Need a Plant-Based Source of Protein? Consider Edamame

Nutrition

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

 

If you’re a fan of Japanese cuisine, chances are you’ve had edamame. 

And fit mom Kourtney Kardashian, 40, credits edamame for helping her lose her baby weight. Her sister, Khloe Kardashian, is apparently a fan of edamame as well.

“I make this healthy Armenian rice pilaf with boiled edamame,” Khloe said, in this article. “The edamame has about 15 grams of protein so I feel good, but still satisfied from my rice.”

Khloe is right! 

Edamame, which are young soybeans (so they are legumes and not veggies) that are usually still in the pod (but can also be bought shelled), are a great plant-based source of protein. And protein is one of the six nutrients we need to stay healthy. (The other nutrients are water, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals). Our bodies use protein to build and repair tissues and make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. 

Protein is also a nutrient that may make us feel full and satiated, which explains why it may have helped Kourtney Kardashian not overeat and lose the baby weight. 

And edamame are not just rich in protein. They are rich in complete protein, which many plant-based sources of protein do not contain. 

Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Animal foods (such as dairy products, eggs, meats, poultry, and seafood,) and soy are complete protein sources,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Incomplete proteins are missing, or do not have enough of one or more of the essential amino acids, making the protein imbalanced. Most plant foods (such as beans and peas, grains, nuts and seeds, and vegetables) are incomplete protein sources.”

(To learn more about amino acids, read here).

Edamame are also low in fat and calories, cholesterol-free and high in fiber, all qualities that make them a great snack if you are trying to watch your weight or avoid nutrient-void snacks (like potato chips and pretzels). And did I mention that they are delicious?! Salty, slightly sweet and with the perfect amount of crunch that just pops in your mouth.

Now let’s explore further some of the potential health benefits of edamame.

Edamame may be beneficial for heart health.

As mentioned, edamame are soybeans. And soy contains certain materials that may help lower cholesterol which, in turn, may improve the health of our hearts.

The American Heart Association summarizes these materials found in soy. Here are a few of them:

  • Trypsin Inhibitors. These may lower cholesterol by increasing pancreatic secretion. The pancreas secretes enzymes that play an important role in digesting food, and trypsin inhibitors may increase bile acid secretion leading to increased cholesterol catabolism.
  • Phytic Acid. “Phytic acid chelates zinc strongly in the intestinal tract, thus decreasing its absorption,” reports the American Heart Association. “A copper deficiency or a high ratio of zinc to copper results in a rise in blood cholesterol. The hypothesis advanced is that soy foods contain both copper and phytic acid and therefore may lower cholesterol levels by decreasing the ratio of zinc to copper.”
  • Saponins. These compounds may lower cholesterol by increasing bile excretion.
  • Fiber. “Some researchers have reported that soy fiber lowers cholesterol levels in humans with hypercholesterolemia [high cholesterol].”
  • Isoflavones. “Isoflavones are present in all soy flours and in concentrates and isolates produced by a water extraction process. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens and are bioactive in humans. Soy is the major food source of isoflavones, which include genistein, daidzein, and glycitein. Isoflavones have been the subject of an intensive research effort evaluating their possible hypocholesterolemic effects, antioxidant effects, and estrogen-like effects on blood vessels.”

With all of this said, here is the tricky part about edamame (and all other soy containing foods)...

“Phytoestrogens are plant derived compounds found in a wide variety of foods, most notably soy. A litany of health benefits including a lowered risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, and menopausal symptoms, are frequently attributed to phytoestrogens but many are also considered endocrine disruptors, indicating that they have the potential to cause adverse health effects as well,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This all can be a bit confusing. Take breast cancer, for example. Some studies have suggested   that soybean based foods (such as edamame) do not make breast cancer worse and may even prevent it.

On the other side of the coin, “...many doctors recommend that women who have, or are at risk of developing, a common form of breast cancer called estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer avoid eating soybean-based foods because they contain compounds called isoflavones. Some studies suggest that isoflavones can mimic the hormone estrogen and encourage tumor growth,” according to this Live Science report.

So it may really depend on the person and the type of cancer. Discuss your specific situation with a competent healthcare professional.

We also have to keep in mind that most of these studies involve rodents and involve administering very high amounts of isoflavones.

“In fact, in human studies, the estrogen effects of soy seem to either have no effect at all, or to reduce breast cancer risk (especially in Asian countries, where lifelong intake is higher than the US). This may be because the isoflavones can actually block the more potent natural estrogens in the blood,” according to this recent report from the American Cancer Society.

“So far, the evidence does not point to any dangers from eating soy in people, and the health benefits appear to outweigh any potential risk. In fact, there is growing evidence that eating traditional soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, and soy milk may lower the risk of breast cancer, especially among Asian women.”

You may also have to consider what type of soy you are consuming.

Perhaps you may want to stick to whole foods such as tofu and edamame and avoid processed soy foods such as soy protein powders and soy-based veggie burgers. In any event,it’s always best to speak with a competent healthcare professional if you plan to include more soy in your diet.  And always practice moderation and follow a well balanced diet.

Edamame is also very nutrient-dense!

Along with being rich in protein and antioxidants, edamame is rich in vitamins and minerals we all need to stay healthy, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, folate and choline.

Edamame makes a great, simple snack. You can also try making edamame guacamole and hummus and pair it with crunchy, nutrient-rich veggies (like celery and carrots). 

Other warnings and precautions?

Soy may interfere with thyroid function and thyroid medication.

“Long-term use of soy isoflavone supplements might increase the risk of endometrial hyperplasia (a thickening of the lining of the uterus that may lead to cancer). However, soy foods do not appear to increase the risk of endometrial hyperplasia,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And keep in mind, “Current evidence indicates that it’s safe for women who have had breast cancer or who are at risk for breast cancer to eat soy foods. However, it’s uncertain whether soy isoflavone supplements are safe for these women.”

What are your thoughts on edamame and other soy foods? Please join the conversation.

 

Enjoy your healthy life! 


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

Newsletter