Edamame is the perfect little pick-me-up snack. You may have had it as an appetizer at a Japanese restaurant, tucked away in their fuzzy little pods and sprinkled with salt. But what exactly are those little green bean-looking things?
Edamame is a young soybean that has been harvested before the beans have had a chance to harden. You can buy them shelled or in the pod, fresh or frozen.
Edamame is naturally gluten-free and low calorie, contains no cholesterol and is an excellent source of protein, iron, and calcium. It is an especially important source of protein for those who follow a plant-based diet.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Nutritional breakdown of edamame
Edamame is a complete source of dietary protein; meaning that like meat and dairy, it provides all of the essential amino acids needed in the diet that humans cannot make themselves.
The little beans are also high in healthy polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid.
Edamame is a young soybean that has been harvested before the beans have had a chance to harden.
According the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup (155 grams) of frozen, prepared edamame contains 189 calories, 8 grams of fat (1 gram saturated, 16 grams of total carbohydrate (8 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar) and a whopping 17 grams of protein.
A one-cup serving of edamame provides 10% of calcium needs, 16% of vitamin C, 20% of iron, 52% of vitamin K and 121% of your daily needs for folate.
Edamame also contains vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B-6, pantothenic acid, choline, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.
Possible health benefits of consuming edamame
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like edamame decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.
The isoflavones (a type of compound called phytoestrogens) in soy foods have been linked to a decreased risk for osteoporosis, while the calcium and magnesium in soy may help to lessen PMS symptoms, regulate blood sugar and prevent migraine headaches. Soy-food consumption has been associated with a lower risk of several specific age and lifestyle-related conditions and improving overall general health.
Age-related brain diseases
Based on geographic epidemiological findings, it has been observed that populations that consume greater amounts of soy have, in general, less incidence of age-related mental disorders.4
Consuming soy protein as an alternative to animal protein lowers levels of LDL cholesterol, which in turn decreases the risk of atherosclerosis and high-blood pressure.3
Breast and prostate cancer
Genistein, the predominant isoflavone in soy, contains antioxidant properties that inhibit the growth of cancer cells.4 Moderate amounts of soy foods do not affect tumor growth or a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, at least 10mg of soy per day can decrease breast cancer recurrence by 25%.
The folate in edamame may help with depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body, which can prevent blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excess homocysteine interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate not only mood, but sleep and appetite as well.8
People who suffer from type 2 diabetes often experience kidney disease, causing the body to excrete an excessive amount of protein in the urine. Evidence from a recent study has indicated that those who consumed only soy protein in their diet excreted less protein than those that consumed only animal protein.5
For women of child-bearing age, consuming more iron from plant sources such as edamame, spinach, beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, and beets appear to promote fertility, according Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publications. Also of note, adequate folic acid intake is essential for pregnant women to protect against neural tube defects in infants. One cup of edamame per day provides 121% of daily folate needs.
Not getting enough iron in your diet can also affect how efficiently your body uses energy. Edamame is a great non-heme source of iron, along with lentils, spinach and eggs.
Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in cantaloupe that aids our bodies in sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.6
Soy isoflavones are known to decrease bone loss and increase bone mineral density during menopause, and have also been reported to reduce other menopausal symptoms.4
How to incorporate more edamame into your diet
You can find fresh edamame in the produce section, often still in the pod, but you can also find it already shelled. You can also buy shelled or in-pod frozen edamame as well. If buying frozen, make sure there are no additives in the ingredients, only edamame.
The most common way to enjoy edamame is straight from the pod, sprinkle (while still in the pod) with sea salt.
Edamame has a mild, buttery flavor that pairs well with many dishes. You can add it to soups, stews, salads, rice dishes or casseroles in place of or in combination with other beans.
The most common way to enjoy edamame is straight from the pod, after boiling for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle (while still in the pod) with sea salt, then pop and snack away. You can also substitute edamame when a recipe calls, for peas.
Try some of these delicious and healthy recipes with edamame:Quick and healthy vegetable dumpling soup
Simple summer peach salsa
Crispy garlic parmesan edamame
Potential health risks of consuming edamame
Possible risks in consuming soy foods have been heavily debated recently, especially those pertaining to the topic of breast cancer. There is not enough evidence from human clinical trials to substantiate the claim that the isoflavones in soy contribute to breast cancer risk.
The soy and cancer study that started the controversy concerned only those with a specific type breast cancer (estrogen receptor positive). Some early studies suggested possible increased tumor growth in rats with a high intake of soy. As more advanced research was done, scientists found that rats metabolize soy completely different from humans, making the earlier studies invalid.
Now we know that moderate amounts of soy foods do not affect tumor growth or a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, at least 10mg of soy per day can decrease breast cancer recurrence by 25%.
Findings from animal models have also suggested there is a positive correlation between tumor growth and the degree to which an isoflavone-containing product has been processed. Therefore, it is better to consume tofu and other soy foods that have undergone minimal amounts of processing.3
According to the National Soybean Research Laboratory, unlike the popular genetically engineered soybean, all edamame is non-GMO.
If you have a concern regarding consuming other genetically modified soy foods, go organic. The USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use of GMOs. You can also look for products with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. Some brands with this seal include Silk, Amy's, Back to Nature and WestSoy. For a complete list of products with the verified seal, visit nongmoproject.org.
Keep in mind that it is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important for disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to aim to eat a diet with a variety than to rely on individual foods as the key to good health.
Recent developments on edamame from MNT news
Researchers have found no evidence of a protective association between soy food and endometrial cancer risk, says a new study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Scientists in Loughborough and Indonesia have developed a new soy-based flour product they hope will improve memory in older age and reduce the risk of dementia.
Written by: Megan Ware, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and nutritionist