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.
Possible health benefits of consuming edamame
Edamame is a young soybean that has been harvested before the beans have had a chance to harden.
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.
1) 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
2) Cardiovascular disease
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
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.
7) Energy levels
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 edamame 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
On the next page we look at the nutritional breakdown of edamame, how to incorporate more of it into your diet and the possible health risks associated with edamame.