If you've ever asked Google what foods are the absolute best for gut health, you've without a doubt seen kimchi on every list. It's true, kimchi is a gut health superstar.
In case you're unfamiliar with it, kimchi is a type of fermented vegetable that originates from Korea. "It's most commonly made with napa cabbage and fermented using salt and other seasonings such as ginger, garlic, onion, and red chili powder, or gochugaru," explains registered dietitian Jennifer Maeng, RD, CDN. She adds that there are lots of different kimchi varieties made with other ingredients, like radish, cucumber, chives, and perilla leaves.
- Jennifer Maeng, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, clinical dietitian and founder of Chelsea Nutrition
Here's the thing, though: Not all kimchi is created equal. Maeng says that there's a lot of kimchi hanging out on grocery store shelves that aren't as nutrient-rich as they could be. "Kimchi that is sold off the shelf, for example canned kimchi, has been heat-treated for shelf-life purposes and may not have active probiotic microorganisms," she says. Probiotics (good bacteria that are vital for gut health) are one of the major nutritional draws of kimchi, so missing out on it would be a huge bummer. To ensure you're getting all that probiotic goodness, Maeng says to buy refrigerated kimchi instead.
"Kimchi is known as a probiotic that can diversify the good bacteria in your gut and benefit your digestive health. This is due to the presence of lactic acid bacteria that is developed during the fermentation process," Maeng explains. She adds that scientific studies have linked regular kimchi consumption to lower LDL cholesterol levels. "Though scientists are not exactly clear on why, it is thought to be because of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredients used in the process such as garlic, onion, and ginger," she says. "Additionally, napa cabbage is often the main ingredient in kimchi and is high in fiber and other nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, and folate."
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of garlic, including when it's in your kimchi:
That's a lot of benefits packed into one food. But it bears repeating that fresh, refrigerated kimchi is going to bring the most to the table. Maeng says it's also a good idea to check the nutritional panel and ingredients list when shopping for kimchi. "Some brands may have large amounts of added sugar and starches," she says. Additionally, if you have a shellfish allergy, be sure to check that the kimchi you're eying doesn't have anchovies or fermented shrimp, which are common ingredients.
In a rush? No worries, we did the label investigating for you and rounded up five kimchi brands that you can buy fresh and don't contain any added sugars or fillers. Keep reading to see the goods and to find out how to incorporate your kimchi into more meals at home.
5 best kimchi brands loaded with gut-healthy benefits:
Mother In Law’s kimchi is delivered to grocery stores only one week after fermentation, ensuring the probiotics are still alive when you buy them. “As the kimchi matures, it will take on unique and distinct taste profiles with the spices mellowing and develop deeper, earthier characteristics. Your kimchi will continue to ripen in your refrigerator and will be delicious for up to one month,” the brand’s site reads.
Mama Kim’s Kimchi is made just three days before it’s shipped to stores and, like the others on this list, doesn’t contain any preservatives whatsoever. This one is spicy—a great pick if you’re looking for some heat. It does contain shrimp and anchovies, so if you have a shellfish allergy, skip this one.
5 ways to incorporate kimchi into your meals
Just like if a brand heats kimchi to make it shelf-stable, heating up kimchi at home will result in losing much of its probiotic benefits. But if you do cook it, you'll still be getting its long list of other nutrients. Here are some ways to incorporate it into your meals, whether you want to warm it up for delicious meals or keep it cold for maximum probiotic perks.
1. Use it to make a creamy pasta sauce
Okay, this is pretty genius. This recipe shows how to turn gut-healthy kimchi into a creamy-and-spicy pasta sauce by blending it with raw cashews. The sauce is poured on top of fiber-rich zucchini noodles for a completely vegan meal that's literally gut health benefits on top of gut health benefits.
Get the recipe: creamy kimchi vegan pasta
2. Add it to a rice bowl
Next time you're making a rice-centric meal, add kimchi as an easy way to up the veggie content. Follow this recipe for a well-rounded meal that's full of protein and flavor.
Get the recipe: rice and kimchi bowl
3. Make dumplings
Truly, can anything not taste delicious in dumpling form? Cacoon your fermented cabbage, some tofu, and meat (if you eat it) in soft dumpling wrappers for a delicious side or app. Pro tip: Be generous with the garlic and ginger.
Get the recipe: kimchi dumplings
4. Top your eggs off with it
Breakfast is a great time to eat your kimchi and one way to do it is by adding it right on top of your eggs. Follow this recipe for a simple way to do it, also incorporating kale (another fiber-filled food) into the mix.
Get the recipe: eggs with kimchi
5. Put it in your tacos
Adding kimchi to your tacos is a heck of a lot more exciting than unseasoned, shredded lettuce—and it's more nutrient-rich, too. This recipe uses Mother In Law's Kimchi, one of the brands highlighted above, but any fresh kimchi will taste great.
Get the recipe: kimchi tacos
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- Choi, In Hwa et al. “Kimchi, a fermented vegetable, improves serum lipid profiles in healthy young adults: randomized clinical trial.” Journal of medicinal food vol. 16,3 (2013): 223-9. doi:10.1089/jmf.2012.2563
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