Is Kimchi Good for You? Health Benefits and Nutrition

Is Kimchi Good for You? Health Benefits and Nutrition

Kimchi, a traditional fermented food from Korea, is now a global favorite in salads, sandwiches, stir-fries, soups and many more! If you make a trip to Asian grocery stores, health food stores and many supermarkets, you will find often kimchi near the tofu in the refrigerated section. Often containing cabbage, kimchi can also be made with any other vegetable, such as radish and carrots.

Whether it’s store-bought or homemade, kimchi has an impressive nutritional profile and may offer potential health benefits. This pickled dish packs a punch of vitamins A and C and gut-friendly bacteria. But you may wonder, how much should you eat? Keep scrolling to uncover the answers to kimchi’s health benefits, potential risks and tips from two registered dietitians.

Health Benefits of Kimchi

Probiotics in Kimchi and Their Role in Gut Health

While many bacteria are naturally present in vegetables, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are the most dominant bacteria in kimchi. During fermentation, LAB produces a byproduct of lactic acid that gives the vegetable a distinctive sour taste.

During fermentation, the LAB present in the vegetables multiply and grow. While there are multiple strains of LAB, the most common strains present in kimchi are Lactobacillus, Weissella and Leuconostoc.

The bacteria in kimchi are considered the unsung heroes of our digestive system that may support gut health. Eating kimchi has been linked to increasing the diversity and amount of gut bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids, which keep the gut lining healthy and make the gut inhospitable to harmful bacteria.

May Protect the Brain and Improve Mood

When eaten in adequate amounts, some probiotics, such as those found in kimchi, have been found to regulate neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamate and brain-derived neurotrophic factor. These neurotransmitters may protect the brain from degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, and may support learning and improve mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, according to Maggie Moon, M.S., RD, a Korean American dietitian and brain health nutrition expert for MIND Diet Meals.

May Improve Heart Health

Probiotics in kimchi may also enhance heart health by lowering cholesterol levels and reducing inflammation, says Cheryl Mussatto, M.S., RD, owner of Eat Well to Be Well. Research shows that eating kimchi may slow down plaque formation in arteries, thereby lowering LDL cholesterol levels. This heart-protective benefit could also be linked to the antioxidants, folate and fiber present in the preserved vegetable.

Nutrient Density of Kimchi

Kimchi is made from vegetables, so you get all the nutritional perks of veggies. Kimchi is low in calories, contains fiber, and is packed with vitamins. For example, kimchi is an excellent source of vitamin K, a nutrient that promotes blood clotting and bone metabolism, and it’s a good source of folate, a nutrient that may improve prevent anemia and support heart health.

Depending on the ingredients used to make it, kimchi may be an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that supports wound healing and the immune system and improves iron absorption.

Potential Immune System Support 

Consuming fermented foods like kimchi, which contain probiotics, has been associated with digestive and immune function support. It is widely recognized that a significant portion of the immune system—about 70% to 80%—resides in the gut, where a diverse community of microorganisms plays a crucial role in maintaining immune strength. For example, the probiotic strains found in kimchi may help the immune system clear out damaged or harmful compounds, according to a study of probiotic strains found in kimchi.

Antioxidants and Their Benefits in Kimchi

Moon says there are more than 200 varieties of kimchi, so the types and concentrations of antioxidants vary by the ingredients used to make it. “Some common ingredients are cabbage, radish, green onion, red pepper, fermented shrimp and garlic,” Moon adds.

Research has found that kimchi is loaded with antioxidants. The authors point out that it’s the ingredients in kimchi–cabbage, radish, green onion, ginger, garlic–that are loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene and polyphenols that provide these beneficial compounds. Antioxidants have the power to protect your body from radicals that can damage your body cells. Kimchi’s polyphenol content may also offer protection against degenerative diseases and slow down aging.

Nutritional Profile of Kimchi

Here’s a closer look at the nutritional profile of 2/3 cup (100 g) of kimchi:

  • Calories: 15
  • Total Carbohydrates: 2 g
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Total Fat: 1 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 2 g
  • Sodium: 498 mg
  • Beta carotene: 82 mcg
  • Folate: 55 mcg (14% Daily Value)
  • Vitamin K: 44 mcg (37% Daily Value)
  • Iron: 3 mg (17% Daily Value)

Potential Risks and Considerations

High Sodium Content

Since kimchi is made of vegetables, it may sound like you should have a lot of it if you love it; after all, 90% of the U.S. population isn’t eating enough veggies. But with kimchi, you may want to be more mindful of how much you eat because every cup contains 747 mg of sodium, or one-third of your daily recommended intake. Because of its high sodium content, Mussatto says eating large amounts of kimchi regularly may raise a person’s risk of high blood pressure. So, if you are watching your sodium intake, Moon and Mussatto recommend enjoying smaller portions of kimchi.

Histamine Sensitivity or Intolerance

If you have a histamine sensitivity or intolerance, you cannot break down dietary histamine due to the dysfunction of a specific digestive enzyme in your body. Depending on the ingredients used in the kimchi, histamine may be present in the fermented vegetable. So, if you are histamine-sensitive or intolerant, you will want to tread carefully.

Moon says that the source of histamine is most likely from jeotgal, a Korean fermented seafood, and aekjeot, a Korean fermented fish sauce, which are used as ingredients to make kimchi. Moon recommends seeking out vegetarian kimchi as an alternative.

Food Safety Concern

Lactic acid produced during fermentation kills off potential pathogens. Still, if you’re making kimchi at home, it’s important to properly sanitize all tools used to make it, cut ingredients small or shred them, use the proper amount of salt, and use the right temperature at time.

How to Incorporate Kimchi into Your Diet

Kimchi is a spicy, tangy and highly versatile ingredient that pairs well with savory dishes. Enjoy kimchi as a small side dish to complement rice, or add it to stews and salads.

Moon enjoys kimchi with rice, veggies and lean protein, such as our Kimchi-Tofu Soup with Sesame & Egg. Our recipe for Gochujang-Glazed Tempeh & Brown Rice Bowls is also an example of how you can add kimchi as a topping in a grains and greens bowl.

If you are hands-on and prefer to make your own kimchi, you can use it to make Pork & Kimchi Fried Rice with chopped veggies and savory kimchi pancakes.

One of Moon’s favorites is topping off fish tacos with chopped kimchi. Our Korean-Style Beef & Cabbage Tacos is also a creative way to enjoy taco-inspired foods.  

Tips for Buying and Storing Kimchi

If you use store-bought kimchi, store it in the fridge at 40°F (4°C) or below and use it by its best-before date when it is at its peak quality.

Fermented products like kimchi have an extended shelf life. Refrigerated kimchi can last in the fridge for three to six months, and consuming it within the first three months is the most ideal for its probiotic benefits.

Since kimchi is a fermented product, it will continue to ferment during storage. The flavor may become more sour and the color may become more dull. If you see mold growth or the smell or taste of the fermented vegetable is off, it is time to toss it out. 

The Bottom Line

Kimchi is a traditional Korean staple that complements a variety of savory dishes. This fermented food may offer a slew of health benefits, from keeping your gut healthy to improving mood and lowering cholesterol. While this preserved vegetable is nutrient-dense with probiotics, vitamin K, fiber and more, it is high in sodium. If you are trying to moderate your salt intake, enjoy it as a small side dish.

Frequently Asked Questions


  • Is it safe to eat kimchi every day?

    It is safe to eat kimchi every day in moderate amounts. Because kimchi is high in salt, enjoy it as a small, condiment-sized portion.


  • Is store-bought kimchi healthy?

    Nutritionally speaking, store-bought and homemade kimchi have similar, if not, the same nutritional value. Store-bought kimchi may have additional additives, whereas homemade kimchi does not. Always read the ingredients list on the package and compare it to the ingredients used for a homemade recipe.


  • What are pros and cons of kimchi?

    Pros:

    • Contains probiotics, may improve gut and brain health and lower cholesterol
    • Nutrient-dense
    • Can be made at home or purchased at the store 
    • Versatile ingredient

    Cons:

    • High in sodium
    • Not for people who are intolerant to dietary histamine
    • Food safety concerns if not stored properly