Eating up to three servings of traditional Korean kimchi a day can reduce the overall risk of obesity in men, while radish kimchi is associated with a reduced prevalence of abdominal bloating in both sexes, according to a study published in the open access journal BMJ Open.
Kimchi is made by salting and fermenting vegetables with various flavors and seasonings such as onion, garlic and fish sauce.
Cabbage and radish are usually the main vegetables used in kimchi, which is low in calories and rich in dietary fiber, microbiome boosting lactic acid bacteria, vitamins and polyphenols.
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Previously published experimental studies have shown that Lactobacillus brevis and L. plantarum isolated from kimchi had anti-obesity activity. And the researchers wanted to know whether regular consumption might be associated with a reduced risk of overall and/or abdominal obesity, which is considered particularly harmful to health.
They were based on data from 115,726 participants (36,756 men, 78,970 women, mean age 51 years) who participated in the Health Examinees (HEXA) study.
HEXA is a large, community-based, long-term study of the largest Korean Genome and Epidemiology Study, designed to examine environmental and genetic risk factors for common long-term conditions among Korean adults aged over 40 years.
Dietary intake for the previous year was assessed using a validated 106-item food frequency questionnaire, in which participants were asked to indicate how often they ate a serving of each food, from never or rarely, up to 3 times a day.
Total kimchi includes baechu (cabbage kimchi). kkakdugi (radish kimchi); nabak and dongchimi (water kimchi). and others such as kimchi mustard greens. A serving of baechu or kkahdugi kimchi is 50g, while a serving of nabak or dongchimi kimchi is 95g.
Height and weight, BMI, and waist circumference were measured for each participant. A BMI of 18.5 was defined as underweight. normal weight 18.5 to 25; and obesity over 25.
Abdominal obesity was defined as a waist circumference of at least 90 cm for men and at least 85 cm for women. About 36% of men and 25% of women were obese.
The results showed a J-shaped curve, possibly because higher consumption is associated with higher intakes of total energy, carbohydrates, protein, fat, sodium and cooked rice, the researchers say.
Compared to those who ate less than 1 serving per day of total kimchi, participants who ate 5 or more servings weighed more, had a larger waist size, and were more likely to be obese. They were also more likely to be uneducated, have a low income and drink alcohol.
However, after potential confounders were accounted for, consumption of up to 3 daily servings of total kimchi was associated with an 11% lower prevalence of obesity compared to less than 1 serving per day.
In men, 3 or more daily servings of baechu kimchi were associated with a 10% lower prevalence of obesity and a 10% lower prevalence of abdominal obesity compared with less than 1 serving per day.
In women, 2-3 daily servings of this type of kimchi was associated with an 8% lower prevalence of obesity, while 1-2 servings/day was associated with a 6% lower prevalence of abdominal obesity.
And eating below-average amounts of kkakdugi kimchi was associated with about a 9% lower prevalence of obesity in both sexes. And consumption of 25 g/day for men and 11 g/day for women was associated with an 8% (men) to 11% (women) lower risk of abdominal obesity compared with no consumption.
This is an observational study, and therefore, cannot determine cause. And the researchers acknowledge that food frequency questionnaires can’t always accurately determine amounts, in which the findings may not be generalizable to populations elsewhere in the world.
They also note concerns that kimchi contains salt, high amounts of which are not good for overall health, although the potassium found in fermented vegetables can help counteract this, they suggest.
They warn: “Since all results observed a J-shaped association, excessive consumption suggests the possibility of an increase in the prevalence of obesity. And since kimchi is one of the main sources of sodium intake, a moderate amount should be recommended for the health benefits of its other ingredients.”
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