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The Health Benefits of Kimchi

What happens when you ferment cabbage? No, the results aren't gross; this process actually yields one seriously yummy superfood—kimchi. Take a deep dive into what this seemingly strange food is all about, including why exactly it's so good for you and smart ways you can eat it. (And find out Why You Should Add Fermented Foods to Your Diet.)

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 and benefits vegetables in a way that's similar to how 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. (Here, 6 Ways Your Microbiome Affects Your Health.) While there are more than 100 varieties of kimchi, including radishes, scallions, or cucumbers, you'll typically find it made with cabbage.

The Health Benefits of Kimchi

Add that local Korean restaurant to your regular rotation or buy a package at the supermarket (it's relatively easy to find), 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, M.S., R.D., 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, but one cup has only 22 calories. One word of caution, though: For all of its health benefits, kimchi is high in sodium. People who watch their salt intake or have high blood pressure shouldn't aimlessly dig in, says Lisa Dierks, R.D., L.D.N., 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, scrambled eggs, on top of a baked sweet potato, or mixed in with sautéed greens. Heck, you can even make it at home!