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By Kristin Kirkpatrick

Anyone who hasn’t heard of the K-pop diet, give it time. The diet started in South Korea and has quickly caught the attention of the rest of the world as an effective, long-term approach to weight loss.

Before describing what’s in the K-pop diet -- a reference to the Korean pop music stars who popularized the plan -- it’s important to recognize that it’s based on some traditional staples of the Korean diet.

Korean diet essentials

Traditional Korean foods focus heavily on fruit, soy, steamed vegetables, rice, fish and fermented foods such as kimchi, a cabbage-based dish thought to be a centerpiece of the Korean diet.

The K-pop diet is also one that is characterized as minimally processed, as well as low in sugar and fat. Another characteristic that differentiates the Korean diet from more Western habits is portion size. It’s not often that you’ll see gigantic portion sizes served up in a Korea. This lifestyle pattern has served them well; South Korea has lower rates of obesity than countries like the United States.

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The basics of the K-pop diet

Korean superstars have been following the diet, which is based on the whole foods approach of a traditional Korean diet and adds in physical activity. The breakdown of the diet is as follows:

  • Lower fat –- Korean cuisine avoids fried and heavy fat meals. That means steaming on this diet will be essential in preparation of vegetables and even meats.
  • Minimally processed foods –- forget the diet frozen meal, this plan is all about cooking and obtaining meals and snacks from home, not from a bag or box.
  • No sugar –- a traditional Korean diet does include sweetened beverages, candy or sugary snacks. Therefore, elimination of sugar is a key component to the diet. For many people, this can be the most challenging part.
  • Heavy in vegetables and fruits –- the diet also stresses color and variety, which can help in obtaining a spectrum of nutrients.
  • Fermented foods daily –- fermented foods have been found to help boost gut health and can include kimchi, tempeh, miso, and pickled vegetables such as cabbage.
  • More chicken and fish, less red meat –- though a Korean diet has some red meat, focusing more on chicken and fish as your animal proteins may help to further improve health.
  • Soy-rich foods –- whole soy sources such as tofu, edamame may be incorporated into meals
  • Movement –- daily physical activity is just as important as the dietary principles

The benefits of the K-pop diet

Simply cutting out fried foods and sugar, as the diet instructs, can help to reduce the risk of obesity, chronic disease and early death. Conversely, following a pattern that stresses whole foods, plants and fermented foods can have benefits on both weight and overall health.

Studies show that weight management approaches that use these principles can help to improve metabolism and gut health and help people live longer.

What to watch on the K-pop diet

Numerous websites promote the diet, yet not all of them focus on healthy behaviors. Although the diet doesn’t specifically call for this, many K-pop music stars have discussed their diets during interviews and described starvation methods to lose weight.

Extreme methods of weight loss are dangerous for anyone, but can be especially harmful to the very young fans following their K-pop idols. It’s important to remember that any diet should include adequate amounts of calories and nutrients to stay healthy.

Therefore, the focus should remain on quality, not quantity. A nutrient-dense day on the K-pop diet may look like this:

Breakfast –- steamed vegetables with tofu or tempeh

Lunch –- soup with vegetables, fish, chicken or lean meat

Dinner –- steamed vegetables, rice and fish with kimchi

Snacks -- the diet discourages too much snacking. But since that’s too restrictive for many people, approved snacks, in limited quantity, are rice crackers, fruit, seaweed snacks and green tea

Weight loss is hard, and dependent on many factors outside of the actual food people eat. The K-pop diet is a whole foods approach that limits items known to promote weight gain. It’s also safe, when done correctly, and can be followed long term.

For these reasons alone, it could be a good option for people struggling to lose weight with other diets.