We already know that more and more Filipinos have been falling in love with kimchi, thanks to the unli-samgyeopsal trend, not to mention the popularity of everything K-culture. But now there’s an even better reason to start making kimchi an everyday staple.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Allergy, fermented vegetables, including kimchi, may actually help lessen one’s chances of dying from COVID-19. However, it’s important to note that kimchi or any fermented vegetable should not be regarded as a miracle anti-COVID drug. In fact, South Korea’s Health Ministry issued a statement early on clarifying to the public that consuming kimchi won’t cure the disease.
But there’s no disputing that eating kimchi has multiple health benefits. This traditional Korean food can be made using any raw vegetable (usually cabbage) that is then salted and seasoned with any number of ingredients like ginger, garlic, spring onions, gochugaru or chili powder, then left to naturally ferment. It is ubiquitous on the Korean table, used as a side dish (banchan), as well as a main component of soups, stews, and even fried rice.
Kimchi is one of those dishes that seem to have it all, both flavor-wise and health-wise. With infinite variations (and not all of them spicy), kimchi is low-calorie, low-fat, rich in vitamin C and beta karotene, and loaded with minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. It boasts probiotic properties that are essential to maintaining gut health, and even more crucially, to boosting the immune system.
Former WHO expert Dr. Jean Bousquet of Montpellier University in France led a team of researchers to determine a correlation between European countries’ COVID mortality rates and their daily consumption of fermented vegetables. While the study focuses on fermented foods like sauerkraut and fermented milk prevalent in Europe, it posits that countries with diets heavy in fermented vegetables reported lower coronavirus deaths. Accessible via MedRxiv, the study reports, “Foods with potent antioxidant or anti-ACE activity—like uncooked or fermented cabbage—are largely consumed in low-death rate European countries, Korea and Taiwan, and might be considered in the low prevalence of deaths.”
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South Korea, land of kimchi, happens to have a low fatality rate of only 2.14% based on 297 deaths out of 13,879 infected as of this writing. Sauerkraut-loving Germany also exhibits a relatively low fatality rate of 4.47% (with 9,099 deaths and 203,717 infected as of this writing), compared to the United Kingdom at 15.30%, Italy at 14.33%, and France at 14.05% where fermented vegetables are not part of people’s daily diets.
Fermented foods are supposed to help reduce the amount of the enzyme ACE2 that can enter the lungs, thus making it harder for the virus to enter the body. In an interview published in The Sun, Dr. Bousquet explains, “Coronavirus binds to ACE2 that induces oxidative stress, pro-inflammatory and pro-fibrotic effects. Fermented foods have potent antioxidant activity and can protect against severe Covid-19.” As a result, Dr. Bousquet admitted that he has added more fermented vegetables to his diet. In the same interview, he shares, “I have now changed my diet, and it includes raw cabbage three times a week, sauerkraut once a week, and kefir at breakfast and pickled vegetables.”
During these COVID-uncertain times, it seems like a no brainer to “do as the doctor says” and add more fermented foods to one’s diet. Kimchi can be easily sourced from your neighborhood Korean grocery or online supplier, and you can even make it yourself—all the more reason to never run out of kimchi at home.