The Secret of Edamame
Soy snack is a yummy - and healthy - handful
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
What's so secret about edamame? Well, the name for starters. The first few times I heard it, I had to ask, "eda-whaty?" As it turns out, it's just a fancy name for boiled green soybeans -- and the real secret is that they are much yummier than they sound.
I knew edamame had "arrived" when I saw Faith Hill snacking on them during a backstage-type interview for Country Music Television. They're the snack my favorite Japanese restaurant brings you when you sit down to a table, and they're the after-school snack my daughter asks for by name.
Say what you will about the debate over the health benefits of soy: any way you slice it, the edamame is a star legume! Just 1/2 cup of them a day really punches up the fiber, protein and vitamin/mineral content of your diet.
Here's what you'll find in a half-cup serving of shelled edamame (or 1 1/8 cup edamame in the pods):
As you can see, that little serving of edamame gives you a bunch of fiber: 9 grams, about the same amount you'll find in 4 slices of whole-wheat bread or 4 cups of steamed zucchini. It has almost as much protein as it does carbohydrate. It contains around 10% of the Daily Value for two key antioxidants; vitamins C and A. And for a plant food, it's quite high in iron; it has about as much as a 4-ounce roasted chicken breast.
The Soy Debate
The idea that soy is a wonder food has lost a bit of ground recently. An analysis of nearly 200 soy studies done over the past 20 years found that no firm conclusions could be made about most of the proposed benefits of soy.
According to Mark Messina, PhD, president of the nutritional consulting firm Nutrition Matters, these results aren't surprising because firm conclusions can be made only on the basis of large, long-term studies. As you might expect, these types of studies are very expensive.
"Consequently, most of the soy studies have been relatively short in duration and usually involved relatively small subject numbers," explains Messina.
Although most researchers agree that further research is needed, recent studies propose the following possible health benefits of soy:
The bottom line: "It remains prudent to recommend soy in a heart-healthy diet because of [its] nutritional value and as a healthy substitute for protein sources that are higher in saturated fat and cholesterol," says Pennsylvania State University nutrition researcher Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD.
How Do You Buy It?
In my supermarket, you can find two types of edamame in the frozen vegetable section: shelled or with the pods. Both are already cooked and ready to be thawed and eaten.
I keep a bag of each in my freezer. I like the edamame in pods as a snack -- you have to work harder to get to each soybean this way. And I use the shelled edamame in cooking (casseroles, soups/stews, noodle or rice dishes, etc.).
At the very least, you can keep a bag of edamame in pods around for a low-maintenance finger food. Just thaw it and keep it in the refrigerator for a quick snack. It's perfect for when you (or a family member) are hungry but it's still an hour or more until dinner. For only 120 calories, 1 1/8 cup of the edamame in pods is very satisfying, thanks to its protein, fiber, and a touch of smart fat.