ANSEONG, South Korea — Kimchi could be the secret to a slimmer waistline for men and women, a new study reveals. The traditional Korean dish primarily uses two vegetables, cabbage and radish, both of which are rich in dietary fibers, microbiome-enhancing lactic acid bacteria, vitamins, and polyphenols. Now, researchers report that consuming up to three daily servings of kimchi may reduce a person’s overall risk of developing obesity.
Notably, kimchi is made by salting and fermenting vegetables with seasonings like garlic, onion, and fish sauce. Radish kimchi, in particular, also has a link to a lower prevalence of midriff bulge in both men and women.
Prior studies have shown that the healthy bacteria Lactobacillus brevis and L. plantarum in kimchi display an anti-obesity effect. This time around, researchers set out to see if regular consumption may have any associations with a decline in the risk of overall or abdominal obesity. To that end, they used data pertaining to 115,726 people (36,756 men; 78,970 women; average age 51) taking part in the Health Examinees (HEXA) study.
For reference, HEXA is a large, community-based, long-term study of the larger Korean Genome and Epidemiology Study intended to assess the environmental and genetic risk factors for common long-term conditions among Korean adults ages 40 and older.
Researchers assessed dietary intake over the prior year using a validated 106-item food frequency questionnaire that asked participants to state how often they usually ate a serving of each foodstuff; ranging from never or seldom, up to three times daily. The kimchi varieties studied included baechu (cabbage kimchi), kkakdugi (radish kimchi), nabak and dongchimi (watery kimchi), and others, such as mustard greens kimchi. Portions varied depending on the type of kimchi; portions of baechu or kkahdugi kimchi were 50 grams, while a portion of nabak or dongchimi kimchi was 95 grams.
The research team also measured the height and weight (to calculate BMI) and waist circumference of each participant. A BMI under 18.5 is underweight, while normal weight falls within 18.5 and 25. Obesity includes a BMI above 25. The team defines abdominal obesity as a waist circumference measuring at least 90 cm for men and at least 85 cm for women. Sizable portions of both men (36%) and women (25%) were obese. The findings showed a J-shaped curve, possibly due to higher consumption of kimchi also having a connection to a higher intake of total energy, carbohydrates, protein, fat, sodium, and cooked rice, researchers theorize.
In comparison to those who consumed less than one daily serving of total kimchi, participants who ate five or more servings weighed more, had a larger waist size, and had a greater chance of becoming obese. These individuals were also less likely to not be highly educated, drink alcohol, and earn a low income.
However, after accounting for a variety of potentially influential factors, an association appeared between eating up to three daily servings of total kimchi and an 11-percent lower prevalence of obesity in comparison to less than one daily serving.
💡The Study Finds:
For men, three or more daily servings of baechu kimchi showed an association between a 10-percent lower prevalence of obesity and a 10-percent lower prevalence of abdominal obesity compared to less than one daily serving.
For women, two to three daily servings of the same kimchi led to an association with an eight-percent lower prevalence of obesity, and one to two servings daily had an association with a six-percent lower prevalence of abdominal obesity.
Additionally, eating lower than average quantities of kkakdugi kimchi displayed a connection with roughly a nine-percent lower prevalence of obesity across both sexes. Consumption of 25 g/day among men and 11 g/day among women led to an eight-percent and 11-percent lower risk of abdominal obesity compared with no kimchi consumption at all among men and women, respectively.
This research was observational in nature, so the team cannot draw a definitive connection between kimchi and weight management. Moreover, the study authors acknowledge that food frequency questionnaires aren’t always able to accurately identify quantities. Thus, these findings may not be entirely generalizable to populations in other areas of the globe.
Researchers add kimchi does contain salt, and high quantities of salt are far from ideal for one’s health. Although, the potassium found in the fermented vegetables within kimchi may help counteract this.
“Since all results observed a ‘J-shaped’ association, excessive consumption suggests the potential for an increase in obesity prevalence. And as kimchi is one of the major sources of sodium intake, a moderate amount should be recommended for the health benefits of its other components,” researchers caution in a media release.
The study is published in BMJ Open.