Quantcast

What Makes Miso So Incredibly Healthy?

Popular
Vicky Wasik

By Alina Petre

Miso is a fermented condiment especially popular in parts of Asia, though it has also made its way to the Western world.

Although miso is still unknown to many, individuals who are familiar with it have most likely consumed it in the form of Japanese miso soup.


It's incredibly nutritious and linked to a variety of health benefits, including better digestion and a stronger immune system.

What Is Miso?

This traditional Japanese condiment consists of a thick paste made from soybeans that have been fermented with salt and a koji starter.

The starter usually contains the Aspergillus oryzae fungus.

Miso paste can be used to make sauces, spreads and soup stock, or to pickle vegetables and meat.

People generally describe its flavor as a combination of salty and umami (savory), and its color can vary between white, yellow, red or brown, depending on variety.

Although miso is traditionally made from soybeans, certain varieties use other types of beans or peas.

Other ingredients may also be used to make it, including rice, barley, rye, buckwheat and hemp seeds, all of which affect the color and flavor of the final product.

Summary: Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans often mixed with other ingredients. It's a versatile condiment available in many varieties.

It's Rich in Several Nutrients

Miso contains a good amount of vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds. One ounce (28 grams) generally provides you with (1):

  • Calories: 56
  • Carbs: 7 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Sodium: 43 percent of the RDI
  • Manganese: 12 percent of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 10 percent of the RDI
  • Copper: 6 percent of the RDI
  • Zinc: 5 percent of the RDI

It also contains smaller amounts of B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and phosphorus, and is a source of choline (1, 2).

Interestingly, the varieties made from soybeans are considered to be sources of complete protein because they contain all the essential amino acids needed for human health (1).

Moreover, the fermentation process used to produce miso makes it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients it contains (3, 4).

The fermentation process also promotes the growth of probiotics, beneficial bacteria that provide a wide array of health benefits. A. oryzae is the main probiotic strain found in miso (5, 6, 7).

That said, miso is also very salty. Thus, if you're watching your salt intake, you may want to ask your health care practitioner before adding large quantities to your diet.

Summary: Miso is a complete source of protein and rich in a variety of nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. However, it is also high in salt.

Miso Improves Your Digestion

Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria.

Some are beneficial, while others are harmful. Having the right type of bacteria in your gut helps you maintain a healthy gut flora.

Having a healthy gut flora is very important because it helps defend your body against toxins and harmful bacteria. It also improves digestion and reduces gas, constipation and antibiotic-related diarrhea or bloating (6, 8, 9).

A. oryzae is the main probiotic strain found in miso. Research shows that the probiotics in this condiment may help reduce symptoms linked to digestive problems including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (10).

In addition, the fermentation process also helps improve digestion by reducing the amount of antinutrients in soybeans.

Antinutrients are compounds naturally found in foods, including in the soybeans and grains used to produce miso. If you consume antinutrients, they can bind to nutrients in your gut, reducing your body's ability to absorb them.

Fermentation reduces antinutrient levels in miso and other fermented products, which helps improve digestion (3).

Summary: Miso fermentation helps improve the body's ability to digest and absorb foods. The condiment also contains probiotics that can promote gut health and digestion.

May Reduce the Risk of Certain Cancers

Miso may offer protection from certain types of cancer.

The first may be stomach cancer. Observational studies have repeatedly found a link between high-salt diets and stomach cancer (11, 12).

However, despite its high salt content, miso doesn't appear to increase the risk of stomach cancer the way other high-salt foods do.

For instance, one study compared miso to salt-containing foods such as salted fish, processed meats and pickled foods.

The fish, meat and pickled foods were linked to a 24–27 percent higher risk of stomach cancer, whereas miso wasn't linked to any increased risk (12).

Experts believe this may be due to beneficial compounds found in soy, which potentially counter the cancer-promoting effects of salt (12, 13, 14).

Animal studies also report that eating miso may reduce the risk of lung, colon, stomach and breast cancers. This seems especially true for varieties that are fermented for 180 days or longer (15, 16, 17, 18).

Miso fermentation can last anywhere from a few weeks to as long as three years. Generally speaking, longer fermentation times produce darker, stronger-tasting miso.

In humans, studies report that regular miso consumption may reduce the risk of liver and breast cancer by 50–54 percent. The breast-cancer protection appears especially beneficial for postmenopausal women (19, 20, 21).

This condiment is also rich in antioxidants, which may help guard your body's cells against damage from free radicals, a type of cell damage linked to cancer (22).

Nevertheless, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Summary: Regular miso consumption may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. However, more research is needed.

It May Strengthen Your Immune System

Miso contains nutrients that may help your immune system function optimally.

For instance, the probiotics in miso may help strengthen your gut flora, in turn boosting immunity and reducing the growth of harmful bacteria (6, 7).

Moreover, a probiotic-rich diet may help reduce your risk of being sick and help you recover faster from infections, such as the common cold (23, 24).

In addition, regularly consuming probiotic-rich foods like miso may reduce the need for infection-fighting antibiotics by up to 33 percent (25).

That said, different probiotic strains can have different effects on your health. More studies are needed using miso-specific strains before strong conclusions can be made.

Summary: Miso's rich probiotic content may boost your immune system and help ward off infections. That said, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Other Potential Benefits

This Japanese condiment may offer an array of other health benefits:

  • May promote heart health: Miso soup may reduce the risk of death from heart disease. However, the protective effects appear to be small and may be specific to Japanese women (26).
  • May reduce cholesterol levels: Animal studies show that miso may help reduce levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol in the blood (27, 28).
  • May reduce blood pressure: Miso appears to reduce blood pressure in animals. However, results in humans remain divided (15, 29).
  • May protect against type 2 diabetes: Some studies show that fermented soy products such as miso may help delay the progression of type 2 diabetes. However, not all studies agree (30, 31).
  • May promote brain health: Probiotic-rich foods such as miso may benefit brain health by helping improve memory and reducing symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (32, 33, 34).

Although these added benefits are encouraging, it's good to note that few studies directly link regular miso to the above benefits. More research is needed.

Summary: Miso consumption is indirectly linked to an array of additional health benefits. However, more miso-specific studies are needed.

Is Miso Safe?

Miso consumption is generally safe for most people.

However, it does contain a large amount of salt. Thus, it may not be a good choice for individuals who need to limit their salt intake due to a medical condition.

In addition, miso is relatively high in vitamin K1, which can act as a blood thinner. If you're taking blood-thinning medications, make sure you consult your health care practitioner before adding it to your diet.

Finally, most varieties are made from soybeans, which could be considered a goitrogen.

Goitrogens are compounds that may interfere with the normal functioning of the thyroid gland, especially in those who already have poor thyroid function.

That said, when goitrogen-containing foods are cooked and consumed in moderation, they are likely safe for all individuals — even those with thyroid problems (35).

Summary: Miso is considered safe for most people. Individuals on low-salt diets or blood thinners, or who have poorly functioning thyroid glands, may want to limit their intake.

How to Shop for Miso and How to Use It

In Europe or North America, you can find miso in most Asian grocery stores, as well as some conventional grocery stores.

When you're shopping for miso, consider that color can be a good indicator of taste. That is, darker colors are generally linked with a stronger, saltier taste.

Moreover, it isn't too difficult to make at home. It only requires a few ingredients and some patience. If you want to try it, you can start with this simple recipe (video).

Miso is extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. For instance, you can use it to flavor a broth, marinade or casserole.

You can also blend it with ingredients such as peanut butter, tofu, lemon or apple juice to make dipping sauces or spreads. When combined with oil and vinegar, it yields a simple and tasty salad dressing.

Miso may be best used in cold rather than hot dishes, since its probiotics can be killed by high temperatures. That said, some heat-killed probiotic strains may still provide some benefits, so this topic remains controversial (36, 37).

Unopened miso paste can be kept at room temperature for long periods of time.

However, once you've opened it, make sure to store it in the refrigerator in a closed container and ideally consume it within a year of purchase.

Summary: Miso is an extremely versatile ingredient found in most Asian supermarkets. The tips above can help you add it to your diet.

The Bottom Line

Miso is a nutrient-rich, versatile condiment definitely worth keeping on hand.

The fermentation process used to produce it may be especially beneficial, potentially boosting digestion, aiding the immune system and helping fight disease.

If you're planning to give miso a try, just keep in mind that its flavor can be strong and quite salty. A small amount can go a long way.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter


georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images

By Jennifer Molidor

One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Remsburg / VW Pics / Getty Images

Botswana, home to one third of Africa's elephants, announced Wednesday that it was lifting its ban on the hunting of the large mammals.

"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pxhere

By Richard Denison

Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).

Read More Show Less
De Molen windmill and nuclear power plant cooling tower in Doel, Belgium. Trougnouf / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Grant Smith

From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue

By Brett Walton

When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Gabriele Holtermann Gorden / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.

This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.

Read More Show Less
Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.

That's the conclusion of a new study from think tank Autonomy, which found that Germany, the UK and Sweden all needed to drastically reduce their workweeks to fight climate change.

"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."

The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.

The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.

The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.

"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."

Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.

"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."

Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.

"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice held a press conference after the annual shareholder meeting on May 22. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice

Amazon shareholders voted down an employee-backed resolution calling for more aggressive action on climate change at their annual meeting Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Read More Show Less