Consuming fermented foods like kimchi can be an important part of good health, particularly when it comes to gut health, which is said to be the foundation of physical, emotional and mental well-being. Fermented foods are foods that have gone through a process of Lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food while creating beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and a variety of probiotic strains. They’re loaded with beneficial microbes that are lacking in the diets of so many Americans.
Cultures across the globe have been consuming fermented foods for centuries, including kimchi in Korea, curtido in El Salvador, sauerkraut in Germany and lassi, a pre-dinner fermented yogurt drink enjoyed in ancient India. Research has revealed a strong link between consuming these types of probiotic rich foods and good overall health, but with advances in technology and food preparation, these traditional time-honored foods have mostly been lost in our modern society.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made up of a fermented blend of cabbage, garlic, chili peppers, scallions and other spices that can take on sour, salty and spicy flavors depending on the particular recipe. There are more than 300 different varieties of kimchi, depending on the primary vegetable used, as well as the region or season in which they’re made. It’s considered to be Korea’s national dish, and it’s eaten with virtually every meal. Dating back to around the 7th century, kimchi was originally just salted vegetables, but over time, some spices and flavors were added. Sometime in the 18th century, red hot pepper was introduced as a major ingredient.
Interestingly, kimchi was even taken into space by astronauts as part of some extensive research focused on achieving a version of kimchi that would remain bacteria free, even after exposure to cosmic radiation, and stay safe for consumption.
So why should you start adding kimchi to your diet? Here’s a closer look at the many reasons.
1. It’s rich in nutrition
Kimchi is not only a low-calorie food, but it’s also chock-full of nutrients, including vitamins A, B1, B2 and vitamin C as well as minerals like calcium, selenium and iron. It’s high in fiber and contains essential amino acids along with a powerful assortment of antioxidants. All of that and it provides the added bonus of probiotics in the form of lactobacillus bacteria which aid in the body’s digestion process and help to fight off various infections.
2. It supports gut health
As mentioned, those probiotics go a long way in supporting a healthy gut. They’re rich in beneficial microorganisms that the majority of Americans don’t get elsewhere. As the gut houses about 85 percent of the immune system, it plays a huge part in your overall health. Much of the reason for that is because of the 100 trillion or so bacteria that live in the gut and have the ability to trigger a compound that nourishes the immune response.
When your gut doesn’t have a healthy balance of bacteria, it can result in many different types of health issues, from autoimmune diseases to allergies. The process of fermentation of kimchi not only enhances the taste, but it also creates healthy bacteria your body needs.
3. Improves digestion
A healthier balance of gut bacteria also means a healthier digestive system. The cabbage in kimchi is known for its ability to help detox the body to eliminate waste and toxins as well as aiding in cleaning up the intestines while stimulating better assimilation of nutrients in the body. As it’s high in fiber, it also helps to stabilize bowel movements and prevent constipation.
Eating too much kimchi, however, can have the opposite effect. As it’s abundant in fiber, consuming a large amount can cause bloating and gas in those who are susceptible. Because of this, most experts advise adding kimchi in only small amounts to your diet at first in order to determine how it will affect you.
4. It can lower cholesterol levels
If your cholesterol levels aren’t where they should be, consuming kimchi can be helpful for getting them back on track. That’s because the garlic in kimchi contains selenium and allicin which are both known for lowering cholesterol. These compounds also help to lower the risk of developing a stroke or heart disease, due to its ability to prevent plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries.
An investigative study in 2013 from Korea’s Pusan National University confirmed these effects, showing that kimchi was able to reduce total cholesterol and LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, as well as lower blood glucose levels.
5. Aiding weight loss
The healthy bacteria in kimchi can also aid in weight loss efforts by helping to control the appetite and lowering blood sugar levels. As it also contains a good amount of fiber, it can keep you feeling fuller and more satisfied longer to prevent overeating. Research in 2011 out of the University School of Medicine in Suwon, Korea conducted on obese patients validated these beneficial effects in regard to body fat and body mass index, which helps lower the development of factors related to metabolic syndrome.
Plus, as mentioned, kimchi is a low-calorie food. A 2/3 cup serving contains just 40 calories. And, as chili peppers are also in this Korean dish, the capsaicin found in them helps to raise the metabolism to boost weight loss.
6. It’s anti-aging
There’s a reason so many Koreans tend to look young for their age – kimchi offers anti-aging properties thanks to being rich in antioxidants that reduce the rate of aging in the skin, while also helping to inhibit cell oxidation to prevent that haggard look and even extend one’s lifespan. Another Korean study published in Food Science and Biology confirmed these effects by evaluating kimchi’s anti-aging qualities and found that it helps to regulate and attenuate inflammation, which is known to speed aging.
7. Preventing ulcers
Peptic ulcers are commonly caused by Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacteria found in the stomach, but its growth can be halted by eating kimchi. Kimchi contains leuconostoc mensenteroides which produce dextrin, a substance known to stop the growth of H. pylori in the body. Research focused on these therapeutic effects found that kimchi’s antagonistic activity helps to inhibit the harmful pathogens from connecting to gastric cancer cells in humans.
8. Lowering the risk of cancer
Kimchi has also been found to help lower the risk of developing a number of different cancers. Research published in the July 2004 Journal of Medicinal Food performed on kimchi samples validated these important effects. The experts found that the cabbage in kimchi contains a number of important flavonoids that are known to inhibit cancer cell growth. It also contains glucosinolates, which are powerful cancer fighters found in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage. These compounds break down to form isothiocyanates, which are well-known for their effectiveness against cancer growth.
Professor Miri Kim from the Food Nutrition Department at Chungnam National University in South Korea discovered that the biochemicals in cabbage, including isocyanate and sulfide, are helpful for detoxifying heavy metals in the liver, small intestine, and kidney. These bio-chemicals, particularly isocyanate, have been found in studies to help prevent stomach cancer as well.
9. Managing blood sugar levels
If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, adding kimchi to your diet is really a must as research has shown that consuming fermented foods can help manage blood sugar levels. The healthy bacteria in kimchi is believed to possess numerous therapeutic properties including being anti-inflammatory, which is particularly important for people with diabetes.
Research conducted on type 2 diabetes patients who consumed a high fat diet and were given kimchi found validated its anti-diabetic benefits. The study showed that after eating a diet that included kimchi, subjects experienced better glucose tolerance and lower levels of fasting glucose. This same study also suggested that eating kimchi as a regular part of one’s diet can prove more useful in diabetes if it is eaten with a normal or lower-fat diet rather than one focused on high-fat foods.
10. Healing skin conditions
Thanks to the lactobacillus bacteria in kimchi, it offers therapeutic effects on a number of skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis or eczema, which is characterized by higher levels of immunoglobulin as well as edema or swelling. The Inflammation caused by an imbalance of gut bacteria can show up in the form of acne, eczema or other ailments on your skin, which is likely to be one of the main reasons kimchi helps. When your gut is in balance, you’ll notice that skin problems may improve dramatically.
Research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology on this subject showed that the healthy bacteria in kimchi was able to exert suppressive effects on the mite-induced dermatitis and helps in reducing the inflammation.
11. Strengthening the immune system
As previously discussed, 85 percent of the immune system is in the gut – a gut with a healthy balance of bacteria means a stronger immune system. Plus, as kimchi contains ingredients like garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper, these further help to boost immunity and protect one from infections as well as the common cold and flu. Kimchi has been shown to help increase the number of antibodies and encourage immune cells to be more active to help address ailments like chronic fatigue, food allergies, and bacterial vaginosis too.
12. More beautiful skin and hair
Kimchi is not only great for your insides, it can improve your outer appearance as well by beautifying the skin and hair. You know that it can heal skin conditions like eczema, as mentioned, but because it can help slow the aging process, eating kimchi may also help prevent or delay wrinkles. Plus, the selenium in the garlic is known for boosting the health of both the skin and hair, providing a more radiant appearance.
How to make the healthiest kimchi…
Now that you know why you should be eating it, it’s time to start adding kimchi to your diet. While there are a wide range of ready-to-eat kimchi brands available in the grocery store, many if not most, tend to be packed with potentially harmful ingredients like artificial flavorings, additives, and toxic fillers – plus, they’ve gone through so much processing, then the end result is that those beneficial living organisms are all but eliminated.
To make sure that you get all of those benefits, not to mention the freshest highest quality kimchi, it’s best to make it right at home. This recipe is an especially healthy one that will allow your body to receive the maximum amount of nutrients in kimchi.
- 4 cups water
- 4 tbsp sea salt
- 1 head cabbage, shredded
- 1 cup daikon radish, grated
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- Mix a brine of the water and sea salt in a large bowl, stirring thoroughly to completely dissolve the salt. Add the shredded cabbage and the grated daikon radish.
- Drain the brine from the radish and cabbage mixture, saving it for later use. Do a taste test to find out if the vegetables are salty enough – if they aren’t, you can add a little more salt, one-quarter teaspoon at a time, testing until the desired taste is achieved.
- Cover with a plate or lid to keep the vegetables submerged, and allow them to soak for 12 hours.
- Combine the scallions, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper, and then add that mixture to the cabbage and radish.
- Place it all into a jar and then pour the soaking liquid over the vegetables, ensuring that they are totally submerged in the brine.
- Cover the jar loosely using a cloth and then set it aside in a room that’s ideally around 70 degrees Fahrenheit for three to seven days. If the room is cooler than 70 degrees, the fermentation process will take longer.
- Check your kimchi every day and make sure that the vegetables remained covered in the liquid at all times. After the three- to seven-day period, the kimchi should taste ripe. Once it’s ready, you can place it in a glass jar in the refrigerator where it will keep for months.