These Edamame Benefits Will Make It Your New Favorite Plant Protein

Nutritionists lay out the benefits of edamame and how to prepare the beans for a delicious, healthy treat.

Bowl of Edamame
Photo: Getty Images

Of all the beans that exist, edamame might be the most underrated. It doesn't get quite as much love as, say, black or garbanzo beans, but can be added to a variety of dishes and is tasty enough to eat on its own as a snack.

On top of its versatility, edamame also has health benefits that you might be missing out on by overlooking this bean at your grocery store or on restaurants' menus. Intrigued? Ahead, learn more about the nutritional benefits of edamame and the best ways to prepare it at home.

What Is Edamame?

Edamame beans are immature soybeans that harvested while still in their pods, which are mild in taste and can be enjoyed steamed, roasted, or boiled, says Lauren Manaker, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., a registered nutritionist and dietician. Soybeans are a type of bean that originated in China but has become popular in the United States and other parts of the world, as Shape previously reported."[Edamame] are different from mature soybeans, which are brown and used for making popular foods like soybean or tofu," explains Laura Iu, R.D., C.D.N., C.N.S.C., R.Y.T., a registered dietitian nutritionist based in New York. Put simply, the only difference between soybeans and edamame is that edamame are harvested sooner and aren't as ripe as soybeans.

Soy products are known for being some of the best plant-based sources of protein, and with about 18 grams of protein per cup, edamame is no exception. But the edamame health benefits don't stop there. "Aside from being fun to eat, edamame is a nutrition powerhouse," says Iu.

Edamame Nutrition

Like other soy products, edamame is a stellar source of plant-based protein with zero cholesterol. It's also rich in vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting and bone building, as well as minerals and fiber. "Eating edamame provides satiating fiber and important micronutrients, like calcium and zinc," says Manaker. (Related: The Nutritional Difference Between Brown Rice vs. White Rice Isn't What You Think)

Here is the nutritional profile of 1 cup (160 grams) of cooked edamame, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • 224 calories
  • 18.4 grams protein
  • 13.8 grams carbohydrates
  • 12.1 grams fat
  • 8 grams fiber
  • 2 grams sugar

Health Benefits of Edamame

These edamame benefits will surely entice you to try the food if you haven't already.

Builds and Repairs Muscle

Again, edamame's protein content is a major selling point. In general, the nutrient helps build and repair cells, tissue, and muscle, ensures proper growth and development, and assists in body processes such as blood clotting, fluid balance, and more, as Shape previously reported.

"One of the coolest things about edamame is that they're one of the few plant-based foods that are complete proteins, [which] means that they contain all nine essential amino acids," says Iu. In case you need a refresher, there are nine essential amino acids (aka building blocks of protein) that your body needs. Your body can produce some of the essential amino acids, but you need to consume others through food, as Shape previously reported.

Edamame is a great option for vegans and vegetarians seeking to consume adequate protein, but also omnivores who want to get more of their protein through plant foods. It's helpful to consume a variety of protein-rich foodsrather than strictly meat, poultry, and eggs, which can help you get adequate amounts of nutrients such as unsaturated fats and dietary fiber in your diet, according to the USDA. (Related: 10 High-Protein Plant-Based Foods That Are Easy to Digest)

Promotes Healthy Cell Function

Another reason you'll want to consider adding edamame to your diet is it's packed with potassium with a total of 675 milligrams per cup. Potassium is an essential mineral that helps promote the normal functioning of all cells, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Potassium is needed for regulating your heartbeat, ensuring proper function of your muscles and nerves, and synthesizing protein and metabolizing carbohydrates, according to Harvard Health.

May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Similarly to other soy-based foods such as tofu, edamame contains isoflavones, which are plant compounds that behave like estrogen and are naturally found in soy, as Shape previously reported. Isoflavones are antioxidants that "may lower the risk of cancer by fighting inflammation," explains Iu. Several studies have suggested that isoflavones help lower LDL levels, aka "bad" cholesterol, which has been linked to cardiovascular conditions such as stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "[Edamame is also] a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated fats that promote heart health," says Iu.

Potential Risks of Edamame

While some people believe that eating too much soy-based foods can increase the risk of breast cancer or disrupt thyroid function, studies exploring the link are "inconclusive" because most were performed on animals, says Iu. "A lot of the studies are done on rats, and we need to consider that animals process soy differently than humans," she says. "There are epidemiological studies on humans done in primarily Asian countries where lifelong consumption of soy foods are higher than the United States and have not shown an association between eating edamame and higher risks of cancer."

Manaker agrees and says that studies have not shown conclusive evidence of soy's link to breast cancer. "While past data has suggested that eating soy foods is linked to increased breast cancer risk, more current data does not support this theory," she says. Ultimately, "edamame is generally a safe and healthy addition to an overall diet," says Manaker.

How to Eat Edamame

Edamame can be bought shelled or unshelled, in your supermarket's produce or frozen food section. It's important to note that the pods themselves aren't edible, so you'll have to crack open each pod to enjoy the unshelled variety. There are plenty of different ways you can add the bean to recipes to reap each edamame benefit.

On its own. "For first-timers trying edamame, I always recommend eating it straight out of the pods," says Iu. Try steaming them before adding a pinch of salt or "a little toasted sesame oil in a wok with fresh garlic and chili paste for layers of flavor," says Iu. You can also try roasting shelled edamame for a crunchy snack, says Manaker.

In a stir fry. Shelled edamame are a great addition to any stir fry, says Manaker. "Once shelled you can mix [edamame] in with some rice and always, always an egg," recommends Iu.

In a salad. If you're looking to add a boost of protein to your salad, add some edamame beans. "You can pretty much add it to any salad and it will take on the flavors of the spices and dressing," says Iu.

In a hummus. Swap out your chickpeas for edamame the next time you make a homemade hummus for additional protein, says Manaker.

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