From probiotics to immune-boosting properties, find out why this superfood is so good for you.
What happens when you combine cabbage with fermentation? No, the result isn't gross. The result yields one seriously yummy superfood. That's just what happens with kimchi. Take a deep dive into what this seemingly strange food is all about, including why it's good for you, and smart ways you can eat it.
What Is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish that's made by fermenting vegetables and seasoning them with spices, including garlic, ginger, onions, and chili peppers or chili powder, says Kathleen Levitt, a registered dietitian with Aria Health. And while that may not sound very appetizing, it's actually delish, and you do not want to miss out on these health perks. Kimchi is fermented with probiotic lactic acid bacteria—the good kind of bacteria. It adds probiotic benefits to vegetables in a similar way that yogurt adds probiotic benefits to dairy, according to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food These probiotics create microorganisms that aid your digestive system, says Levitt. While there are over 180 varieties of kimchi including radishes, scallions, or cucumbers, you'll typically find it made with cabbage.
Health Benefits of Kimchi
Add that local Korean restaurant to your regular rotation, and you'll be soaking up the health benefits soon enough. "The greatest known benefit of this food is the healthy bacteria that comes from the fermentation process," says Despina Hyde, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, at NYU Langone Medical Center. These healthy bacteria help fight infection, she says. One study published in the Journal of Cancer Prevention found this immune-boosting feature combines with kimchi's anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-reducing properties to reduce the risk of cancer. The probiotic lactic acid, in particular, slashes the risk of colon cancer, researchers found. Kimchi is also loaded with dietary fiber, which makes us feel full, says Levitt. It's easy to fill up on (see below for ideas on how to eat it)—and that's OK because one cup has only 60 calories. But first, heed a word of caution: For all of its health benefits, kimchi is loaded with sodium. People who watch their salt intake or have high blood pressure shouldn't aimlessly dig in, says Lisa Dierks, RD, LDN, wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program.
How to Eat Kimchi
Eat it alone, as a side dish, or right on top of your favorite foods—there's really no wrong way to enjoy this superfood. You can add kimchi to stews, stir-fries, burgers, scrambled eggs, on top of a baked sweet potato, or mixed in with sautéed greens. Heck, you can even make it at home!