Healthy Korean food choices according to a nutritionist

Korean cuisine features a lot of vegetables, rice, meat or fish. Meals are often served with a variety of small sides, broth-based soup, and fermented cabbage (kimchi).

It is generally considered healthy and is known to contain many health-promoting ingredients such as fermented foods. However, some dishes are not as nutritious as others.

This article provides an overview of Korean food and how to make healthy choices when ordering in a restaurant or cooking at home.

Korean culture emphasizes food as a source of nourishment and healing. Throughout its history, food has been viewed as medicine (1).

As a result, Korean cuisine is generally healthy. For example, the traditional Korean meal known as bapsang features rice (bab), various side dishes (banchan), soups or stews (cook), fermented vegetables, and sometimes grilled meat or seafood (2).

Many Korean side dishes include vegetables. It can be seasoned with fermented sauces and seasonings such as soybean paste (doenjang), soy sauce (gangang) and chili paste (gochujang) (1).

Other common fermented foods include salted seafood (jeotgal) and cabbage. Kimchi can be seasoned in various ways, usually with salt, ginger, garlic, and/or red pepper flakes (gochugaru) (1).

Besides fermentation, common cooking methods include blanching, boiling, pickling, and grilling. Baking and frying are less common, although some popular foods such as Korean fried chicken are fried (2).


Korean meals typically feature seasoned vegetables, rice, soup, kimchi, and meat or seafood. Grilling, fermenting, blanching, pickling, and blanching are common cooking methods.

Given the ingredients and cooking methods in the traditional Korean diet, it is generally considered healthy. Because they are often high in vegetables and cooked without much oil, Korean meals are often lower in calories than traditional American meals (2, 3).

One observational study linked eating a traditional Korean diet with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke (3).

Furthermore, fermented foods – such as those found in Korean cuisine – offer health benefits thanks to their content of gut-friendly bacteria called probiotics (4).

Kimchi, for example, is made by lacto-fermentation. This means that it contains files Lactobacillus bacteria. According to test tubes and animal studies, these bacteria may support your immune system (5And 6).

Older studies in humans also indicate that eating kimchi reduces body weight and risk factors for heart disease. Although the exact mechanisms are not known, compounds in kimchi may help regulate weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood lipid levels (7And 8).

Chili paste and red pepper flakes are other common ingredients in Korean meals. The compound that makes these foods spicy is called capsaicin. May support healthy metabolism, blood pressure, and weight (9And 10).

However, some aspects of Korean food may not be healthy.

First, pickled and fermented foods, Korean-style soups, and Korean condiments such as barbecue sauces tend to be high in salt. Eating too much salt has been linked to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart and kidney disease (11).

Second, Korean restaurants may serve their food family-style rather than as an individual meal. If you’re watching your weight, it can be difficult to stick to proper portion sizes with this eating pattern.


Most Korean foods are healthy and full of nutritious foods like vegetables and kimchi. However, some common foods can be high in salt, and it can be easy to overeat if family-style meals are served.

Many Korean dishes are healthy. Below is a list of some of the best options.

  • fermented cabbage; Reap the benefits of kimchi by eating this fermented cabbage seasoned with garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes with your meals.
  • korean rice bowlBibimbap). Made with rice, vegetables, meat, and eggs, this bowl is a balanced and nutritious meal. You can skip the meat or replace it with tofu if you are on a vegetarian diet.
  • seaweed and rice rolls (Kimbab / Gimbap). These rolls are similar to sushi and can be made with vegetables, meat, eggs, and/or fish, among many other variations. They make a good meal or snack on the go.
  • Cold soy milk noodle soupkonggusku). This chilled noodle soup features wheat noodles in soy milk broth. They are often topped with cucumbers and tomatoes and make a delicious snack.
  • Beef slices with vegetables and ricebulgolgi). This is one of the most famous Korean dishes. It is high in protein and provides micronutrients, although it can be high in fat depending on the cut of meat used. Add vegetable sides to complete your meal.
  • soft tofu stewsoondubu jjigae). Made with soft tofu, mushrooms, other vegetables, and sometimes meat, this spicy soup is a complete meal in one bowl.
  • Steamed, fried and seasoned vegetable dishes. Steamed eggplant, fried zucchini, seasoned bean sprouts, and spiced spinach are among the many healthy vegetables served in Korean cuisine.


Healthy Korean dishes include plenty of vegetables and at least one protein source. Kimchi is a healthy addition to meals.

If you are trying to lose weight or have a health condition that you control through your diet, you may want to pay attention to some Korean dishes. For example, some meals are high in salt and/or calories.

  • Korean fried chicken. Korean fried chicken is known for its fluffy, crunchy exterior that surrounds tender, juicy chicken. However, because they are fried and often covered in a salty and sugary sauce, they are not always the most nutritious option.
  • Noodles with black bean sauceJajangmyeon). Topped with a thick sauce made of black bean paste, pork and vegetables, these noodles are a popular fast food dish in Korea. However, it is usually high in calories from carbohydrates and fats.
  • Korean Noodles (Ramyeon). This is the name for Korean instant noodles similar to Japanese ramen. It’s popular, and many people upgrade it with healthy vegetables and eggs. However, they are high in sodium, which some people may need to be aware of.


Dishes that are high in fat, salt or calories are found in every type of food. These Korean meals are delicious but keep in mind that their selection is less than other dishes.

When eating in a Korean restaurant

If you eat at a Korean restaurant, consider choosing a meal from the above list of healthy foods.

If you are dining with a group and the food is served family style, evaluate all options before painting.

Try filling half your plate with vegetarian side dishes, a quarter of your plate with a protein source, and adding a small portion of rice or noodles. Do your best to eat slowly and consciously, and wait a bit before reaching for more food to see if you’re still hungry.

If you’re watching your weight, choose leaner proteins like legumes and soy options like tofu. Choose seafood over fatty cuts of meat and avoid fried foods.

If you have diabetes or need to control your blood sugar for other reasons, be careful not to eat too much rice or pasta. There are usually plenty of delicious dishes with non-starchy veggies to enjoy instead.

Finally, cut back on high-sodium kimchi, pickled vegetables, sauces, and soups if you’re watching your sodium intake.

When you cook Korean food at home

You can apply similar principles when trying to cook healthy Korean food at home.

Look for recipes that have a balanced ratio of protein, fats, carbohydrates, and non-starchy vegetables. Don’t go overboard with fatty meats or high-carb rice.

When preparing recipes that require fermented sauces or other seasonings, be aware of the salt content. Add a small amount first, then give the dish a taste. Only then should you adjust the seasoning to avoid adding too much sodium.

If you are using beef or pork in a recipe but want to reduce the fat content, ask your butcher for smaller cuts. Instead, serve the dish with more vegetables and a smaller portion of meat.


When eating at a Korean restaurant or cooking Korean food at home, be wary of the salt and fat content of your meals, as well as your portion sizes.

The traditional Korean diet is healthy. It centers around vegetables and fermented foods like kimchi, soup, rice, meat or seafood.

Healthy Korean food options include kimchi, spiced or steamed vegetable dishes, bibimbap, and congosco, among many others.

However, Korean food tends to be high in salt. Plus some dishes are high in fat and/or calories.


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