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What Makes Miso So Incredibly Healthy?

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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.

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Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

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An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

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Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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