Three servings of kimchi a day could lower the risk of obesity in men, according to a new study.
Researchers found that excessive consumption of the fermented Korean staple is linked with obesity but moderated daily servings actually lessened the likelihood of men becoming fat.
The study, published in the BMJ Open Journal, also found eating radish kimchi was associated with a lower prevalence of a ‘midriff bulge’ in both men and women.
Kimchi is a traditional side dish and staple in Korean cuisine eaten with almost every meal, made by salting and fermenting vegetables – most commonly the napa cabbage or Korean radish – with various flavourings and seasonings such as onion, garlic, gochugaru (Korean chilli powder) and fish sauce.
It contains few calories and is rich in dietary fibre, microbiome-enhancing lactic acid bacteria, vitamins, and polyphenols.
Previous experimental studies have shown that Lactobacillus brevis and L. plantarum bacteria isolated from kimchi have an anti-obesity effect, and researchers from Chung Ang University in South Korea wanted to find out if regular consumption might be associated with a reduction in the risk of overall or abdominal obesity, considered to be particularly harmful to health.
Previous studies have also shown common spices in kimchi including garlic, onion and ginger have anti-obesity effects.
A team from Chung Ang University drew on data from 115,726 participants – 36,756 men and 78,970 women with an average age of 51 – taking part in the Health Examinees (HEXA) study.
HEXA is a large, community-based, long-term study of the larger Korean Genome and Epidemiology Study, designed to examine environmental and genetic risk factors for common long-term conditions among Korean adults over the age of 40.
Dietary intake for the previous year was assessed using a 106-item food frequency questionnaire, for which participants were asked to state how often they ate a serving of each food, from never or seldom up to three times a day.
The types of kimchi included: baechu (cabbage kimchi); kkakdugi (radish kimchi); nabak and dongchimi (watery kimchi); and others such as mustard greens kimchi.
A portion of baechu or kkahdugi kimchi is 50 g, while a portion of nabak or dongchimi kimchi is 95 g.
Height, weight (BMI) and waist circumference were measured for each participant.
A BMI of 18.5 was defined as underweight, whilst a normal weight was assessed as between 18.5 to 25 and obesity was classed as being above 25.
Abdominal obesity was defined as a waist circumference of at least 90cm (2.95 feet) for men and 85 cm (2.79 feet) for women.
Over a third (36 percent) of the men in the study and a quarter (25 percent) of the women were obese.
The researchers’ results indicated a ‘J-shaped curve’, possibly because higher consumption is associated with higher intake of total energy, carbohydrates, protein, fat, sodium and cooked rice.
They showed that, in comparison with those who ate less than one daily serving of kimchi, those who ate five or more servings a day weighed more, had a larger waist size and were more likely to be obese.
They were also more likely to not be highly educated, have a low income, and drink alcohol.
However, after accounting for potentially influential factors, the researchers found that eating up to three daily servings of kimchi was associated with an 11 percent lower prevalence of obesity compared to having less than one daily serving.
In men, three or more daily servings of baechu (cabbage) kimchi were associated with a 10 percent lower prevalence of obesity and an equally lower prevalence of abdominal obesity compared with those who had less than one daily serving.
And in women, two to three daily servings of baechu kimchi were associated with an eight percent lower prevalence of obesity, whilst between one and two servings a day were associated with a six percent lower prevalence of abdominal obesity.
Furthermore, eating below-average quantities of kkakdugi (radish) kimchi was associated with around a nine percent lower prevalence of obesity in both sexes.
And consumption of 25g-a-day for men and 11g-a-day for women was associated with an 8 percent (men) to 11 percent (women) lower risk of abdominal obesity compared with no consumption.
The researchers acknowledged that as their study was purely observational, it couldn’t establish cause.
They also admitted that food frequency questionnaires can’t always accurately identify quantities and that the findings may not be generalizable to populations elsewhere in the world.
The researchers also noted concerns that kimchi contains salt, high quantities of which aren’t good for overall health – although they suggested the potassium found in the fermented vegetables may help to counteract this.
Dr. Sung Wook Hong, a senior researcher at the Technology Innovation Research Division of the World Institute of Kimchi and co-author of the study, suggested a ‘moderate amount’ of kimchi should be eaten to appreciate its health benefits.
“The present study showed that total kimchi consumption of one to three servings a day is inversely associated with the risk of obesity in men,” he explained.
“Also, in men, a higher intake of baechu kimchi was related to a lower prevalence of obesity and abdominal obesity.
“A higher consumption of kkakdugi was associated with lower prevalence of abdominal obesity in both men and women.
“In conclusion, total kimchi consumption of one to three servings per day was shown to be reversely associated with obesity in men.
“Regarding the type of kimchi, baechu kimchi was associated with a lower prevalence of obesity in men, and kkakdugi was associated with a lower prevalence of abdominal obesity in both men and women.
“However, since all results showed a ‘J-shaped’ association, excessive consumption suggests the potential for an increase in obesity prevalence.
“As kimchi is one of the major sources of sodium intake, a moderate amount of kimchi should be recommended for the health benefits of its other components.
“In addition, further investigation and prospective studies are needed to confirm the relationship between kimchi consumption and obesity.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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