Do fermented vegetables increase your cancer risk?

FeaturedFood & Drink

Written by:


Nutrition Diva listener Brian wants to know:


“Do the benefits of fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi outweigh the risk of getting stomach cancer. I understand that Koreans, who eat a lot of kimchi, also have the highest rates of stomach cancer. So, I’m wondering whether increasing our consumption of these products in order to help the beneficial bacteria in our guts is worth the risk.”


SPONSORED: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor

1. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn't have to be hard. SmartAsset's free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes.

2. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you're ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals get started now.






Brian is right: People in Asian countries, where fermented vegetables make up a large part of the diet, do have higher rates of stomach cancer than elsewhere in the world.

What are the main risk factors for stomach cancer?

Fifty years ago, stomach cancer was the most common type of cancer diagnosed worldwide. And the good news is that the global incidence of stomach cancer has declined significantly over the last decades. This is due in part to declines in smoking, which is a significant risk factor for stomach cancer. It’s also due to better detection and treatment of h. Pylori, a bacterium that commonly infects the digestive tract and can cause stomach ulcers as well as stomach cancer. H. Pylori is readily eradicated by antibiotic therapy and now that we know to look for it, and how to get rid of it, ulcers and stomach cancer are far less common.

What’s the link between fermented veggies and cancer?

However, the incidence of stomach cancer remains high in Korea and elsewhere in Asia. And, believe it or not, the very high consumption of fermented vegetables is thought to be one contributing factor.


This is a little confusing because eating more vegetables is a good way to reduce your risk of cancer. And, as Brian points out, fermented vegetables also contain probiotic bacteria, which foster a healthy gut.


At the same time, fermented vegetables contain nitrosamines. These compounds, which are by-products of the fermentation process, can have carcinogenic effects. Here in the West, the primary source of dietary nitrosamines are cured and processed meats. In Korea, where total nitrosamine intake is much higher, the primary dietary sources are smoked or salted fish and fermented vegetables.

The traditional Korean diet is also much higher in sodium than the typical Western diet (which is not exactly low in sodium), and this may be another contributing factor to the high rates of stomach cancer. Sodium, in high amounts, can irritate the lining of the stomach and perhaps make it more vulnerable to the carcinogenic effects of nitrosamines.


Another thing to keep in mind is that the traditional Korean diet, while high in fermented and pickled vegetables, may be quite low in fresh vegetables. The nutrients in fresh vegetables, especially vitamin C, can neutralize the nitrosamines in the digestive tract. And the epidemiological evidence bears this out: People whose diets are high in pickled vegetables but also high in fresh vegetables appear to be protected against the increase in cancer risk.


This same protective effect also applies to the nitrosamines found in processed meats such as bacon or hot dogs. Western diets that contain a lot of processed meats have been repeatedly linked to increased risk of cancers of the digestive tract. However, this increased risk is not seen in those who eat a lot of processed meat but also eat a lot of vegetables.

How do vegetables protect against cancer?

Although it’s clear vegetable consumption is associated with reduced cancer risk, we still don’t know all of the mechanisms involved. It could be the antioxidants that vegetables provide. The fiber could also play a role, both by improving digestion and elimination and by fostering a healthy gut microbiome. And perhaps this carcinogen-neutralizing effect is also part of what makes vegetables very so good for us.


So, to answer Brian’s question: I think you can safely (and beneficially) incorporate fermented vegetables into your diet, both as a way to get more vegetables and to get some probiotic bacteria. Just make sure your diet also contains plenty of fresh vegetables and not too much salted, smoked, or cured meat and fish. It’s fine to enjoy foods from that category on occasion, just not as a dietary staple.


This article originally appeared on Quick and Dirty Tips and was syndicated by

More from MediaFeed:

Are you a senior? Think twice about these risky surgeries


Knowing if a surgery is high-risk can help you make an informed decision about the procedure.

That’s why a team of researchers generated a list of 277 risky procedures for older adults, which they hope is useful in preparing for the potential of unwanted outcomes.

The study was published in JAMA Surgery. The list was generated by using admissions data of patients 65 years and older. The scientists found 10 surgeries to be especially problematic for older patients. We discuss these procedures below.

Note: The following article is for informational and educational purposes only and isn’t a substitute for medical advice. It is important to discuss all medical procedures with your doctor.


Deposit Photos


Adrenal gland removal — or adrenalectomy — is the removal of one or both of the adrenal glands. Though these glands produce hormones that are necessary in carrying out daily bodily functions, sometimes a tumor forms on the glands and causes increased hormone production. When this occurs, the gland(s) needs to be removed.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the usual recovery time after this surgery is two to six weeks, and the risks can include blood clots, infections and high blood pressure.


Deposit Photos


Carotid endarterectomy is a procedure that removes plaque buildup from inside a carotid artery in your neck. This surgery is done to restore blood flow to the brain when individuals have symptoms of reduced blood flow. Carotid endarterectomy is typically preventative of a stroke and removes blockages that might trigger one.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the risks of this surgery include clotting, stroke or death. However, taking anti-clotting medicines before and after a carotid endarterectomy can reduce these risks.


Deposit Photos


Also known as peripheral vascular bypass surgery, blood vessel replacement in the arm improves blood flow when one or more of the arteries become narrowed or blocked. In this surgery, a blood vessel from another part of your body or a synthetic blood vessel is used to replace the damaged blood vessel.

According to the Summit Medical Group, the risks of this procedure can include irregular heart beat, infection, and death.


Deposit Photos


When a blood vessel causes tissue injury in the abdomen, part of the tissue might need to be removed or replaced. According to John Hopkins Medicine, complications can include pulmonary embolism, infection and excess bleeding.


Deposit Photos


Varicose veins form in the legs when the valves in the veins aren’t functioning correctly. If you’re experiencing pain, blood clots, or bleeding your doctor might recommend varicose vein removal. This is a surgical procedure with risks that include nerve injury, heavy bleeding and infection.


Deposit Photos


Gastric bypass is weight loss surgery that changes how the stomach and small intestine handles the food you eat. There are multiple criteria that must be met to receive this procedure and it can pose major risks and complications. These include malnutrition, perforation of stomach or intestines, and dumping syndrome (aka when food gets “dumped” directly from the stomach pouch into the small intestine without being digested).


Deposit Photos


When people have trouble with stool leakage, inability to control their bowel movements (fecal incontinence), or obstructed bowel movements they might need a proctopexy. Proctopexy is also known as rectal prolapse surgery: essentially, it helps put the rectum back in place.

According to Mayo Clinic, risks can include damage to nearby nerves and organs, narrowing (stricture) of the anus, and development of new or worsened constipation.


Deposit Photos


If a tumor is blocking the flow of bile to your bile ducts, you might have surgery to get it removed. Nausea, jaundice, or a temperature  of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher are potential risks of this procedure.


Deposit Photos


Sometimes an individual’s urinary bladder is removed due to cancer, a non-working bladder, or another medical reason. According to the Cleveland Clinic, urinary reconstruction creates a new way for urine to exit the body when a bladder is not present.

A risk of this procedure is urine backing up into the kidneys, causing infections, stone formation, or organ damage over time.


Deposit Photos


When the ureter is injured (ie. scar tissue forms after an accident or surgery), additional surgery might need to be done to repair it. Chest pain, blood clots, and trouble urinating can be complications that follow this procedure.

See the complete list of all 227 surgeries here (PDF).

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by


Deposit Photos



monkeybusinessimages / istockphoto


Featured Image Credit: Nungning20 / iStock.