Health & Fitness Research

Master Meal Planning with 3 Servings of This Dish

Understanding the Study

Kimchi might be the secret to a smaller waistline.

A new study submitted for review on BMJ Open found that the traditional Korean dish made of fermented vegetables, such as cabbage or radish, could help reduce fat in the stomach area — and potentially decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Babbage and radish are both high in dietary fibers, microbiome-enhancing lactic acid bacteria, vitamins and polyphenols — and consuming up to three servings of kimchi daily can reduce a person’s chances of developing obesity.

Kimchi is made by salting and fermenting vegetables and adding seasonings such as garlic, onion and fish sauce.

Previous research has shown that bacteria from kimchi has an anti-obesity effect in animals, but very few studies have examined the association between kimchi consumption and obesity.

The study analyzed 115,726 participants aged 40–69 years who have been enrolled in Korea’s Health Examinees study.

The participants had to respond to a questionnaire that asked how often they ate different kinds of food per day — with the options being less than one serving a day, one to two servings a day, two to three, three to five, and more than five a dKimchi is made by salting and fermenting vegetables and adding seasonings such as garlic, onion and fish sauce.

Kimchi is made by salting and fermenting vegetables and adding seasonings such as garlic, onion and fish sauce. Getty Images

Each participant was also measured for height, weight, BMI (body mass index) and waist circumference. A BMI of 18.5 was considered underweight, 18.5 to 25 was “normal” weight, and above 25 was considered obese.

For the study, total kimchi was defined as cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi and watery kimchi. One portion of cabbage or radish kimchi is 50 grams, while one portion of watery kimchi is 95 grams.

Researchers from Chung Ang University in South Korea defined abdominal obesity as a waist circumference of at least 35 inches for men and at least 33 inches for women. 

Results found that consuming a moderate amount of kimchi showed a decrease in fat for overweight people — but too much caused an increase in fat.

  • A new study shows consuming up to three servings of kimchi each day is linked to a lower rate of obesity among men.
  • As an observational study, it’s difficult to know kimchi’s specific impact on weight loss.
  • Health benefits of kimchi include being high in antioxidants, the ability to improve gut health, reduce inflammation, and boost immunity.
  • To incorporate more kimchi into your diet, you can add it as a topping to many dishes you already like to add some spice or crunch.

Eating up to three daily servings of kimchi could reduce men’s risk of obesity. Also, radish kimchi is associated with a lower prevalence of abdominal obesity in both men and women, according to a new study.

The findings were published in the journal, BMJ Open.

Researchers looked at data from the Health Examinees (HEXA) study, which included 115,726 participants (36,756 men, 78,970 women who were 51 years old, on average). HEXA examines environmental and genetic risk factors for chronic health conditions among Korean adults over 40.

Participants answered a 106-item food frequency questionnaire, sharing how frequently they ate certain foods, from never to 3 times a day. Height, weight and waist circumference were also measured.

Results showed consuming as many as 3 daily servings of total kimchi was associated with an 11% lower prevalence of obesity compared with less than 1 daily serving.

For men, 3 or more daily servings of baechu kimchi was linked to a 10% decreased prevalence of obesity and a 10% decreased prevalence of abdominal obesity compared to 1 serving.

For women, 2 to 3 daily servings of baechu kimchi (napa cabbage kimchi) was linked to an 8% decreased prevalence of obesity, whereas 1 to 2 servings each day was linked with a 6% lower prevalence of abdominal obesity.

In addition, consuming below-average quantities of kkakdugi kimchi (cubed radish kimchi) was associated with approximately a 9% lower likelihood of obesity in both men and women.

Kimchi and obesity risk

“This is an observational study, so it doesn’t show that eating kimchi causes a reduction in obesity risk,” Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert and co-author of Sugar Shock. “But it suggests a link between the two, which raises the possibility. It’s in line with previous research with similar findings–that kimchi intake is associated with a lower risk of obesity and may help reduce body weight and waist size. That said, the study was limited to Korean participants, so the association between kimchi and protection against obesity might not hold up in other populations.”

Cassetty continued: “If you want to try this, it’s healthy for most people, however, kimchi is high in sodium, and most people are already overdoing. So, find ways to reduce the sodium in your diet by replacing ultra-processed foods with whole foods–especially plant foods, which contain potassium that helps counter the effects of sodium.”

It’s also notable that in this study, just eating more kimchi was not necessarily linked to a smaller waistline.

“The authors note this may be because of how kimchi is often eaten–with rice,” Cassetty stated. “So, higher intakes might come with eating more in general, particularly more ultra-processed foodsTrusted Source, which are also linked with higher rates of obesity.”

Since this is an observational study, it’s hard to know the extent of the role kimchi played in weight loss. There are numerous factors to take into consideration including overall diet and lifestyle.

“Kimchi is made from pickled cabbage and cabbage is a healthy cruciferous vegetable that has fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin K,” said Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, author of Planted Performance. “Kimchi is made by fermenting cabbage, which means it has ‘good’ bacteria, or probiotics. The authors of this study hypothesize that the bacteria strains in kimchi aid in weight loss, but since it’s an [observational] study, there’s no way to know if the weight loss is from those bacteria strains or something else.”

Furthermore, “kimchi is a low-calorie food, and eating it may help you reduce your calorie intake and lead to weight loss. Since it’s rich in fiber, it may help keep you full without adding many calories to a meal,” Rizzo added.

Health benefits of kimchi

Fermented foods like kimchi are rich in gut-nourishing bacteria that promote the growth of beneficial organisms in your gut microbiome. This ecosystem plays a part in regulating numerous bodily functions–from mood and weight to cholesterol and blood pressure levels to inflammation and immune functioning, Cassetty explained.

Eating kimchi can help create a healthy balance of gut bacteria, allowing the good bacteria thrive while getting rid of the bad bacteria.

“Because of its role in your gut microbiome, kimchi may promote better gut and heart health,” said Cassetty. “Kimchi is also being studiedTrusted Source for its potential role in supporting brain health and preserving memory. Your enteric nervous systemTrusted Source is located in the gut, so what’s good for the gut is also good for your brain. It’s all connected.”

Kimchi also has antioxidantTrusted Source properties that contribute to its health benefits.

“Antioxidants help stabilize damaged cells that initiate diseases like cancer and heart disease,” Cassetty noted. “So, upping your antioxidant status can help protect you from developing chronic conditions.”

The probiotic properties of kimchi might also help treat yeastTrusted Source infections.

“We also see that kimchi might help protect against obesity,” said Cassetty. “Besides contributing beneficial bacteria to your gut, kimchi is a low-calorie way to add spice to meals. When your meals are flavorful and enjoyable, and you eat mindfully, it’s easier to eat healthier portion sizes, which can help you manage your weight without feeling deprived.”

However, it’s also important to consider that kimchi is high in sodium, and most people are already overdoing this. So, if you’re thinking about adding kimchi to your diet, cut back on sodium elsewhere by choosing whole foods over heavily processed ones and limiting the use of salt in your kitchen, Cassetty added.

Healthy ways to incorporate kimchi into your diet

“Many people are unfamiliar with kimchi, but you don’t have to branch out of your comfort zone to try it,” Cassetty stated. “Kimchi is a great way to add a kick to familiar foods like turkey burgers, eggs, whole grain bowls (such as brown rice or quinoa bowls), and roasted veggies. You can also try it as a sandwich condiment.”

Rizzo recommends adding kimchi to any food that needs a little crunch. “Top a stir fry or grain bowl with kimchi. Add it to a sandwich for a spicy crunch. You can even top your eggs with kimchi to add texture and crunchiness,” she said.


Eating up to three servings of kimchi each day is linked to a reduced rate of obesity among men, according to a new study.

This study is observational so it’s difficult to measure kimchi’s direct effect on weight loss. Overall diet and lifestyle also play a role.

There are many health benefits of kimchi such as promoting gut health, lowering inflammation and improving immunity.

To add more kimchi to your diet, it can be used as a tasty topping for many meals.

Licensed By:
Association between kimchi consumption and obesity based on BMI and abdominal obesity in Korean adults: a cross-sectional analysis of the Health Examinees study

Author: Hyein Jung,Ye-Rang Yun,Sung Wook Hong,Sangah Shin
Publication: BMJ Open
Publisher: BMJ Publishing Group Ltd.
Date: Feb 1, 2024
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