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.
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
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Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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