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How Expanding Your Diet to Include Kimchi Can Benefit Health

How Expanding Your Diet to Include Kimchi Can Benefit Health

I doubt (or rather, I know) that 700 years ago, when Koreans were making kimchi in their backyards, they had any idea that what they were doing with spices and cabbage was breeding billions and billions of bacteria that would colonize in their guts to help benefit their health.

In fact, no ancient society knew that this fermentation process would produce these bacteria.

It wasn’t until just a few decades ago that we realized the ancient practice was making these bacteria. And that these bacteria had positive effects on the human body.

The only thing the people who made things like kimchi, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickled herring, and more knew was that the fermentation process extended the lifespan of their food, allowing for long-term storage.

As well as altering how the food tastes.

I, for one, am thankful for fermented foods, not only because they benefit our gut microbiome.

But because they taste good too!

I love fermented foods, and I know many of my patients do, too.

Kimchi is one of those foods that some people love because of its crisp and often spicy flavor, and the good news is kimchi is simply one of the best foods for human health.

What is Kimchi?

Kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine, has a rich history that dates back thousands of years.

So it’s definitely not a fad.

Kimchi seems to originate in Korea, probably because of the peninsula's geographical isolation and unique agricultural and cultural development.

They used fermentation as a method of preservation, as Korea is known for extremely harsh winters and a reduced growing season.

The process of fermenting vegetables, typically cabbage, with seasonings in earthenware jars that were sometimes buried is uniquely “Korean” and separates it from other methods of fermentation.

A small history lesson reveals that over the centuries, various dynasties in Korea, such as the Three Kingdoms, Goryeo, and Joseon, contributed to the evolution of kimchi, with different regions developing their unique varieties.

By the Joseon Dynasty, kimchi had become so integral to Korean culture that it was considered a source of national pride and identity. The practice of making kimchi, known as kimjang, became a communal event, highlighting its importance in Korean society​​​​.

Today, we can enjoy all kinds of facets of kimchi, and evidence from scientific research supports its use for great health. 

Modern Research on the Health Benefits of Kimchi

Recent scientific studies have provided evidence supporting the health benefits of kimchi, which are primarily due to the probiotics derived from its fermentation process.

So let’s talk about them quickly:

1 - Rich in Probiotics:

It’s worth noting that the primary driver of kimchi’s benefits is its probiotic content. However, keep in mind that not all probiotics impart the same health benefits.

Kimchi is made when the Lactobacillus bacteria ferment the sugars in kimchi, and Lactobacillus is one of the most well-studied and most potent.

2 - Could Help Reduce Inflammation and Increase Heart Health:

Inflammation is problematic when it hangs around for too long in the body.

Kimchi could help knock it out.

Another compound in Kimchi called HDMPPA can help increase cardiovascular health strength by mitigating inflammation in the vascular system. 

Researchers have shown that when mice were given kimchi dosages calibrated to their body weight, there was a notable reduction in the activity of enzymes associated with inflammatory responses. That means the heart can operate at a higher capacity and not cause additional stress on the circulatory system.

Cellular-level studies in vitro have also reinforced HDMPPA's anti-inflammatory capabilities, showcasing its role in inhibiting the synthesis and release of pro-inflammatory molecules.

Fighting inflammation can also help reduce the symptoms of aching joints and boost lifespan.

3 - Could Help People Lose Weight:

Being overweight is one of the leading causes of preventable disease in developed nations like the United States.

I know I sound like a broken record when I tell patients and readers this fact, but it bears repeating.

Fortunately, kimchi consumption could be quite effective in helping control weight gain.

In a 4-week study involving 22 individuals with excess weight, fresh and fermented kimchi consumption was associated with reductions in body weight, BMI, and body fat. Notably, the group consuming fermented kimchi also experienced decreased blood sugar levels.

The study further observed that blood pressure and body fat percentage improvements were more significant among participants who consumed fermented kimchi than those who ate it fresh. The specific properties of kimchi contributing to these weight loss effects remain uncertain, though its low calorie, high fiber, and probiotic contents are potential factors.

I won’t get bogged down in the details of fresh vs. fermented preparations other than to say fermented is the way to go.

4 - Help Boost Immune Function:

Probiotics are great for immune health, as most of the immune response is mounted from the cells developed inside the gut.

This means you will struggle to fight infections and disease if you don’t have a healthy gut.

In research involving mice, the injection of Lactobacillus plantarum, a strain prevalent in kimchi and similar fermented foods, resulted in lower levels of the inflammation indicator TNF alpha compared to a control group.

This reduction suggests improved immune efficiency, as elevated TNF alpha is typically observed in infections and diseases. Further, an in vitro study isolating Lactobacillus plantarum from kimchi confirmed the bacterium's potential to bolster immune response, which means that kimchi could be a great food to eat if you’re starting to feel any sickness.

5 - Can Help With Blood Sugar Control

If you want to feel your absolute best, day in and day out, keeping balanced blood sugar is one of the best things you can do for your health.

Not only will it help with weight management, it’s also beneficial for:

  • Clearing up brain fog
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Improving joint pain
  • Reducing the risk of early mortality

And more!

Kimchi is great at helping with blood sugar control.

A study found that high kimchi consumption improved serum lipid profiles and fasting glucose levels, indicating that regular kimchi consumption might help manage blood sugar levels effectively. Specifically, fasting blood glucose levels were significantly reduced in participants who consumed high amounts of kimchi​​.

Another study focusing on prediabetic individuals revealed that fresh and fermented kimchi significantly decreased body weight, BMI, and waist circumference.

Interestingly, fermented kimchi decreased insulin resistance and increased insulin sensitivity more effectively than its fresh counterpart. It also positively impacted systolic and diastolic blood pressure, indicating broader metabolic benefits beyond just blood sugar control.

The study's results suggested that fermented kimchi’s ability to improve glucose tolerance could benefit individuals with prediabetes​​.

Quite a few additional studies indicate that kimchi can also benefit human health through blood sugar modulation, which leads me to conclude that using it daily is great for all those who wish to be healthier.

Now, Making it at Home…

The thing about kimchi is that you can buy it from the store.

It can be pricey, especially if you want one free from preservatives and dyes.

Select the Right Ingredients: The kimchi base typically includes Chinese cabbage or radish, rice flour, seasoned with a mix of garlic, ginger, scallions, and chili pepper. 

Fermented seafood (jeotgal) can be added for additional flavor, but that’s a more advanced preparation.

I also recommend getting organic ingredients where possible.

  1. Prepare the vegetables, ginger, and garlic by cleaning and chopping them.
  2. Layer the cabbage leaves with salt and allow them to rest for 2-3 hours. Flip the cabbage every half hour to ensure the salt is evenly spread. For every 6 pounds (2.7 kg) of cabbage, apply 1/2 cup (72 grams) of salt.
  3. Wash the cabbage under running water to wash away the surplus salt, then let it dry in a colander or sieve.
  4. Combine the rice flour, sugar, minced ginger and garlic, chili oil, pepper flakes, fish sauce, and saeujeot to create a seasoning paste, adjusting the amount of water to achieve the desired consistency. Alter the quantities based on your preference for the kimchi's flavor intensity.
  5. Mix the seasoned paste thoroughly with the prepared vegetables, ensuring an even coating.
  6. Transfer the coated vegetables into a large, airtight container or jar for fermentation.
  7. Allow the kimchi to ferment at room temperature for at least three days, or store it in a cooler environment at 39°F (4°C) for up to three weeks.

Of course, if you want more in-depth directions, I suggest a YouTube tutorial for making this wonderfully healthy dish!


Talk soon,

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