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The Secret of Edamame

Soy snack is a yummy - and healthy - handful
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The Soy Debate continued...

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:

  • Soy protein may help reduce insulin resistance, kidney damage, and fatty liver in people with diabetes, according to a study in rats.
  • A new study from the Chinese University of Hong Kong indicated that soy protein containing isoflavones (phytoestrogens) significantly reduced overall cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol, and raised HDL or "good" cholesterol, especially in men.
  • A study in women reported that regular consumption of soy foods was associated with healthy cholesterol levels.
  • The component thought to be at least partly responsible for soy's health benefits is a type of phytoestrogen called isoflavones. Isoflavones also appear to work with certain proteins in soy to protect against cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
  • Results from a new study in China suggest that eating more soybean protein may help prevent and treat hypertension.
  • A study in which 12 postmenopausal women drank 36 ounces of soy milk daily for 16 weeks noted an anti-inflammatory effect of the isoflavones found in soy. According to the study authors, this may be important in the prevention of bone loss and cancer, among other things.

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.

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