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Up to 3 daily servings of kimchi may lower men’s obesity risk

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A study published Tuesday in South Korea found that people who ate moderate amounts of kimchi daily are at a lower risk for developing obesity, with different types of kimchi being associated with staving off different forms of obesity.

The report — titled “Association between kimchi consumption and obesity based on BMI and abdominal obesity in Korean adults” and published in the medical journal BMJ Open — surveyed over 115,000 Korean adults ages 40 to 69 and found that Korean men who consumed one to three servings of kimchi a day were less likely to develop obesity than those who ate less than a serving per day.

Kimchi, which originated in what is now South Korea, is a popular fermented vegetable dish prepared with salt, chili paste and various seasonings, such as onion, garlic and fish sauce. 

The researchers from Chung Ang University, Korea’s National Cancer Center and the World Institute of Kimchi found that Korean men who consumed the most cabbage kimchi in particular had a 10% reduced chance of developing both obesity and abdominal obesity. Both men and women who ate more radish kimchi than average had 8% and 11% reduced risk of abdominal obesity, respectively.

Numerous studies have shown that a diet high in fermented foods, such as kimchi, has proven health benefits, such as increasing microbiome diversity and reducing inflammation. Another study, published in April in the Journal of Ethnic Foods, found that kimchi can be an effective treatment aid for obesity.

Michelle Jaelin, a registered dietitian practicing in Ontario, said she was not at all surprised by the conclusion of the study, noting that the fiber content of kimchi is beneficial to health.

“Fiber helps to keep you full longer, and it also contributes to your daily vegetable intake. The other thing is, because it is a fermented food, it’s got certain pre- and pro-biotics that can help with gut health,” Jaelin said.

However, the gender disparity in the health benefits could be due to stereotypical differences in consumption habits and attitudes toward diets, Jaelin said.

She added that how kimchi is served may be a major contributing factor in its health benefits. Equally important to kimchi is what you are eating with it. Kimchi is often served as a side dish alongside other healthful vegetables and proteins.

Researchers noted in the study that consuming more than three servings of kimchi a day could have the opposite benefit. Participants who ate more than five servings of kimchi per day were more likely to be at a risk for obesity. That is because kimchi contains a high level of sodium, Jaelin said.

“If you’re eating three meals a day — maybe you’re having kimchi on the side — that’s great. It is increasing your intake of vegetables, which is important,” she said, “but then more than that I’d watch a little bit, because it also is higher in sodium.”

Though the study was conducted in South Korea and included only Korean adults, Jaelin said eating a moderate amount of kimchi could benefit anyone. “I definitely do see health benefits for a variety of other populations, but it has to be something that you enjoy, that you like to eat,” she said.

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