Kimchi is not the best option for people with a few food-related issues. First, it contains quite a bit of salt, so people at risk of high blood pressure, stroke or heart disease should probably steer clear. (A daily serving of kimchi has 1,232 mg of sodium. The World Health Organization recommends people consume no more than 2,000 mg of sodium per day).
Many kimchi recipes also contain a significant amount of garlic, which can cause unwanted reactions in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). "This is because garlic contains FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols)," says Sophie Bibbs, IBS and low FODMAP nutrition coach, in an email. "Complicated name, but these are basically all sugars that aren't properly absorbed by the gut, triggering symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea and gas in people with IBS. They are found in a wide variety of foods, but are in a very high concentration in garlic, so kimchi can be very aggravating."
The most serious kimchi-related concern, however, is most likely to strike people who eat a large amount of the dish, not uncommon in Korea, where kimchi is often served atop steamed white rice daily. In fact, 20 percent of Korean sodium intake is attributed to kimchi, and studies have linked high consumption of kimchi with an increased risk of gastric cancer, the most commonly diagnosed form in the country. The concern is so real that experts are urging caution and moderation with this traditional dish. "Public health officials in Korea have been advocating for reducing salty food consumption. Given how important kimchi is to the culture, one strategy is simply to reduce the amount of salt in kimchi," Hutkins says.
Fortunately for the occasional kimchi eater, this scary possibility is highly unlikely, Hutkins explains. "In Korea, where kimchi is a staple and is eaten two to three per day, average daily consumption in Korea is around 100 grams, way more than in the U.S. So the risk for the normal consumer would be negligible, and far out-weighed by the benefits."
If you opt for store-bought kimchi, there are a couple of caveats to note, Hutkins says. First, some recipes include bone broth, which could be a problem if you're vegetarian or vegan. Also, you might not get what you're looking for with the store-bought variety. "Some brands are heat-treated for shelf-life reasons, so the microbes are inactivated," he explains, noting that there are active options to choose from. "One way to tell – if the product is on the shelf at room temperature it's been heated."
That last bit of info may prompt you to make it yourself. If so, why not try one of these kimchi recipes. Chances are, you'll like it!