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KIMCHI LINKED TO POTENTIAL WEIGHT MANAGEMENT, STUDY FINDS

Mya Care Blogger 11 Mar 2024
KIMCHI LINKED TO POTENTIAL WEIGHT MANAGEMENT, STUDY FINDS

Recently, there has been a growing interest in the link between fermented foods and their potential health benefits. In particular, kimchi, a traditional Korean fermented food made with cabbage and spices, has been rising in popularity amongst health enthusiasts. It has recently gained attention for its potential to lower obesity rates by promoting weight loss.

In this article, we will explore the link between the gut microbiome and body fat, the research on kimchi and obesity, and other potential benefits of incorporating fermented foods into your diet.

The Gut Microbiome and Body Fat

The gut microbiome is a name for the trillions of microorganisms in the digestive tract. These beneficial bacteria play an intimate role in our overall health, helping to improve digestion, enhance immune function, and aid in weight loss.

Researchers are actively investigating the "crosstalk" between the gut microbiome and the rest of the body, including how it affects our overall weight.

Gut microbes can affect how nutrients are extracted from foods and produce by-products that contribute to or detract from weight gain. There is evidence to show that the composition of our gut bacteria can affect our body fat levels by influencing fat metabolism and fat burning.[1]

Studies have found that a proportion of individuals with obesity have a lower diversity of overall gut bacteria with a higher amount of specific populations, some of which are pathogenic, like streptococcus.[2] By contrast, fit and slender hunter-gatherers from tribes in Tanzania and elsewhere have a much larger microbe diversity than the average city dweller.[3]

Researchers have theorized that the ratio of two major species of bacteria, known as the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio, can ascertain whether the microbiome is out of balance. The ratio is lower in those with obesity. Lactic acid bacteria, as found in kimchi and similar ferments, belong to the Firmicutes phylum and can enhance the ratio in obese individuals[4], potentially improving diversity, metabolism, and energy balance.

Health Benefits of Kimchi and Its Components

Kimchi and other fermented foods are excellent natural sources of probiotics or beneficial gut bacteria. Probiotics are living foods or supplements that contain microorganisms. These can help replenish and maintain a balanced diversity of microbes in the gut.

Kimchi is made with vegetables such as cabbage, radish, and scallions with various seasonings, including chili peppers, garlic, and ginger. Fermentation gives kimchi its tangy flavor and creates a rich source of probiotics.

There are over a hundred different types of kimchi.[5] The most common type is Baechu kimchi, made with napa cabbage and peppers, followed by kkakdugi kimchi, made with cubed radishes. Fermentation concerns the growth of beneficial bacteria, transforming the vegetables' sugars into lactic acid.

Incorporating kimchi into a well-balanced diet may provide a range of advantages for promoting optimal health and well-being. It was voted one of the top 5 healthiest foods in the world in 2014 due to its exceptional nutritional profile, encompassing probiotic bacteria, dietary fiber, amino acids, plant-based nutrients (phytochemicals), and essential vitamins and minerals.

Kimchi and Obesity

While more research is needed to understand the link between kimchi and obesity fully, recent studies suggest that incorporating kimchi into your diet may have a positive impact on weight loss and metabolic health.

In a large-scale study published in BMJ Open, the kimchi intake, weight, and abdominal fat of 115 726 Korean participants (aged 40-69) were assessed from 2004 to 2013. The study shows several exciting findings:

  • Men who consumed 1-3 servings of kimchi daily were at a lower risk of obesity than those who consumed less than one.
  • Increasing the consumption of baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi) was linked to a 10% risk reduction for abdominal obesity in men.
  • Participants who ate at least the median amount of kkakdugi (radish kimchi) had an 8% lower risk of abdominal obesity in men and 11% lower risk in women than those who did not.

The study's authors highlight how eating less than one serving or more than three servings per day did not possess the same benefit. They recommend avoiding excessive kimchi consumption.

While the results are promising, the study has several limitations. Drawing firm conclusions from these correlations is difficult, as many factors were not considered. For instance, these participants may enjoy kimchi as part of a health-conscious lifestyle, which lowers their overall risk of obesity in general. There is also no standardization for the types of kimchi consumed, from brands to homemade varieties, each with unique compositions and potential effects.

Other Potential Benefits

Here are some additional health benefits of kimchi and its components:

  • Consuming kimchi has been linked to an overall improvement in gut health and an enhancement of the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio.[6]
  • It may also improve Akkermansia species bacteria and reduce the level of gut pathogens.
  • Animal studies suggest it may lower brain inflammation and promote blood-brain barrier integrity, which further supports brain health.[7]
  • Kimchi may improve blood sugar control, cholesterol levels, and body weight.[8]
  • It has potential anti-inflammatory properties and aids in digestion.
  • Some studies suggest that kimchi can effectively treat irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Kimchi is an excellent source of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber aids in regulating bowel movements, reducing the risk of constipation, and promoting satiety, which may contribute to weight management.[9]
  • Essential vitamins found in kimchi include vitamins A, K, and C, which possess antioxidant properties and play a role in maintaining a robust immune system.
  • Minerals found in kimchi, such as sodium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and potassium, support various vital bodily functions, such as nerve transmission, growth, fluid balance, and blood health.
  • Capsaicin is a phytochemical found in chili peppers that is used while preparing kimchi. It has been studied for its potential benefits in boosting metabolism, increasing fat burning, and managing weight.[10]
  • Kimchi contains many other plant-based nutrients, such as beta-carotene, beta-sitosterols, and thiocyanate, which may reduce the risk of chronic lifestyle diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.[11]

Further research is needed to fully understand the health benefits of kimchi.

Kimchi and Other Ferments as Part of a Healthy Lifestyle

There are hundreds of fermented foods worldwide, with as many variations and recipes for each type as there are for kimchi. Most vegetables ferment when submerged in a salt brine, salted whole, or as a paste before being left in a sheltered environment or container for several days to weeks.

Ferments can be a flavorful addition to meals, enhance digestion and absorption, and provide added nutritional benefits.

Examples of other ferments include:

  • Kombucha, a fermented tea drink
  • Sauerkraut, a fermented cabbage dish
  • Kefir, a fermented drinking yogurt
  • Miso, a fermented soybean paste

To incorporate kimchi and other ferments as part of a healthy lifestyle, it is encouraged to include it as part of a well-balanced diet, rounded with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Despite their many benefits, fermented food can have intense flavors and smells. If you are new to fermented foods and have a sensitive palate, it is best to start slow and gradually incorporate them into your diet. Many people grow an appreciation of their flavor over time.

Recommended Intake

The recommended kimchi intake may vary depending on individual preferences and dietary needs. As with any food, moderation is key. It is generally recommended to consume kimchi in small to moderate portions as a part of a well-balanced diet.

A serving size of kimchi is typically about half a cup to one cup, depending on the recipe and personal taste preferences. It can be enjoyed with meals as a side dish, a topping for salads, grains, and sandwiches, or a flavor enhancer in various recipes.

Other fermented foods are usually consumed in smaller portions as condiments (1tsp-1tbls per meal) and can be enjoyed as a snack or added to recipes for added flavor and nutrition.

Cautions and Considerations

Kimchi should not be viewed as a magic solution for weight management. It is essential to consider overall lifestyle changes for sustainable weight management. This includes regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, and a balanced diet.

Individuals with distinct health conditions, such as high blood pressure or sodium sensitivity, should be mindful of the sodium content in fermented foods and adjust their intake accordingly. Choosing low-sodium or homemade options may be beneficial if you are concerned about sodium intake.

Seeing a qualified healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized dietary advice can assist with meeting your specific needs and health goals.

Is Kimchi Safe for Everyone?

As research efforts explore the full parameters of fermented foods, it is essential to remember that probiotics like kimchi are not a remedy for obesity.

While fermented foods can have many potential benefits, there are also potential risks, drawbacks, and precautions to take. These include:

  • Common side effects: Some may experience side effects, such as bloating, gas, or headaches,[12] when first incorporating fermented foods into their diet. This is usually temporary and should subside as your body adjusts to the new bacteria.
  • Allergies or sensitivities: Certain ingredients in fermented foods cause some people to experience sensitivities or allergies. Fermented foods are some of the highest in the amino acid histamine, which may trigger allergic reactions in some individuals with histamine intolerance.
  • Sodium content: Kimchi and many other ferments are high in sodium. Those with high blood pressure or heart disease should consume low-sodium varieties, and the rest should enjoy them in moderation, similar to added salt.
  • Quality and safety: Fermented foods can spoil, leading to infections. When purchasing fermented foods, choosing high-quality, safe products is essential. Look for products made with organic ingredients that have been properly fermented and stored. Ensure to keep them refrigerated after opening and avoid them if they spoil (get moldy) or after six months.

Conclusion

A growing body of research suggests a link between fermented foods like kimchi and lowered obesity rates. Probiotics in fermented foods can help expand the diversity of the gut microbiome, which positively influences weight loss and metabolic health. However, it is essential to consider any allergies or sensitivities and choose high-quality, safe products when incorporating fermented foods into your diet. With mindful eating practices and a balanced diet, fermented foods can benefit a healthy lifestyle.

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Sources:

  • [1] https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/15/7/1723
  • [2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8746372/
  • [3] https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3417/13/1/610
  • [4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7692443/
  • [5] https://english.visitkorea.or.kr/svc/contents/infoBscView.do?vcontsId=140728
  • [6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35721806/
  • [7] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996922005919
  • [8] https://journalofethnicfoods.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42779-023-00173-8
  • [9] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
  • [10] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36938807/
  • [11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5039233/
  • [12] https://theconversation.com/kombucha-kimchi-and-yogurt-how-fermented-foods-could-be-harmful-to-your-health-126131

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