What is kimchi?
Kimchi is the most popular side dish in Korea. It is made from vegetables fermented by lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Some of the typical ingredients in kimchi include cabbage, radish, scallion, and chilli, as well as healthy, functional foods such as garlic and ginger. An average of 40 pounds of kimchi is consumed per person per year in Korea, and it is considered Korea’s national dish.
What makes kimchi beneficial?
Fermented foods were amongst the first processed foods consumed by people, valued for its extended shelf-life and safety.
Kimchi contains high levels of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and other functional components, depending on the ingredients. Many studies have reported health benefits of kimchi including effects such as being anti-cancer, anti-oxidative, anti-atherosclerotic, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, and more. (7)
Kimchi contains living micro-organisms which are amplified during fermentation. In addition to the high amounts of LAB, kimchi has probiotic effects which improve overall health. (5)
Health benefits of kimchi
Kimchi is a neutraceutical
Due to the fermentation process, kimchi contains a high number of lactic acid bacteria (108~9/ml), organic acids, vitamin B, vitamin C, carotenoids, chlorophylls, indole-3-carbinol, flavonoids, dietary fibre, unsaturated fatty acids, and more – all of which are beneficial to health. (1)
Kimchi helps improve digestion and gut health
Micro-organisms in kimchi associated with the fermentation process can provide beneficial functions in the GI tract as it contains large numbers of live cells which belong to a species which has demonstrated health benefits (eg L. plantarum). Kimchi likely has similar benefits to the probiotic lactobacilli. For kimchi to have these health benefits, it must be raw and unpasteurised. Maintaining levels of good gut flora in the GI tract can help improve digestion and elimination and reduce harmful bacteria which may contribute to poor digestion and inflammation. (5)
Kimchi can increase immunity
Lactic acid bacteria in kimchi can help modulate the immune system by changing the behaviour of our immune cells (namely NK cells, macrophages, the balance of Th1/Th2 cells, and the enhancement of Treg cells). It has been found to help alleviate allergies, asthma and atopic dermatitis in adults consuming three 40g servings per day. (2, 6)
By maintaining good gut health, kimchi can help fight bacterial and viral infections – after all, 70-80% of our immune system is in the gut.
Ingredients typically found in kimchi help boost the immune system and are considered functional foods: Garlic and ginger can lower inflammation and inhibit viruses; Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable known to be anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, full of vitamins (especially A, C, and K), supportive of liver detoxification, and linked to a decrease in colon cancer; Chilli and other hot peppers are anti-carcinogenic and have antioxidant effects. (8)
Kimchi can help prevent heart disease
Kimchi has lipid-lowering, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects, which helps decrease the factors involved in the formation of atherosclerosis – a progressive condition which blocks the arteries and is the primary cause of coronary heart disease. (3)
Kimchi has anti-diabetic and anti-obesity benefits
Clinical studies have shown that kimchi decreases insulin resistance and increases insulin sensitivity, and improves glucose tolerance. (4) It is also low in calories.
- Park, K.Y. and Kim, B.K. (2010). ‘Kimchi lactic acid bacteria and health benefits’, The FASEB Journal, 2 (S1).
- Choi, H.J. Lee, N.K. and Paik, H.D. (2015). ‘Health benefits of lactic acid bacteria isolated from kimchi, with respect to immunomodulatory effects’, Food Science Biotechnology, 24(3), pp. 783-789.
- Kim, H.J., Noh, J.S. and 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), pp. 127-135.
- An, S.Y. Lee, M.S. Jeon, J.Y. et al. (2013). ‘Beneficial effects of fresh and fermented kimchi in prediabetic individuals’, Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 63, pp. 111-119.
- Marco, M.L. Heeney, D. Binda, S. et al. (2017). ‘Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond’, Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 44, pp. 94-102.
- Kok, C.R. and Hutkins, R. (2018). ‘Yogurt and other fermented foods as sources of health-promoting bacteria’, Nutrition Reviews, 76(S1), pp. 4-15.
- Park, K.Y. Jeong, J.K. Lee, Y.E. et al. (2014). ‘Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) as a probiotic food’, Journal of Medicinal Food, 17(1), pp. 6-20.
- The Francis Crick Institute (2018). ‘Chemicals found in vegetables prevent colon cancer in mice’, ScienceDaily.
- Recipes: thatcleanlife.com