Can I Eat Kimchi While Pregnant?

Pregnant woman at refrigerator

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Hitting up the fridge for a bite of your favorite foods may feel a little different now that you're pregnant. The snacks that once felt so comforting might now make you question whether or not they're safe to eat while expecting. Even the most innocent of foods can leave you second-guessing yourself. You aren't alone in your concerns. This is a precious time and you want to do right by your baby and your body.

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish consisting of fermented vegetables, and is typically seasoned with garlic, ginger, and scallions. Most often consumed as a side dish, kimchi can be added to soups, and can top off stir fry to add an extra hit of umami. It's super versatile, and once you start incorporating it into your own meals, you aren't going to want to stop. The good news: Not only is it just fine to eat kimchi while pregnant, it's actually encouraged, thanks to a few very specific health benefits.

Eating Kimchi During Pregnancy

It is considered safe and even healthy to consume kimchi during pregnancy, according to Maggie Moon, MS, RD, registered dietitian and founder of Kimchi Curious, a space for Korean Americans to connect to their roots through the kitchen. "Korean women have known this for millennia," Moon says, pointing to a recent study of more than 1,000 pregnant Korean women. The research concluded that those who ate a healthy whole-foods diet, which included high intakes of kimchi, had healthier pregnancy outcomes.

Moon notes that while scientific data supports the health benefits of homemade kimchi, those who are not seasoned home-fermenters should probably stick to the store-bought variety.

Laura Erlich, LAc, FABORM, a holistic fertility & obstetric specialist in Los Angeles, agrees, adding that the DIY fermentation process could raise concern regarding foodborne illness. "The store-bought versions are following safety protocols," Erlich points out. "Whereas when it's homemade, it can potentially go wrong if people are inexperienced and don't have a system in place for fermentation."

The way kimchi is typically fermented is by activating what are considered wild cultures already present in the veggies. The process takes just a couple of days at room temperature or a little longer in the fridge, with any "bad" bacteria introduced purely by accident.

"It's extremely rare for that to happen," Erlich says. "But the way to avoid it is to purchase a pasteurized product from the store versus making it yourself."

 Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with your OB/GYN or healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about eating kimchi while pregnant.

Is It Safe for Baby?

Kimchi is absolutely safe for a growing baby when consumed in moderation and void of potentially harmful bacteria. You can also look to the many, many parents who have consumed kimchi for thousands of years while pregnant, and who have produced healthy, happy babies. "Millions of Korean women have long enjoyed kimchi safely during pregnancy," Moon emphasizes.

Benefits of Kimchi During Pregnancy

If you weren't a big kimchi eater before, its health benefits during pregnancy might make you a new fan. "The traditional fermentation process of making kimchi suppresses harmful bacteria and allows beneficial bacteria to thrive," explains Moon, noting that research has long supported the vast positives of kimchi, including probiotic, antioxidant, anti-aging, cholesterol reducing, digestive health, anti-cancer, and anti-bacterial properties.

Immune Health

The immune system is suppressed slightly during pregnancy to protect the fetus, but the body does its best balancing act to keep the parent protected against infection. The "good" bacteria in fermented foods, like kimchi, actually give our immunity a helpful boost.

"Anything that we can do to assist the body in being able to defend itself against any kind of pathogens, the better," says Erlich. "Kimchi and other fermented vegetables also have their own positives: there's the health benefits of the vegetable itself, plus all that healthy bacteria created during fermentation."

Optimal Digestion

Erlich also touts kimchi's overall assistance in keeping digestion regular and helping with nutrient assimilation. "The healthier the microbiome of the gut, the easier it is for the body to absorb nutrients from foods," she says.

If you're gobbling up the good stuff—we're talking whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and other vitamin-rich items—you might as well reap their benefits to the fullest extent.

Preventing Yeast Infections

The idea of a yeast infection at any time in life is unpleasant. But a yeast infection while pregnant sounds downright cruel. Fermented foods, like kimchi, contain probiotics that may be helpful in preventing the overgrowth of candida.

"The bacteria that causes yeast infections of gut bacteria, called Candida Albicans, can become overgrown if we eat too much sugar or take medications," explains Erlich. "Fermented vegetables, taking probiotics, and eating things like yogurt or kefir help to restore the balance in the gut so that the Candida is not the dominant strain anymore, which is one way to help control yeast infections."

Safety Precautions

There is very little to be cautious about regarding kimchi consumption during pregnancy. As previously mentioned, if you don't have experience making kimchi at home, it's recommended to eat a reputable store-bought version that has been pasteurized.

Pregnancy Safe Alternatives

Again, consuming kimchi during pregnancy is generally an all systems go option. However, if you're looking for additional foods that offer similar health benefits to kimchi, there are some alternatives.

"Alternatives to choosing kimchi are foods such as yogurt, kefir, sourdough bread, sour pickles, sauerkraut, chocolate, and miso," says Emily Sylvester, MS, RD, LDN, IBCLC, who also advises pregnant individuals to consume only the pasteurized versions of these. "There are also probiotics that come in a capsule form, such as those that contain Lactobacillus." Before taking any probiotics or supplements, though, be sure to consult with a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

To sum it up: Kimchi is not only safe to eat while pregnant, but it also provides a bevy of health benefits. These include optimal digestion, immune support, and a preventative aid against yeast infections. But unless you're a pro at DIY'ing kimchi at home, our experts strongly encourage consuming only store-bought, pasteurized products during this time.

Of course, if you have any hesitancy or concerns over what you can and should eat during pregnancy, consult a healthcare provider who can tailor advice to your individual needs.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kelly Kamenetzky
Kelly Kamenetzky is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer/editor with more than a decade of experience covering the parenting and family space. She enjoys connecting with experts in the parenting field and delivering impactful recommendations on family issues. She is also a mother of three.