The Meal Matters Most

What Makes Healthy Food Healthy: From a Stress Perspective

Why I’m crazy about Sauces!! Korean Fried Chicken Wings and the awesome benefits of Meju and traditional Gochujang (fermented red chili paste)


Korean Fried Chicken from

Korean Fried Chicken from

Do you or do you not love chicken wings? Are you scared of them because you may think they are horribly bad for us or do you throw caution to the wind because they are just so wonderfully delicious with messy addictive sauces?!?

Well, here at The Meal Matters it’s all about the synergy of ingredients balancing the potential stress of a meal. And balancing stress is the real way to prevent metabolic diseases. (See my past article on “Chicken Wings the Deep-Fried Healthy Way?“) Because that’s why wings are thought to be horrible for us right? Because of the fat, which is bad for our bodies and can also make us fat because of all the calories?  But really disease prevention is about being sure we have strong stress resiliency and we’re eating foods in a way that balances the potential stress they could cause.  We should be working to eat a better balance of “good” fats from quality animals and things like avocado, olives, nuts, seeds and coconut, and avoid, when we can, fake fats and low quality oils or cheap misfed animals.  But the real secret to healthy eating is eating a large variety of fats and proteins with a mix of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices that help balance the “stress” we experience breaking down fats and the other macro-foods.

This is a strange concept I know. That fats and sugars are fine for us as long as we eat them as part of a “meal”.  Fats and sugars can be detrimental alone (or in junk foods) because they are like jet fuel to our systems.  A great (but mostly excessive) resource, but that jet fuel makes a mess and needs a lot of cleaning up! This is where great sauces come into play!

The Korean (non-)Fried Chicken Wings is a great receipt from Irvin Lin using a fermented chili paste. He’s a fun and inventive blogger, and has many more Chicken Wing recipes for his “Chicken Wing Week!” Check them out —-> HERE

So the good stuff, even though its good, comes at a price. Fats and carbs are rocket fuel, proteins are raw materials that we have to put work, time, effort and expense into to making them work for us. But guess what! If you eat them with phytonutrients, they can do some of that work for us, so the “little guys” in the sauces can have some pretty profound impacts in how the meal impacts our system.  So from at least this perspective of stress balance, this is what makes “healthy” food “healthy”!

So there’s a great new research article out this January from researchers in at Chonbuk University in Korea about traditional bean paste called Meju entitled “Anti-obesity effects of traditional and standardized meju in high-fat diet-induced obese C57BL/6J miceLINK.  What is Meju? It’s a block of fermented soy beans. It looks like this:

Meju. Credit Wikipedia

Meju. Fermented Soybeans. Credit Wikipedia

This bean paste block is then turned into a staple condiment in Korean cuisine. Used pretty much daily in traditional Korean meals, as most great meals, of course, included a condiment or fantastic sauce of some sort!

Meju, the straight bean paste from its production can become a very salty condiment called Doenjang, where the further addition of chili paste or powder, thickeners and sweeteners like honey creates a traditional fermented chili paste called Gochujang. One of my favorites to add to dishes and sauces! It’s smokey, slightly sweet, spicy-but not knock you over spicy. It adds incredibly depth and just an edge of spiciness.

What’s the big deal? Well, we typically think of something being good for us because it contains something we might be deficient in (pick a vitamin) or because it lacks stuff that’s bad (calories, sugar, fat), but in my world of stress regulation, something good is because good stuff can be rough on our system and these little guys in our condiments cushions their impact. And this is exactly what this research shows. That when we eat a high-fat diet that would normal induce obesity (or metabolically negative impacts) we see that with the addition of the bacteria, antioxidant, polyphenol, phytochemical source… it doesn’t do as much damage. Could we say the fat is just “bad” and the phytochemicals are “good”? Sure, but does that mean that we should just eat “good” or that it is such a black and white view of “good vs bad” and avoid the bad always. It’s about teamwork! Phytochemicals alone are “good” for us, but does that mean raw fruits and vegetables and condiments should be the only thing we eat?!? Well, firstly, um, gross, if we just ate condiments. Secondly, boring and INCREDIBLY difficult to get enough calories JUST eating fruits and vegetables. So it would seem natural to think that these condiments are perfect partners to our fat, calorie and building block foods! And it makes delicious sense too!

And luckily for all of the great scientists out there testing everything and anything under the sun, we see from these complex mechanisms and fancy words and neurophysiological functions… that these little condiments are making BIG impacts in what makes “healthy food healthy!”


Gochujang (Fermented Chili Paste)

So here’s a GREAT sauce to introduce to your pantry and to keep in your fridge at all times. That little kick and nutrition boost (buffer) to almost any dish.  It’s a great start to a new year of healthy eating!!


Anti-obesity effects of traditional and standardized meju in high-fat diet-induced obese C57BL/6J mice. Bae CR1, Kwon DY2, Cha YS1.J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2014 Jan;54(1):45-50. doi: 10.3164/jcbn.13-52. Epub 2013 Nov 29. LINK


Anti-obesity effects of Korean fermented soybean foods have been reported by several investigators.(15,16) Meju is the principle ingredient of many Korean traditional fermented soybean food items like kochujang, doenjang, ganjnag (soy sauce). These traditional foods shows anti-obesity effect in diet induced obese animals, and significantly reduces body weight gain and triglyceride compared to the control group.(17,18) In our present study, KMJ and MJ groups showed lesser body weight gain compared to the SS group (Table 3). The prevention of weight gain in KMJ and MJ group was due to decreased epididymal fat mass gain (Fig. 2). A recent study suggested that soy isoflavone genistein shows anti-obesity effect and prevents weight gain and visceral fat accumulation.(19–21) Meju, being a soy product is rich is genistein; fermentation process initiates cleavage of the β-glycosyl bond of genistin by microbial enzymes,(22) leading to further increases of genistein amount in fermented soy product comparing to non-fermented counterpart.(23) Therefore, in our study the body weight and epididymal fat mass gain could be prevented due to the presence of higher genistein content in KMJ and MJ compared to SS samples.


Author: Lori Hogenkamp

Lori's passion is for food, the brain, science and stress shifting perspectives .

3 thoughts on “Why I’m crazy about Sauces!! Korean Fried Chicken Wings and the awesome benefits of Meju and traditional Gochujang (fermented red chili paste)

  1. You won’t get the benefits of fermented gochujang from the store bought variants that come in plastic tubs.

    Essentially what they are is a sort of commercially produced quick variant of the real sauce, which traditionally needs to be made in clay jars and fermented over very long periods of time (several months). The gochujang that comes from those plastic tubs typically is made with chemical means and them artificial flavors are added in.

    The real versions usually come in glass jars and generally cost more (they are harder to make as each batch has to be controlled).

  2. Thanks Chris. I’d highly agree. I’ve only purchased the plastic tub once and was not a big fan, it didn’t have near the complexity and had skeptical ingredients, as you say. It’s unfortunate (that was the quickest online picture I could find). The one I had originally fallen in love with is no longer available. I had gotten lucky to find a more authentic version and will make it a mission to keep looking! Great additional insight. Thanks!

  3. Just want to say your article is as surprising. The clearness in your post is just spectacular and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject.

    Fine with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming
    post. Thanks a million and please carry on the rewarding work.

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