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Instead of Fritos, Doritos, Cheetos, or Tostitos ... Consider Edamame

Edamame, the Japanese word for grean soybeans, is an integral part of Asian cuisine -- one that is becoming increasingly popular with health-conscious Americans. That's because one of the most common ways to enjoy this vegetable is by boiling and salting the pods, then squeezing the beans out for a quick, tasty snack.


Edamame can be purchased in the pod or already shucked.

While you still won't find edamame on the shelves of gas stations like bagged chips, many grocery stores now sell the beans flash-frozen and already salted, so all you need to do is boil them. Or you can grab them completely prepared from a Japanese restaurant if there is one in your area. Point is, when you crave a salty snack, they're only slightly less convenient than grabbing a bag of chips ... but they don't come with the health risks of frying, the negligible nutritional value, or the unsavory additives and preservatives.

Why Edamame?

Edamame, which literally means "beans on branches," is quite nutritious. Aside from being high in protein and low in fat, studies have found that isoflavones in soybeans may help:

  • Reduce the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women
  • Decrease the risk of osteoporosis
  • Promote prostate health
  • Protect cells with their antioxidant properties

Edamame also qualifies for the FDA-approved health claim for labels of soy foods, "Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease."


Edamame Nutrition Facts

Nutrition Value % DV
Serving Size 1/2 cup
Amount per Serving:
Amount per Serving:
Calories from Fat
Total Fat 2.5g 4%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 70mg 3%
Total Carbohydrates 9g 3%
Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 2g  
Protein 10g  
Vitamin A   10%
Vitamin C   0%
Calcium   8%
Iron   8%

The History of Edamame

Edamame may be new in America, but it has been around in China (where it's called mao dou) as far back as 200 B.C.. This is where edamame originated, and it was used as a medicinal food. The first recorded use of edamame in Japan wasn't until 927 A.D., when it was described in the Engishiki, a guide to agricultural trade. The pods were then used as an offering at Buddhist temples.

Does Soy Present Health Risks?

Some believe that soy may not be the health "wonder" food it's claimed to be. A major aspect of the concern is that soy isoflavones are phytoestrogens, a weak form of estrogen that could have a drug-like effect in the body. It is a controversial issue, and some studies suggest that high isoflavone levels might actually increase the risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer.

Daniel Sheehan, Ph.D., director of the Estrogen Knowledge Base Program at the FDA's National Center for Toxicological Research, says isoflavones should be consumed "cautiously." He says, "While isoflavones may have beneficial effects at some ages or circumstances, this cannot be assumed to be true at all ages. Isoflavones are like other estrogens in that they are two-edged swords, conferring both benefits and risks."

It seems the key to avoiding such health risks when it comes to soy is to stick with only unprocessed varieties, such as edamame, and consume them along with a healthy, varied diet.

In fact, a study in the June 2004 issue of Carcinogenesis found that processed soy products and supplements have a significantly lower ability to prevent cancer, and may actually stimulate the growth of pre-existing estrogen-dependent breast tumors, compared with whole soy foods.

"These partially purified isoflavone-containing products may not have the same health benefits as whole soy foods," said William G. Helferich, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and one of the study's lead authors.

The researchers suggested that it may be wise to avoid processed soy products and supplements that contain isoflavones in more purified forms, which is how many Americans consume soy.

Instead, they said to choose minimally processed whole soy foods including edamame, whole soy flour, tofu or tempeh.

Tasty Edamame Recipes

Edamame can, of course, be eaten plain as a delicious snack, but the beans are so versatile that they can be added to everything from salads to soups and casseroles. Depending on your nutritional needs, you may want to look for organic or salt-free varieties, all of which can be found in health food stores, Asian markets and some regular grocery stores.

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture has put together a free edamame cookbook, which has over a dozen unique ways to add edamame to your meals at home.

Get Your Edamame Recipe's Now!

Recommended Reading

The Power of the Pomegranate: The 9 Health Benefits of this Wonder Fruit, and How to Eat Them

The Healthiest Grasses You Could Possibly Eat (Hint: Not Your Lawn)


FDA: Health Claims for Soy Protein

Kentucky Edamame

Edamame: The Vegetable Soybean

The World's Healthiest Foods

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