Eat this food daily to improve gut health
If you're looking for ways to improve your gut health beyond just eating vegetables (which is already a very big factor), adding fermented foods into the mix is an easy way to do so.
Research shows that by eating fermented foods, one can increase the number of microbes in the diet (and gut) by up to 10.000-fold!. 1 And I'm here all for it!
What is kimchi?
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish of fermented vegetables, usually based around cabbage. You can usually find it in the refrigerated section of a health food store or Asian groceries. It is quite expensive, so learning how to do it at home can be a great alternative.
Eating fermented foods is an ideal way to add beneficial bacteria (probiotics) to your gut. You can think of eating fermented foods as a replacement for a daily probiotic capsule. This is one of the tips included in the free guide to optimizing gut health (download it for free at the end of this post if you don’t have it already!).
Where do the probiotic bacteria come from in Kimchi?
The main goal of making kimchi is to grow the lactic acid bacteria that are naturally present in plant foods. The perfect environment for the lactic acid bacteria (but not for others) is achieved by adding salt and water.
Do the bacteria in Kimchi survive the gastrointestinal tract?
A relatively large fraction of kimchi microbes survive the passage through the human digestive tract. This is achieved by the matrix in which these bacteria are present: the different fibers and other plant components.2
How much Kimchi should you eat a day for gut health?
To build up the beneficial gut bacteria and see improvements in digestion, about 50-100 g/daily are a good place to start. You can combine eating kimchi with other fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt to further increase the number of beneficial gut bacteria.
Always remember to buy the one in the refrigerated section or do it yourself, so that the bacteria are alive. And don’t cook it! Just have it raw on the side of your main meals.
If you are still willing to take probiotic capsules, in this post you can find information about how much probiotics should you take a day.
7 scientific reasons to eat kimchi daily
Much research has been done to investigate the effects of kimchi consumption, both in animal and human models. Let's have a look together!
1. Kimchi microbiome is divers
One advantage of Kimchi (over other fermented foods, such as yogurt) is that contains many different types of bacteria. The more variety of bacteria, the more chances we have to increase the diversity of our microbiome.3
- Bacteria: Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, Pseudomonas, Pantoea, and Weissella.
- Yeast: Saccharomyces, Candida, Trichosporon.
- Archaea: Halococcus, Natronococcus.
2. Kimchi reduces inflammation
Overall, mice studies show that kimchi reduces the inflammatory response in various areas of the body: in the gut 4, 5 and in the brain. 6, 7 These 2 organs are related via the gut-brain axis, therefore it is not surprising that researchers could observe positive effects in both.
Moreover, kimchi seems to reduce inflammation that comes with the intake of high-fat diets (in mice), possibly due to weight gain. These studies showed that kimchi increased the number of beneficial bacteria (Akkermansa municiphila), increased short-chain fatty acids production, and improved blood-brain barrier integrity.
3. Has anti-carcinogenic properties
This body of research is also pretty awesome. Adding kimchi to intestinal cancer cells (HT29) causes these cells to die via apoptosis.8 This suggests that compounds found in kimchi (perhaps a bacterial metabolite) can kill cancer cells.
Another paper showed that kimchi slowed down the growth of gastric cancer cells.9
Finally, kimchi seems to help prevent colitis-associated cancer in mice.10, 11
4. Kimchi may reduce cholesterol blood levels
Preliminary research indicates that kimchi consumption may reduce total cholesterol blood levels, as well as triglycerides, and LDL.12 These are just some indications that kimchi may be good for heart health.
5. Kimchi may decrease insulin resistance
A human trial has shown that kimchi had a positive effect on blood sugar. Kimchi increased insulin sensitivity and reduced insulin resistance.13
6. Kimchi changes the gut microbiome
Perhaps the most obvious health effect is that kimchi consumption increases the concentration of beneficial bacteria, including Lactobacilli and Leuconostoc, and this research has been done in humans.14, 15, 16
7. Micronutrient-rich food
Since it’s formed with different vegetables, the health benefits comprise of much more than just probiotics. Kimchi it’s packed with iron, vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, folate (Vitamin B9), and magnesium. And what’s more, during fermentation, bacteria produce several health-promoting compounds: neurotransmitters, antioxidants, SCFAs, and B vitamins.17
My view on Kimchi
I have started eating fermented foods, aiming for 3 portions a day. I have yogurt for breakfast; kimchi or sauerkraut as a side dish during my lunch, and kefir with fruit for my afternoon snack. Because kimchi can be pricey, I will definitely look into fermenting my own kimchi at home!
Concerning research, I believe we need to see more human studies to back up the health effects we see on mice. Also, there is a need for randomized blinded human trials, although this research is hard to do because it’s very challenging to design “blinded” studies with whole foods as compared with pills.
Nevertheless, overall consumption of kimchi (and other fermented foods) has been linked to positive health effects in humans.18 This data, together with the idea that fermented foods have been a stable part of many cuisines, I am all for it!