By Dr. Atli Arnarson
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.
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 U.S., 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 U.S., 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
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 percent 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
One review concluded that eating 47 grams of soy protein per day can lower total cholesterol levels by 9.3 percent and LDL (the "bad") cholesterol by 12.9 percent (6).
Another analysis of studies found that 50 grams of soy protein per day reduced LDL cholesterol levels by 3 percent (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 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.
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
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.
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.
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 percent of the RDI for vitamin K and more than 100 percent for folate.
Summary: Edamame is rich in several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K and folate.