as the flavor mellows with cooking. You need a strong kimchi that will retain some of its flavor when cooked similar to how tart apples are used to make apple pie.
As a fermented food, kimchi is often touted as a gut-friendly source of probiotics, and it certainly is, but that’s not all the health benefits kimchi has to offer. Here are all the nutritious reasons why you should consider buying or making your own kimchi for a healthy taste.
Health benefits of kimchi
Kimchi has probiotics for a healthy gut microbiome.
Kimchi is a fermented food, so it’s often included in discussions about gut health. An entire ecosystem known as the gut microbiome lives in your gut, and research has found that eating a diet rich in fermented foods like kimchi helps add “good” bacteria and diversify the microbiome to help improve digestion and immunity, as well as to reduce intestinal inflammation.
“Kimchi supports the growth of live, beneficial bacteria known as probiotics, which contribute to postbiotics in the gut,” says registered nutritionist Kerry Gans, RDN. “One study revealed that postbiotics can alter the composition of the gut microbiome, leading to improved symptoms associated with constipation.”
Antibiotics are often needed to kill the bad bacteria (ie infections), but they also take the good bacteria with them. So after a round of antibiotics, for example, eating fermented foods that are rich in probiotics is especially helpful in restoring good gut flora and returning your digestive system to a healthy state.
Kimchi is full of plant nutrients.
Vegetables are a staple food group, but still not enough people eat enough of them to get the plant-based nutrients their bodies thrive on. The CDC estimates that only 9 percent of Americans eat the recommended two to three cups of vegetables per day.
If you’re one of the many who struggle to make vegetables palatable, kimchi, made primarily from cabbage and a variety of other vegetables, is a superb, spicy way to get more plant-based fiber, important micronutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals) and phenolic compounds. .
“Kimchi is made with a combination of vegetables like cabbage, spinach, and celery, which gives it a nutrient-dense nutritional profile,” confirms registered dietitian Jonah Burdeos, RD.
According to USDA data, one cup of cabbage-based kimchi is rich in the following nutrients:
It even has a few grams of protein and contains small amounts of potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, calcium and copper.
Kimchi can help improve blood lipid levels.
Your blood lipids refer to the amount of fats in your blood, such as cholesterol and triglycerides. High levels of lipids in the blood can be an indicator of potential health complications related to heart health (high cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in adults in the US.)
“About a cup and a half of kimchi a day has been shown to help people with high cholesterol lower their numbers,” says Moon. Researchers have also found a link between kimchi and anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and lipid-lowering properties that may have a positive effect on atherosclerosis, the buildup of fat in the arteries.
Research shows that probiotics also have heart-healthy benefits, which is another way this fermented spice can support cardiovascular health.
Kimchi is high in vitamin C.
Speaking of heart health, the vitamin C in kimchi can help. “Kimchi is a good source of antioxidants, especially vitamin C,” Gans says, adding that this may also contribute to heart-healthy benefits. Some research suggests that the anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin C-rich foods may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
You might not expect kimchi to be such a rich source of vitamin C, but recent research shows that it is quite significant. It ultimately depends on the ingredients used to make the kimchi, but cabbage-based kimchi can have up to 50.64 mg of vitamin C per 100 gram serving. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends 75 to 90 mg of vitamin C daily for the average adult, so kimchi can make a significant dent in your daily needs.
Vitamin C is also an essential nutrient for immune health and other bodily functions. As an antioxidant, it prevents free radical damage, which can prevent disease.
Kimchi is a rich source of vitamin K for bone and blood health.
Supporting bone health and proper blood clotting are just a few reasons to eat foods with vitamin K, and if you’re looking for ideas, kimchi is a great source. Among fermented foods, the researchers named kimchi as one of the richest sources of vitamin K. “One cup of kimchi offers about 65 micrograms of vitamin K, which meets about 53 percent of the recommended intake of vitamin K for men and 71 percent for women,” says Bourdeos, adding that fermenting kimchi can increase the bioavailability of its vitamin K.
Kimchi can help prevent vaginal yeast infections.
Yeast infections are no fun, but three out of four women will be affected by them at some point in their lives. Probiotic foods are often recommended as a way to prevent them, and kimchi is no exception.
“Kimchi, like other fermented foods, offers beneficial bacteria that can prevent vaginal yeast infections,” says Bourdeos. In a 2019 study, three bacterial strains were isolated from kimchi and shown to improve mucosal health by demonstrating antimicrobial and antibacterial activity against fungi and bacteria that cause vaginal yeast infections.
While eating kimchi isn’t a cure-all for women plagued by frequent vaginal yeast infections, it’s an unexpected, nutrition-based preventative measure to consider (and it certainly can’t hurt).
Kimchi may have benefits for those with prediabetes.
More than one-third of U.S. adults have prediabetes, the CDC estimates. However, most people don’t know they have it or its risks, such as an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Those with prediabetes may benefit from eating more kimchi, Moon suggests, pointing to a small but telling study: “In a small study of people with prediabetes, eating 10 days of fermented kimchi reduced insulin resistance and blood pressure, while glucose tolerance improved. improves by 33 percent compared to 1-day fermented kimchi,” she explains.
Related: 6 Healthy Foods That Boost Your Metabolism
Easy, healthy kimchi recipes
Beef Taco Inspired by Bulgogi
: Get the recipe
Miso Chicken Kimchi Noodle Soup
: Get the recipe
Kimchi Cabbage Cakes
: Get the recipe
Korean Style Lettuce Wraps
: Get the recipe
Steak House Bibimbap Cup
: Get the recipe
Related: These 5 delicious dinner ideas are super good for your gut
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