Korean cabbage can help to reduce ‘dangerous’ fat. By Sophie Morris


The biggest trend in nutrition at the moment is to add things to your diet for better health, rather than take them away. But it’s surprising to hear this applied to combating the so-called “middle-age spread” - the fat that gathers around our bellies as we age.

This particular visceral fat is apparently fairly dangerous, as a sign of other diseases lurking beneath, but thankfully not our fault - just one of those ways in which our bodies change as they age.

According to new research, kimchi - fermented Korean cabbage - is the wonder food we should be adding in. Britain has got its chops around kimchi in recent years, thanks to health food shops and hip cafés (I live in a small town and can order a kimchi toastie at a number of local spots).

Not only is it delicious, but the new study says it could help keep weight off, especially during the middle decades, when putting on pounds can become harder to manage.

The research, published by BMJ Open, says that a daily portion of kimchi can cut the risk of obesity by 11 per cent: 115,726 Koreans were surveyed for their cabbage habits, how much they ate and when, along with their weight and waist data. Of those in the study, 35 per cent of the men and 25 per cent of the women were obese, but those who ate between one and three portions of kimchi each day were 11 per cent less likely to be obese.

What’s more, they had far less fat around their middles. The study claims that the live bacteria found in fermented foods has “an antiobesity effect”, and kimchi is “low in calories, rich in dietary fibre, lactic acid bacteria, vitamins and polyphenols”.

But there are things to be wary of. “Their high salt content could negatively impact blood pressure and cardiovascular health,” explains dietitian Nichola Ludlam-Raine of Nic’s Nutrition. “[And] keep in mind that no single food or group of foods is an instant miracle to good health; rather, combining regular physical activity and a nutritious diet remains the most effective strategy for maintaining a healthy weight and decreasing visceral fat-related chronic diseases.”

Because it was an observational study, adds dietitian Dr Paul McCardle, “we can’t imply a causeand-effect relationship. It is an association and as such there is a risk of other factors that may be at play.”

BELLY FAT So why should we be worried about visceral fat? “Unlike subcutaneous fat,[it] accumulates deep within abdominal cavities and poses serious health risks including increased risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers,” says Ludlam-Raine.

“According to this research, fermented foods… may play an essential part in weight management by altering gut microbiota composition, improving digestion processes and even possibly impacting genes related to weight gain. However, to prove significant results the study needs to be causation not observational.”

But are there foods out that could help us manage visceral tummy fat?

LEAN PROTEINS Priya Tew, a specialist dietitian from Dietitian UK, recommends lean protein such as white meat, fish, lean red meat, tofu, beans and pulses, and eggs but warns that the key thing is your overall lifestyle.

“I would not say there are specific foods that can reduce or prevent abdominal fat, instead it is a lifestyle approach. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to be good for blood pressure, heart health and our overall health,” she says.

Mediterranean diet foods that Tew recommends include plenty of fruit and vegetables - as many as seven to nine portions each day - nuts and seeds most days, and whole grains.

“A Mediterranean diet can help reduce visceral fat to safe levels,” says Llinos Connolly, clinical services sister at Benenden Health. “This varied diet emphasises the healthy consumption of fruit, leafy green vegetables, and healthy fats - such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts (Chia + Flaxseed) - as well as foods rich in Omega 3, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel.”

“We know the best evidence for a diet to protect you from cardiovascular disease is a Mediterranean-style eating pattern,” says McCardle. “If you’re trying to lose weight, focus first on this dietary approach to make your meals more balanced, then consider reducing snacking. ”

FATTY FOODS What about fat? Are there really good and bad fats?

Tew recommends what she calls “healthy fats” including olives, olive oil and avocado.

“Incorporating fatty fish like salmon into one’s diet can be beneficial,” says nutritionist and health coach Yasmeen Alsumait. “Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon has antiinflammatory properties that may counteract the development of visceral fat. These healthy fats also play a role in regulating hormones and promoting metabolic health.”

Alsumait is also a fan of rich and creamy Greek yoghurt. “Packed with probiotics, it promotes a healthy gut microbiome, which has been linked to reducing visceral fat. The probiotics in Greek yoghurt may help regulate inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity.”

SAUERKRAUT Don’t like spice? Kimchi is notoriously hot thanks to Korean gochugaru - red pepper flakes. It also contains animal products: fish sauce or fermented dried shrimp. A vegan, non-spicy alternative is sauerkraut - German fermented cabbage (inset).

“Sauerkraut can enhance nutrient absorption,” explains Alsumait. “Improved nutrient absorption may support overall health and metabolism, potentially influencing factors related to visceral fat accumulation.”

WHOLEGRAIN FOODS “You can also try wholegrain foods, such as oats, wholemeal bread, brown rice, and wholemeal pasta, to help reduce visceral fat,” says Connolly. “Increasing the fibre content within your diet will ensure the protein content is also taken care of. That’s because soluble fibre slows down the delivery of food to the intestines, where they are broken down into fatty acids that are a major source of nutrition.”

Connolly explains that studies show that soluble fibre helps to reduce visceral fat by suppressing appetite. “Together, wholegrain foods and a Mediterranean diet can help with weight loss and ultimately visceral fat,” she says.

If you do love kimchi and want to explore its benefits, a word of warning: the Korean study found that eating five or more servings of kimchi was linked to weight gain. And eating yours on a cheese toastie is definitely not advice to be followed at breakfast, lunch and dinner.