Health benefits of kimchi include improved cardiovascular health and digestive system. The wealth of antioxidants in kimchi exercise healing effects in the medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, obesity, atopic dermatitis and gastric ulcers. The flavonoids and probiotics-rich kimchi helps to combat aging, maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and strengthen the immune system.
What is Kimchi?
Kimchi or kimchee is a traditional fermented Korean delicacy which is made from vegetables including cabbage and a range of spices and seasonings. It is the national dish of Korea and has been a staple of their food since ages. Kimchi was also taken to space by astronauts on the spaceship. The multi-million dollar research conducted on kimchi took several years and was aimed at achieving a version of kimchi which would remain harmless and bacteria-free even after exposure to cosmic radiations and remain safe for consumption. That version is referred to as ‘space kimchi’.
Origin of Kimchi
The term “kimchi” has been derived from a Korean word ‘shimchae’ which means ‘salting of vegetables’. Later, after going through many phonetic changes the term ‘kimchi ‘came into picture and has remained till date.
Kimchi traces its origin in Korea around 7th century. Initially, kimchi was nothing more than just salted vegetables. Gradually, several spices and flavors were added to kimchi and finally, around 18th century kimchi was modernized with the introduction of the red hot pepper as a major ingredient. The history of kimchi is apparently rooted in agrarian culture which started earlier than the period of the three kingdoms of Korean peninsula.
Attributing to the extremely cold weather which made the cultivation practically impossible, Koreans had to come with a storage method called ‘pickling’ to secure food. Even after so many alterations and additions done in its ingredients over the centuries, kimchi is still prepared using the same cooking method and has still retained the same qualities and benefits as it used to be when first introduced.
Nutritional Value of Kimchi
Kimchi is a low-calorie, high fiber and nutrient –packed side dish. It is a storehouse of a range of vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and vitamin C. Kimchi is also rich in essential amino acids and minerals such as iron, calcium, selenium. Kimchi has an impressive assortment of powerful antioxidants and provides an additional benefit of probiotics as well in the form of lactobacillus bacteria. It contains numerous healthful components including capsaicin, chlorophyll, carotenoids, flavonoids and isothiocyanates with low amount of fat and sugar.
The delectable taste of kimchi which has been admired globally comes with a super bonus of health benefits attributing to a range of qualitative evidence supported by several researches. Some of the major health benefits of kimchi have been discussed as under:
Digestive health: Kimchi is an excellent food to promote digestion. It is a source of probiotics attributing to the process of fermentation involved in its preparation. The process of fermentation of kimchi not only enhances the taste but also creates healthy bacteria, Lactobacillus which is required by the body to keep a healthy state of intestinal flora. Kimchi is made from cabbage which is already well known for its detoxification qualities and helps the body in getting rid of the wastes and toxins. It aids in cleaning up the intestines and stimulates better assimilation of nutrients in the body. Fiber content present in kimchi also assists in stabilizing the bowel movements and prevents constipation.
Cholesterol: Regular consumption of kimchi has a beneficial effect on the levels of cholesterol. Garlic which is used to prepare kimchi is rich in selenium and allicin. Allicin is an eminent component which helps in lowering the cholesterol levels thereby, reducing the risk of developing cardiac disorders such as strokes and heart attacks. Selenium also exerts protective effect on the artery walls by preventing the build-up of plaque and decreasing the threat of disorders like atherosclerosis. An investigative study has advocated that fermented kimchi helps in lowering the total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol along with the concentrations blood glucose in the body.
Antioxidants: Kimchi varieties are rich in powerful antioxidants which are natural scavengers. These antioxidants along with phenols and flavonoids present in kimchi exert protective effect against the oxidative damage and shield the body from the harmful effects of oxygen free radicals.
Atopic dermatitis: The presence of lactobacillus bacteria in kimchi makes it a multi-talented condiment. It extends its therapeutic effects on various skin ailments such as atopic dermatitis which is characterized by increased levels of immunoglobulin E and skin lesion such as edema and hemorrhage. A study conducted in this regard has shown that healthy bacteria present in fermented kimchi exerts suppressive effects on the mite-induced dermatitis and helps in reducing the inflammation.
Anti-obesity: As already stated, kimchi is a source of healthy lactobacillus bacteria which the body utilizes for its healthy functioning. This good bacterium also assists in weight loss by controlling the appetite and reducing the blood sugar levels. The fiber content present in kimchi keeps your body full and hunger satisfied for a longer duration preventing you from frequent and over eating. A study conducted on obese patients has validated the favorable effects of fermented kimchi on the body with respect to body mass index, body fat which helps in reducing the development of factors implicated in metabolic syndrome.
Immune system: The multi-nutrient packed kimchi is rich in a range of flavonoids and phenolic components. The variety of ingredients including ginger, garlic, peppers involved in the preparations of kimchi are super protectors which are renowned for their beneficial effect on the immune system. They help in fighting infections and are valuable in curing cold and flu symptoms.
Anti-aging properties: Another valuable benefit provided by kimchi is its anti-aging qualities which attributes to the presence of antioxidants and vitamin C. A study evaluating the anti-aging activity of kimchi has revealed that kimchi helps in regulating and attenuating the inflammation that speeds up the aging process. The same study has also shown promising results with regard to factors like reduced oxidative stress in the cells, inhibition of lipid peroxidation and extended life span in the subjects making kimchi a potent anti-aging component.
Cancer: Kimchi is a valuable food which helps in reducing the risk of development of various cancers. A study performed on kimchi samples has validated its anti-cancer properties. Cabbage present in kimchi contains healthful flavonoids which are known to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Another powerful cancer fighters present in cruciferous such as cabbage are glucosinolates. Glucosinolates break down to form isothiocyanates which are well known for their effectiveness against the cancer growth.
Diabetes: Kimchi is beneficial in diabetes. A study conducted on high-fat diet-fed type-2 diabetic subjects who were given kimchi revealed the anti-diabetic properties of the Korean delicacy. The study showed better glucose tolerance and lower levels of fasting glucose after eating kimchi-containing diet in the diabetic subjects. The same study also suggested that kimchi can prove more useful in diabetes if it is eaten with normal or low-fat diet instead of high-fat food.
Gastric ulcers: Kimchi exerts therapeutic effects in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease caused by helicobacter pylori bacteria. A study conducted in this regard has shown that the antagonistic activity of kimchi attributes to the abundance of Lactobacillus bacteria which inhibits the harmful pathogens from connecting to the human gastric cancer cells.
Culinary usage: Kimchi is prepared and enjoyed in many different varieties. Kimchi makes an excellent side dish or pre-meal appetizer. It can also be added to soups, stews or rice dishes. Kimchi serves deliciously well even as a topping on sandwiches or with pancakes.
Other uses: Various studies have proved that effectiveness of kimchi in curing avian influenza or bird flu virus and many other viral diseases affecting the poultry.
Kimchi: How to prepare?
Kimchi can be prepared in many different ways depending on one’s taste and preference. There are many different types of Kimchi available which are made using various vegetables including Chinese cabbage, leek, scallion’s radish, cucumber, ginseng, garlic, cayenne peppers and Indian mustard leaves. These vegetables are mixed with desired spices and seasonings and kept for fermentation for specified days under favorable conditions.
Kimchi: Few words of caution
Digestive health: Excess consumption of kimchi can lead to digestive problems in some individuals. Research conducted in this regard has suggested that too much consumption of kimchi may aggravate the risk of the developing gastric cancer. Due to fermentation, kimchi is abundant in fiber which may cause gas and bloating in susceptible individuals. It is advisable to begin with adding small quantities of kimchi in the diet in order to assess its effects.
Cardiac functions and high blood pressure: Individuals suffering from high blood pressure should be cautious while eating kimchi because of the presence of high salt concentration which gets further accentuated during the fermentation process. However, a study conducted on hypertensive subjects revealed that even under the conditions of hypertension, eating low-sodium kimchi may not exert harmful effects on the blood pressure and cardiac activities.
Basis one’s own condition, it is always advisable to consult a medical professional before considering kimchi for therapeutic usage.
Kimchi possesses anti-mutagenic, anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic properties. The American health magazine has ranked kimchi among the world’s five healthiest foods. The wealth of strong antioxidants and healthy bacteria in kimchi encourages the production of collagen which aids in improving skin elasticity, retarding skin aging and promotes healthy and youthful skin. Lactobacillus bacteria present in kimchi is valuable against yeast infections. Kimchi helps to combat nutrient depletion, help build stamina and serves as a delicious and nutritious condiment.