Bye or Buy? Kimchi Nutrition
In a pickle over this spicy side dish?
It’s nearly impossible to discuss Korean cuisine without mentioning their most revered culinary item: kimchi. And with fermented foods witnessing a major renaissance of late, it’s hard not to notice this spicy cabbage appearing on more grocery store shelves and Instagram feeds. American chefs have even featured kimchi on burgers and grilled cheese, so let’s take a look at kimchi nutrition.
The ingredients: Although several vegetables can be used to make Korea’s signature dish—including radishes, bok choy, cucumbers or turnips—napa cabbage is most often the star of the show. The veggies are combined with seasonings including chili powder and fish sauce, then left to ferment for several days by lactobacillus bacteria.
The research: Recent research suggests that a diet that includes more fermented foods like kimchi can help increase the diversity of beneficial microorganisms in our digestive microbiome, which may confer various immune, digestive and other health benefits. And the nutrients and antioxidants found in the vegetables used to make kimchi might still be present in the final fermented product. However, research on the direct health effects of kimchi and kimchi nutrition is pretty scarce, and it’s not likely most Americans are eating enough to have a serious health impact.
People who are best served by watching their sodium intake need to know that kimchi can be considered a high-sodium food. And it can be an acquired taste for those who have not grown up eating the stuff.
The verdict: Spicy and crunchy kimchi can certainly fit into a well-balanced diet and is a way to introduce more probiotics and flavor nuances into your menu. Just know that no single fermented food is going to be the ultimate health saver.
See also: Food Choices for Gut Microbiome Health
Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.