Various Kimchi

Kimchi for the Win in Obesity? Not Really

The setup has been great. Kimchi lands near the top of the list of “must-eat fermented foods for a healthy gut.” On top of that, nutrition gurus advise us “food is medicine” and a fermented food diet “increases microbiome diversity and decreases inflammatory proteins.” So we should be ready to believe when a study tells us “kimchi could reduce risk of obesity.” Right?

Unfortunately, no.

Observational Research, Many Limitations

First of all, the study prompting so many headlines to suggest kimchi could save us from obesity offers only the observation of a correlation. The authors themselves tell us their study doesn’t serve as evidence of a causal relationship between kimchi consumption and obesity risk. And then there are problems with the precision of self-reported consumption. In particular, the methods of this study don’t capture portion sizes very well.

Finally, this is a study limited to the population of Korea. So the observed relationship between kimchi consumption and obesity may not apply in the rest of the world.

Stepping Back

Let’s remember, kimchi is a staple of the Korean diet and yet, obesity prevalence has grown in Korea much as it has in the U.S. If this staple food has a real and meaningful value for preventing obesity, should we not see signs of a benefit in the Korean population? None is evident.

So if you like kimchi, enjoy it in moderation. But don’t kid yourself that eating it will protect you from obesity. That thought might be great clickbait, but it’s weak on scientific merit.

Click here for the study in BMJ Open and here for a detailed review of its findings.

Various Kimchi, photograph by the National Institute of the Korean Language, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 KR

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February 10, 2024