Eating up to three servings of kimchi a day could reduce the amount of fat around your middle – potentially reducing the risk of diabetes, a major study has suggested.
Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish made of fermented vegetables such as cabbage, has long been linked to health benefits such as regulating digestion and boosting memory.
Now, a study of more than 100,000 people by researchers from the Chung Ang University in South Korea has found that men who eat three portions of the dish per day are less likely to be overweight and have less belly fat – the type thought to be the riskiest for type 2 diabetes.
Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish made of fermented vegetables, most commonly cabbage, may lower men’s risk of being overweight
Radish kimchi is linked to a lower chance of developing a midriff bulge in both men and women, the study suggested
Previous research has shown that bacteria found in kimchi has an anti-obesity effect, but researchers wanted to know if eating it regularly might be linked to a reduction in risk of abdominal and overall obesity.
Abdominal obesity – often referred to as a ‘beer belly’ – is thought to be the most important type of fat in the development of type 2 diabetes, as it sits around vital organs like the pancreas and liver.
For the new study, researchers looked at data from more than 115,000 Koreans over 40 who took part in the Health Examinees study – a long-term analysis of environmental and genetic risk factors for common chronic conditions.
Participants completed a questionnaire about how often they ate different types of food, choosing between less than one serving a day, one to two servings a day, two to three, three to five and more than five a day.
Total kimchi was defined as cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi and watery kimchi.
A portion of cabbage or radish kimchi is 50g, while a portion of watery kimchi is 95g.
One 50g portion is roughly one third of a cup.
The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, height and weight, BMI and waist circumference were measured for each participant.
A BMI of 18.5 was defined as underweight; normal weight 18.5 to 25; and obesity as above 25.
In the US, a BMI between 18.5 and 25 is a healthy weight, between 25 and 30 is overweight and above 30 is obese.
The researchers defined abdominal obesity as a waist circumference of at least 35 inches for men and at least 33 inches for women.
This is a slightly lower threshold to the US’ definition, which counts abdominal obesity as at least 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women.
By US standards, some 36 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women were overweight.
The results showed a J-shaped curve, which meant that a moderate amount of kimchi showed a decrease in overweight people, whereas too much caused an increase in excess fat.
After researchers accounted for potentially influential factors, eating up to three daily servings of total kimchi was associated with an 11 percent lower prevalence of being overweight, compared to less than one serving.
In men, three or more servings of cabbage kimchi was linked to a 10 percent lower prevalence of being overweight and a 10 percent lower prevalence of high levels of abdominal fat compared to less than one daily serving.
In women, two to three servings a day of this kimchi type were linked to an eight percent lower prevalence of being overweight, while one to two servings per day were associated with a six percent lower prevalence of high levels of abdominal fat.
Eating below average amounts of radish kimchi was linked to a nine percent lower prevalence of being overweight in both genders.
Plus, eating just less than two tablespoons of radish kimchi a day (25g) for men and just less than one tablespoon a day (11g) for women was associated with an eight percent (men) to 11 percent (women) lower risk of high levels of abdominal fat compared with eating none at all.
However, eating too much wasn’t healthy: compared to those who ate less than one daily serving of total kimchi, participants who ate five or more servings weighed more, had a bigger waist size and were more likely to be overweight.
The researchers cautioned that the study can only establish correlation and not causation.
They said: ‘Since all results observed a “J-shaped” association, excessive consumption suggests the potential for an increase in prevalence [of being overweight].
‘And as kimchi is one of the major sources of sodium intake, a moderate amount should be recommended for the health benefits of its other components.’