Is kimchi a weight-loss superfood?

A new study, carried out by researchers in Korea, has found that radish kimchi is associated with a lower prevalence of abdominal fat in both men and women.

According to the findings, published in BMJ Open, consuming up to three servings of kimchi, a traditional Korean dish, per day could reduce the likelihood of obesity in men.

Furthermore, the consumption of radish kimchi, in particular, has been linked with a to lower midriff weight in both sexes.

Previously published experimental studies have shown that Lactobacillus brevis and L. plantarum isolated from kimchi had an ‘anti-obesity’ effect. The research team therefore wanted to take that knowledge further and discover if regular consumption could be associated with a reduction in the risk of overall and/or abdominal obesity.

What is Kimchi?

Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish, consisting of salted and fermented vegetables such as cabbage and radish. A wide selection of seasonings are used, including gochugaru, spring onions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal. Kimchi is also used as an ingredient in a variety of soups and stews.

Is kimchi a weight-loss superfood? GettyImages-Nungning20

How was the study conducted?

The researchers drew on data from 115,726 participants, comprising 36,756 men and 78,970 women, with an average age of 51.

Dietary intake for the previous year was assessed for each individual, using a validated 106-item food frequency questionnaire for which participants were asked to state how often they ate a serving of each foodstuff, from never or seldom, up to three times a day.

Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference were measured for each participant, with 18.5 classified as underweight, 18.5 to 25 classified as a normal weight and over 25 classified as obese.

Abdominal obesity was defined as a waist circumference of at least 90cm for men and at least 85cm for women. Some 36% of the men and 25% of the women were classified as obese.

After accounting for potentially influential factors, the study concluded that eating up to three servings of kimchi a day was associated with an 11% lower prevalence of obesity compared to eating less than one serving per day.

More specifically, the results showed that for men, eating three or more servings of baechu kimchi per day was associated with a 10% lower prevalence of obesity and a 10% lower prevalence of abdominal obesity, compared to eating less than one daily serving per day.

And, for women, eating two to three servings of baechu kimchi per day was associated with an 8% lower prevalence of obesity and one to two servings per day was associated with a 6% lower prevalence of abdominal obesity.

The research team acknowledged that, as an observational study, it cannot establish the specific reason for this weight loss. They also acknowledged concerns that kimchi contains salt which, in high quantities, is not good for overall health.

Fermented foods - GettyImages-GMVozd

Fermented foods such as kimchi have been linked to multiple health benefits, including supporting a healthy gut, which has in turn been linked to the prevention of colorectal cancer. GettyImages/GMVozd

Good for your gut

Fermented foods, such as kimchi, have been linked to multiple health benefits, including supporting a healthy gut​, which has in turn been linked to the prevention of colorectal cancer​.

Fermented foods, “provide a source of probiotics to those who eat or drink them regularly,” explains Alissa Margraf, a clinical pharmacy specialist for Lifespan Pharmacy. “Probiotics can support the bacteria living within us and have the potential to protect against pathogens, or the ‘bad’ infection-causing bacteria in our body.”

Good for your gut - GettyImages-LumiNola

Fermented foods, such as kimchi, have been linked to multiple health benefits, including supporting a healthy gut, which has in turn been linked to the prevention of colorectal cancer. GettyImages/LumiNola

Global obesity crisis

According to the World Health Organisation, one in eight people in the world are now obese, with adult obesity having more than doubled since 1990 and adolescent obesity having quadrupled.

Additionally, figures from the WHO showed that in 2019 alone, a “higher-than-optimal” BMI caused five million deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases and digestive disorders.

“Being overweight in childhood and adolescence affects children and adolescents’ immediate health and is associated with greater risk and earlier onset of various NCDs,” said a spokesperson for the WHO. “It affects school performance and quality of life, compounded by stigma, discrimination and bullying. Children with obesity are very likely to be adults with obesity and are also at a higher risk of developing NCDs in adulthood.”

The economic impacts of the obesity epidemic are also significant, with the global cost of overweight and obesity predicted to reach three trillion USD per year by 2030 and more than 18 trillion USD by 2060.

Source: Association between kimchi consumption and obesity based on BMI and abdominal obesity in Korean adults: a cross-sectional analysis of the Health Examinees study
Published online: 30 January 2024
DOI: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/14/2/e076650
Authors: Jung H, Yun Y, Hong SW, et al