What Are the Health Benefits of Kimchi?

Gavin Oxley
Gavin Oxley9 Sep 2021

Many people in the United States are not aware of the importance of keeping a balanced and nutritious diet. In fact, more than two-thirds of residents of the United States are classified as either overweight or obese. Keeping a healthy diet and being conscious of the health benefits of your food, such as kimchi, can be beneficial to promoting preventative care. Let’s find out what health benefits kimchi can bring to your table.

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What Kimchi is & What Health Benefits it Provides

According to the CDC, the percentage of obese adults in the United States was 42.4% in 2018, rising from 30.5% in 2000. The need for healthy foods has never been more important than it is right now with the number of processed foods in our daily diets. Enter Kimchi, a healthy food that might be a good option for many. 

Kimchi is a Korean slaw that is salted and fermented in order to preserve the vegetables similar to common pickling methods. Most commonly, kimchi is made with cabbage and one or more types of radishes. Other common ingredients may include celery, spinach, carrot, onion, or cucumber as well as Korean root vegetables and herbs.

Kimchi is also often characterized by its spice. Spices will vary by recipe but the most common traditional spices in kimchi include ginger, garlic, sugar, Korean red pepper, onion powder, among others. Fish sauce or salted fish paste is also often used in making kimchi and contributes to the salinity and flavor.

Kimchi Health Benefits

According to Tayler Silfverduk, a registered dietitian with a background in gut health and fermented foods, there are many health benefits and reasons which kimchi should be included in a diet, such as:

  • It's made with anti-inflammatory ingredients. More specifically it's made with garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes, all of which have anti-inflammatory properties. That on top of the powerful antioxidants found in cabbage all work together to make this an anti-inflammatory dish.
  • The fermented nature of it means that the nutrients in it are more bioavailable. Meaning the body can absorb the nutrients in the cabbage and other ingredients better than if the cabbage were raw or cooked. This is because the bacteria during the fermentation process partially digest the ingredients making the nutrients in them easily accessible to your body.
  • Cabbage in kimchi is also prebiotic, which means that it will help feed the good bacteria living in your gut.
  • Additionally, kimchi is high in fiber which will help fill you up and support your heart health.

Also, kimchi has been found to have heart health benefits and can reduce an individual’s risk for heart disease, specifically atherosclerosis, by decreasing blood sugar, cholesterol, and low-density lipoproteins (LDLs).

Other health benefits that kimchi has shown to provide may include:

Kimchi could be a good addition to your diet, regardless of your current health. 

How Often Should You Eat Kimchi

In order for the benefits of kimchi to be effective, probiotics and beneficial bacteria need to be consumed regularly. Regular can mean a lot of different things to everyone so more specifically, it is recommended that one serving (100g) of kimchi is consumed daily. This recommendation is only to maximize the health benefits that you’re looking to get out of consummation. 

Kimchi Food Pairings

Kimchi, originating in Korea, is often paired with other Korean or Asian dishes. One of the most popular pairings is the Korean dish Bulgogi, combining to create a dish called Bulgogi Kimchi Pasta. Alternatively, kimchi is often added to fried rice to create a nutritionally balanced meal. Other dishes that include kimchi as the base may include:

Other foods kimchi pairs well with which may be more common in the diet of an individual in the United States or are more accessible ingredients may include:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • Soups
  • Salads
  • Sausages
  • Tofu
  • Spaghetti
  • Pizza

As you can see, kimchi pairs well with almost any food group and can be used to adapt any dish to provide many of the benefits listed above that foods in your previous diet may not have provided.

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Kimchi Substitutes

If you have tried kimchi before and do not enjoy it, there are several alternatives that provide similar benefits. One very similar food that you may be familiar with is sauerkraut. It is commonly eaten with hotdogs or sausages and provides almost the same benefits as kimchi. The primary difference is the taste, lacking in spice and fermented tang.

Additionally, there are many fermented foods that do not provide all the same benefits but are used for similar digestive purposes and are filled with probiotics. Some of these foods include but are not limited to:

  • Yogurt
  • Pickles
  • Kefir
  • Tempeh
  • Kombucha
  • Miso

Kimchi Fun Facts

In addition to the most unknown health benefits of kimchi, here are some other kimchi fun facts:

  1. Kimchi has been brought to space by the first astronaut from South Korea, Yi So Yeon, so she could maintain her nutrition under the strenuous conditions of space.
  2. The average person in Korea consumes 40-57 pounds of kimchi annually. Many Koreans even have a separate, specially designed refrigerator to store their fermenting kimchi throughout the year.
  3. There are over 200 types of kimchi that have been documented as being created before in Korea. Some kimchi experts even divide the types of kimchi into seasonal foods where some are best made in each of the four seasons. When creating your kimchi, do not feel limited to the recipes you find online, but instead create to your taste.
  4. Once kimchi has been fermented, it can last up to three years in storage. This means it is a great non-perishable food that is great for camping and backpacking trips as well.
  5. Kimchi was originally created as early as in the 600s A.D.

Kimchi Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Understanding the health benefits of kimchi is only the first step to fully understanding how kimchi benefits you and how to cook it in various forms. Here we outline some other common issues and questions people may come across with kimchi.

Can you eat too much kimchi?

While kimchi, a probiotic, is healthy and can provide so many benefits when regularly added to an individual’s diet, consuming too much may cause some negative side effects. While you cannot overdose on probiotics to the point of death, consuming too many probiotics can lead to bloating, gas, and nausea. 

Individuals with a weakened immune system are at higher risk for experiencing negative effects. There is no correct dose of probiotics but in the case of kimchi, about 100g can be safely consumed per day.

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Am I able to drain the liquid from my kimchi after fermentation?

No, the liquid in the kimchi jar provides three essential benefits:

  1. If the fermented kimchi comes in contact with oxygen in the air, it will age much faster and be inedible.
  2. The liquid acts to even spice the vegetables.
  3. The kimchi liquid is often great, if not essential, to use in many of the recipes listed above.

When fermenting, should I leave room on the top of the jar?

Yes, depending on the size of the jar, you should leave ½-1 inch of space between the liquid and the lid so there is room for the gas released during the fermentation process to escape to and the air-tight seal of the jar won’t be broken. If you seal the jar properly during the initial canning process, you ideally should hear a popping sound when opening the jar for the first time.

Bottom Line

It is important to make sure that foods such as kimchi are incorporated into your diet to maintain good health and keep a good practice of preventative health. Try a kimchi recipe and see if you find something that works for you. Other activities you can do to practice preventative health may include exercise, yoga, meditation, or mindfulness.

Gavin Oxley

Gavin is a 4th Year student at the University of Virginia, studying Medical Anthropology, Ethics, & Care as well as Environmental Science. He is passionate about providing healthcare resources and proper education in order to promote life and health for all.