Soybeans are one of the world’s most popular and versatile food crops.
They are processed into a variety of food products, such as soy protein, tofu, soybean oil, soy sauce, miso, natto, and tempeh.
Soybeans are also eaten whole, including in the form of immature soybeans known as edamame. Traditionally eaten in Asia, edamame has gained popularity in Western countries, where it’s typically eaten as a snack.
This article lists the main science-based health benefits of edamame.
What is edamame?
Edamame beans are whole, immature soybeans sometimes referred to as vegetable-type soybeans.
They are green and differ in color from regular soybeans, which are typically light brown, tan, or beige.
One cup (160 grams) of cooked edamame contains 224 calories. This accounts for roughly 7–11% of the recommended daily calorie intake for an adult, depending on age, sex, and activity level.
Where to buy edamame
Edamame beans are often sold while still encased in their pods, which are not meant to be eaten. You can also buy shelled edamame, without the pods.
Mst edamame is sold frozen. Generally, you can easily heat the beans by boiling, steaming, pan-frying, or microwaving them for a few minutes.
How to prepare edamame
Traditionally, it’s prepared with a pinch of salt and added to soups, stews, salads, and noodle dishes, or simply eaten alone as a snack.
Edamame is served in sushi bars and many Chinese and Japanese restaurants. You can find it in most large supermarkets, typically in the frozen vegetable section. Most health food stores also carry it.
But is edamame healthy? The answer may depend on who you ask.
Soy foods are controversial. Some people avoid eating soybeans regularly, partly because they may interfere with thyroid function. However, most studies have shown that even very high doses of soy don’t seem to have a significant impact on thyroid function, but more research is needed.
Nevertheless, despite these concerns, edamame and soybeans may also have several health benefits. Below are the top 8.
Edamame health benefits
Here are 8 impressive ways how edamame can benefit your health:
1. Edamame is rich in vitamins and minerals
Edamame contains high amounts of several vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber.
The list below shows the levels of some of the main nutrients in one cup (160 grams) of cooked edamame.
- Water (g): 113
- Calories: 224
- Protein: 37% of your daily need
- Total lipid (g): 12.1
- Carbohydrates (g): 13.8
- Fiber (g): 8
- Sugars (g): 3.38
- Calcium: 10% of your daily need
- Iron: 20% of your daily need
- Magnesium: 25% of your daily need
- Phosphorus: 26% of your daily need
- Potassium: 19% of your daily need
- Folate: 115% of your daily need
- Vitamin K1: 56% of your daily need
- Thiamine: 20% of your daily need
- Riboflavin: 14% of your daily need
- Copper: 27% of your daily need
Edamame contains significantly more vitamin K and folate than mature soybeans.
If you eat a whole cup (160 grams), you will get around 56% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin K and more than 100% for folate.
Summary: Edamame is rich in several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K and folate.
2. Edamame may lower cholesterol
Observational studies have linked abnormally high levels of cholesterol with an increased risk of heart disease.
One review concluded that people who ate an average of 25 grams of soy protein per day had a reduction in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by approximately 3-4%.
It’s unclear if these small to modest changes in cholesterol levels translate into a lower risk of heart disease.
Suggested read: Soy: Good or bad?
Despite these uncertainties, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves health claims for soy protein in the prevention of heart disease.
In addition to being a decent source of soy protein, edamame is rich in healthy fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin K.
These plant compounds may reduce the risk of heart disease and improve the blood lipid profile, a measure of fats including cholesterol and triglycerides.
Summary: Edamame is rich in protein, antioxidants, and fiber that may lower circulating cholesterol levels. However, it is unclear whether eating edamame has any effects on the risk of heart disease.
3. Edamame may promote healthy blood sugar regulation
Those who eat lots of easily digested carbs, such as sugar, regularly may be at an increased risk of chronic disease.
This is because a diet high in rapidly digested carbohydrates leads to high post-meal blood sugar levels and poor blood sugar regulation, which could increase the risk of developing health conditions like type 2 diabetes.
Like other beans, edamame does not excessively raise blood sugar levels.
It’s low in carbs, relative to protein and fat. It also measures very low on the glycemic index, a measure of the extent to which foods raise blood sugar levels.
This makes edamame suitable for people with diabetes.
Summary: Edamame is low on the glycemic index, so it’s suitable for people with type 2 diabetes.
4. Edamame is high in protein
Getting enough protein is crucial for optimal health.
Vegans and those who rarely eat high protein animal foods may need to pay special attention to what they eat daily.
One concern is the relatively low protein content of many plant foods. However, there are a few exceptions.
For instance, beans are among the best plant-based protein sources. They are the cornerstone of many vegan and vegetarian diets.
Suggested read: 9 healthy beans and legumes you should try
A cup (160 grams) of cooked edamame provides around 18.4 grams of protein.
Additionally, soybeans are a whole protein source. Unlike most plant proteins, they provide all the essential amino acids your body needs.
Summary: Edamame contains around 18.4 grams of protein, which is a decent amount for plant food. It’s also a quality protein source, providing all the essential amino acids.
5. Edamame may reduce the risk of breast cancer in some populations
Soybeans are high in plant compounds known as isoflavones.
Isoflavones resemble the sex hormone estrogen and may bind weakly to its receptors, which are located on cells throughout the body.
Since estrogen is thought to promote certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer, some researchers believe consuming large amounts of soybeans and isoflavones may be risky.
Several observational studies have associated a high intake of soy products or isoflavones with a potentially increased risk of breast cancer.
Yet, most similar studies focused on people in Asia suggest that a high intake of soybeans and soy products may slightly reduce the risk of breast cancer.
They also indicate that a high intake of isoflavone-rich foods early in life may protect against breast cancer later in life.
Traditional Asian diets tend to contain more minimally processed soy foods like tofu, tempeh, miso, and soy milk, while Western diets lean toward soy-based meat alternatives or meat products with added soy protein.
One study showed that because of more frequent soy food consumption, older individuals in Japan have an average daily isoflavone intake of 30–50 mg, while people from the United States and Europe have less than 3 mg per day.
More long-term controlled studies in various populations are needed before any solid conclusions can be reached.
Summary: Observational studies in Asian populations suggest that soy-based foods like edamame may reduce the risk of breast cancer, but not all studies agree.
6. Edamame may reduce menopausal symptoms
Menopause is the stage in a person’s life when menstruation ends.
This natural process is often associated with symptoms that may be challenging, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and sweating.
Studies indicate that soybeans and isoflavones may slightly reduce these symptoms during menopause.
Suggested read: 11 foods high in phytoestrogens
However, not all women are affected by isoflavones and soy products in this way. To experience these benefits, research shows that women need to have the right types of gut bacteria.
Certain types of bacteria can convert isoflavones into equol, a compound believed to be responsible for many of the health benefits of soybeans. People with these specific kinds of gut bacteria are called “equol producers.”
Equol producers are significantly more common among Asian populations than Western ones.
This could explain why Asian women are less likely to experience symptoms related to menopause, compared with women in Western countries. The high consumption of soybeans and soy products in Asian diets might play a role.
Nevertheless, the evidence is not entirely consistent. Several studies have been unable to detect any significant or clinically relevant effects of soy products on menopausal symptoms.
Yet, these studies did not distinguish between participants who were equol producers and those who were not, which may explain their lack of significant findings.
Summary: Several studies suggest that eating soy foods may reduce menopausal symptoms. However, the evidence is inconsistent.
7. Edamame may reduce the risk of prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in men. About 13 in every 100 men in the United States will develop prostate cancer at some point in their life.
Studies indicate that soy foods, such as edamame, don’t just benefit women. They might also protect against cancer in men.
Several observational studies show that soy products are associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.
Still, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be drawn.
Summary: Evidence suggests that eating soy products may protect against prostate cancer, but more studies are needed.
8. Edamame might reduce bone loss
Osteoporosis, or bone loss, is a condition marked by brittle and fragile bones that are at an increased risk of breaking. It is especially common in older people.
A few studies found that regularly consuming soy protein products and high dose soy supplements, which are rich in isoflavones, may lower the risk of osteoporosis in both menopausal and postmenopausal women.
Like other soy products, edamame is rich in isoflavones. Yet, it’s unclear as to what extent it affects bone health.
Summary: Isoflavones may protect against bone loss in middle-aged and older women. Although edamame contains isoflavones, the effects of whole foods do not necessarily reflect the benefits of isolated components.
Edamame is a tasty, nutritious legume that can be an excellent low calorie snack option.
However, no studies have examined the health effects of edamame directly.
Much of the research is based on isolated soy components, and it’s often unclear if whole soy foods have similar benefits.
While the evidence is encouraging, more studies are needed before researchers can reach definite conclusions about the benefits of edamame.