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8 Reasons to Eat Edamame

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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).

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

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 percent 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

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.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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