Edamame: Health Benefits, Nutritional Information

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.

Possible health benefits of consuming edamame

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. Soyfood 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.

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%.

4) Depression

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.

5) Diabetes

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.

6) Fertility

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 to 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.

8) Inflammation

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.

9) Osteoporosis

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.

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.

According to 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.

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.

Edamame with salt
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:

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.

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Medical Experts: The Cardiometabolic Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Plant-based eating patterns continue to soar in popularity and a group of nutrition researchers outlines the science behind this sustainable trend in a review paper, entitled “Cardiometabolic benefits of plant-based diets,” which appears as an online advance in Nutrients. The review will publish in a future special edition, entitled “The Science of Vegetarian Nutrition and Health.”

The review outlines how a plant-based diet, which is naturally low in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and rich in nutrients, like fiber and antioxidants, could be one tool, in addition to adopting a healthful lifestyle, used to improve nutrition intake and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

The authors, Hana Kahleova, M.D., Ph.D., Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., and Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C., analyzed clinical research studies and reviews published until May 2017. Their research finds a plant-based diet, built around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, can improve nutrient intake and help manage body weight and glycemic control, improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reverse atherosclerosis or the narrowing of the arteries caused by the accumulation of arterial plaque.

“The future of health care starts on our plates,” says Dr. Kahleova, the lead study author and the director of clinical research at the nonprofit Physicians Committee. “The science clearly shows food is medicine, which is a powerful message for physicians to pass on to their patients and for policymakers to consider as they propose modifications for health care reform and discuss the potential amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill.”

To understand the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the researchers analyze its structure:

Fiber

Fiber contributes to bulk in the diet without adding digestible calories, thus leading to satiety and weight loss. Additionally, soluble fiber binds with bile acids in the small intestines, which helps reduce cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.

Plant-Based Rx: Aim to eat at least 35 grams of dietary fiber a day. The average American consumes 16 grams of dietary fiber each day.

Fats

Plant-based diets are lower in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can decrease insulin sensitivity, a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Plant-Based Rx: Swap meat and dairy products, oils, and high-fat processed foods for smaller portions of plant staples, like a few avocado slices or a small handful of nuts and seeds, which are rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Plant Protein

Vegetable proteins reduce the concentrations of blood lipids, reduce the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease, and may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

Plant-Based Rx: Legumes, or lentils, beans, and peas are naturally rich in protein and fiber. Try topping leafy green salads with lentils, black beans, edamame, or chickpeas.

Plant Sterols

Plant sterols that have a structure similar to that of cholesterol reduce cardiovascular disease risk and mortality, have anti-inflammatory effects, and positively affect coagulation, platelet function and endothelial function, which helps reduce blood clots, increases blood flow, and stabilizes glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Plant-Based Rx: Consume a high intake of antioxidants and micronutrients, including plant sterols, from whole plant foods, like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, beans, and seeds. A plant-based diet supports cardio-metabolic benefits through several independent mechanisms. The synergistic effect of whole plant foods may be greater than a mere additional effect of eating isolated nutrients.

“To make significant health changes, we have to make significant diet changes,” concludes Dr. Kahleova. “A colorful plant-based diet works well for anyone, whether you’re an athlete looking to boost energy, performance, and recovery by enabling a higher efficiency of blood flow, which equates to oxygen conversion, or if you’re a physician who wants to help patients lose extra weight, lower blood pressure, and improve their cholesterol.”

Dr. Kahleova and the study authors recommend using a plant-based diet as an effective tool to treat and prevent cardiometabolic disease, which they would like to see promoted through future dietary guidelines and nutrition policy recommendations.

Article: Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets, Hana Kahleova, Susan Levin and Neal Barnard, Nutrients, doi: 10.3390/nu9080848, published 9 August 2017.