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8 Surprising Health Benefits of Edamame

Soybeans are one of the world’s most popular and versatile food
crops.

They are processed into a variety of food products, such as soy
protein, tofu, soybean oil, soy sauce, miso, natto and tempeh.

Soybeans are also eaten whole, including as immature soybeans
known as edamame. Traditionally eaten in Asia, edamame is
gaining popularity in Western countries, where it is typically
eaten as a snack.

This article lists the main science-based health benefits of
edamame.

Edamame Beans in a Bowl and Pods on a Table

What Is Edamame?

Edamame beans are whole, immature soybeans,
sometimes referred to as vegetable-type soybeans.

They are green and differ in color from regular soybeans, which
are typically light brown, tan or beige.

Edamame beans are often sold while still encased in their pods,
which are not meant to be eaten. You can also buy shelled
edamame, without the pods.

In the US, most edamame is sold
frozen
. Generally, you can easily heat the beans by
boiling, steaming, pan-frying or microwaving them for a few
minutes.

Traditionally, they are prepared with a pinch of salt and added
to soups, stews, salads and noodle dishes, or simply eaten as a
snack.

Edamame is served in sushi bars and in many Chinese and
Japanese restaurants. You can find it in most large
supermarkets in the US, typically in the frozen vegetable
section. Most health food stores also carry it.

But is edamame healthy? The answer may depend on who you ask.

Soy foods are controversial. Some people avoid eating soybeans
regularly, partly because they may interfere with thyroid
function (1).

For more information about people’s concerns, read this
article
.

Nevertheless, despite these concerns, edamame and soybeans may
also have several health benefits. Below are the top 8.

1. High in Protein

Edamame Beans and Two Pods

Getting enough protein
is crucial for optimal health.

Vegans
and those who rarely eat high-protein animal foods need to pay
special attention to what they eat on a daily basis.

One concern is the relatively low protein content of many plant
foods. However, there are a few exceptions.

For instance, beans are among the best plant-based
protein sources
. In fact, they are the cornerstone of many
vegan and vegetarian diets.

A cup (155 grams) of cooked edamame provides around 18.5 grams
of protein (2).

Additionally, soybeans are a whole protein source. Unlike most
plant proteins, they provide all the essential amino acids your
body needs, although they are not as high-quality as animal
protein (3).



Summary: Edamame contains around 12%
protein, which is a decent amount for a plant food. It is
also a quality protein source, providing all the essential
amino acids.

2. May Lower Cholesterol

Observational studies have linked abnormally high levels of

cholesterol
with an increased risk of heart disease
(4, 5).

One review concluded that eating 47 grams of soy protein per
day can lower total cholesterol levels by 9.3% and LDL (the
“bad”) cholesterol by 12.9% (6).

Another analysis of studies found that 50 grams of soy protein
per day reduced LDL cholesterol levels by 3% (7).

It is unclear if these small-to-modest changes in cholesterol
levels translate into a lower risk of heart disease.

Despite these uncertainties, the US Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) approves health claims for soy protein in
the prevention of heart disease (8).

In addition to being a decent source of soy protein, edamame is
rich in healthy fiber,
antioxidants and vitamin K.

These plant compounds may reduce the risk of heart disease and
improve the blood lipid profile, a measure of fats including
cholesterol and triglycerides (9, 10).

Summary: Edamame is rich in protein,
antioxidants and fiber that may lower circulating cholesterol
levels. However, it is unclear whether eating edamame has any
effects on the risk of heart disease.

3. Doesn’t Raise Blood Sugar

Edamame in a Small Glass Bowl

Those who eat lots of easily digested carbs, such as sugar, on
a regular basis are at an increased risk of chronic disease
(11, 12).

This is because fast digestion and carb absorption spikes blood
sugar levels, a condition known as hyperglycemia.

Like other beans, edamame
does not excessively raise blood sugar levels.

It is low in carbs, relative to protein and fat. It also
measures very low on the glycemic index, a measure of the extent to which
foods raise blood sugar levels (13,
14).

This makes edamame suitable for people with diabetes. It’s also
an excellent addition to a
low-carb diet
.

Summary: Edamame is low in carbs. It is
suitable for people with type 2 diabetes, as well as those
who follow a low-carb diet.

4. Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

Edamame contains high amounts of several vitamins and minerals,
as well as fiber.

The table below shows the levels of some of the main vitamins
and minerals in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of edamame and mature
soybeans, comparing the two (2, 15).

Edamame (RDI) Mature soybeans (RDI)
Folate 78% 14%
Vitamin K1 33% 24%
Thiamine 13% 10%
Riboflavin 9% 17%
Iron 13% 29%
Copper 17% 20%
Manganese 51% 41%

Edamame contains significantly more vitamin K and folate
than mature soybeans.

In fact, if you eat a whole cup (155 grams), you will get
around 52% of the RDI for vitamin K and more than 100% for
folate.

Summary: Edamame is rich in several vitamins
and minerals, especially vitamin K and folate.

5. May Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer

Soybeans are high in plant compounds known as isoflavones.

Isoflavones resemble the female sex hormone estrogen and may
bind weakly to its receptors, which are located on cells
throughout the body.

Since estrogen is thought to promote certain types of cancer,
such as breast cancer, some researchers believe consuming large
amounts of soybeans and isoflavones may be risky.

Several observational studies have associated a high intake of
soy products or isoflavones with increased breast tissue,
potentially increasing the risk of breast cancer (16, 17, 18).

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Yet, most similar studies suggest that a high intake of
soybeans and soy products may slightly reduce the risk of
breast cancer (19, 20, 21).

They also indicate that a high intake of isoflavone-rich foods
early in life may protect against breast cancer later in life
(22, 23, 24).

Other researchers found no protective effects of soy on the
risk of breast cancer (25).

However, long-term controlled studies are needed before any
solid conclusions can be reached.

Summary: Observational studies suggest that
soy-based foods like edamame may reduce the risk of breast
cancer, but not all studies agree.

6. May Reduce Menopausal Symptoms

Edamame Beans on a Wooden Spoon

Menopause is the stage in a woman’s life when she stops
menstruating.

This natural condition is often associated with adverse
symptoms
, such as hot flashes, mood swings and sweating.

Studies indicate that soybeans and isoflavones may slightly
reduce adverse symptoms during menopause (26, 27, 28, 29).

However, not all women are affected by isoflavones and soy
products in this way. In order to experience these benefits,
women need to have the right types of gut
bacteria
(30).

Certain types of bacteria are able to convert isoflavones into
equol, a compound believed to be responsible for
many of the health benefits of soybeans. People with these
specific kinds of gut bacteria are called “equol producers”
(31).

One controlled study showed that taking 135 mg of isoflavone
supplements per day for one week — the equivalent of eating 68
grams of soybeans per day — reduced menopausal symptoms only in
those who were equol producers (30).

Equol producers are significantly more common among Asian
populations than Western (32).

This could possibly explain why Asian women are less likely to
experience symptoms related to menopause, compared to women in
Western countries. Their high consumption of soybeans and soy
products might play a role.

Nevertheless, the evidence is not entirely consistent. Several
studies have been unable to detect any significant or
clinically relevant effects of isoflavone supplements or soy
products on menopausal symptoms (33, 34, 35).

Yet, these studies didn’t distinguish between participants who
were equol producers and those who weren’t, which may explain
their lack of significant findings.

Summary: Several studies suggest that eating
soy foods may reduce menopausal symptoms. However, the
evidence is inconsistent.

7. May Reduce the Risk of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in
men. About one in seven will get prostate cancer at some point
in his life (36, 37).

Studies indicate that soy foods, such as edamame, don’t just
benefit women. They might also protect against cancer in men.

Several observational studies show that soy products are
associated with an approximately 30% lower risk of prostate
cancer (38, 39, 40).

A few controlled studies provide additional support, but more
research is needed before strong conclusions can be drawn
(41, 42, 43, 44).

Summary: Evidence suggests that eating soy
products may protect against prostate cancer, but more
studies are needed.

8. Might Reduce Bone Loss

Edamame Beans

Osteoporosis, or bone loss, is a condition marked by brittle
and fragile bones that are at an increased risk of breaking. It
is especially common in older people.

A few observational studies found that regularly eating soy
products, which are rich in isoflavones, may lower the risk of
osteoporosis in postmenopausal women (45, 46).

This is supported by a high-quality study in postmenopausal
women showing that taking soy isoflavone supplements for two
years increased participants’ bone mineral density (47).

Isoflavones may have similar benefits in menopausal women. One
analysis of studies concluded that taking 90 mg of isoflavones
every day for three months or more may reduce bone loss and
promote bone formation (48).

However, not all studies agree. Another analysis of studies in
women concluded that taking 87 mg of isoflavone supplements per
day for at least one year does not significantly increase bone
mineral density (49).

Like other soy products, edamame is rich in isoflavones. Yet,
it is unclear to what extent it affects bone
health
.

Summary: Isoflavones may protect against
bone loss in middle-aged and older women. Although edamame
contains isoflavones, the effects of whole foods don’t
necessarily reflect the benefits of isolated components.

How to Cook and Eat Edamame

Edamame can be used in much the same way as other types of
beans.

However, it tends to be used more like a vegetable — added to
salads or eaten on its own like a snack.

Edamame is often served in its inedible pods. Pop the beans out
of the pod before you eat them.

Cooking it is simple. Unlike most other beans, edamame doesn’t
require a long time to cook. Boiling it for 3–5 minutes is
usually sufficient, but it can also be steamed, microwaved or
pan-fried.

Here are a few recipes that might give you some ideas for how
to prepare edamame:

Summary: Edamame is often eaten on its own,
like a snack. However, it can be prepared in numerous ways,
flavored with garlic or made into a dip.

The Bottom Line

Edamame is a tasty, nutritious legume that’s an excellent
low-calorie snack option.

However, no studies have examined the health effects of edamame
directly.

Much of the research is based on isolated soy components and it
is often unclear if whole soy foods have similar benefits.

While the evidence is encouraging, more studies are needed
before researchers can reach definite conclusions about the
benefits of edamame.

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