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):
- 120 calories
- 9 grams fiber
- 2.5 grams fat
- 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat (0.3 grams plant omega-3 fatty acids)
- 0.5 gram monounsaturated fat
- 11 grams protein
- 13 grams carbohydrate
- 15 mg sodium
- 10% of the Daily Value for vitamin C
- 10% Daily Value for iron
- 8% Daily Value for vitamin A
- 4% Daily Value for calcium
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:
- 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.
Cooking with Edamame
Edamame are more than just a snack -- they make a great ingredient in recipes.
There are lots of recipes in the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic collection to which you can add shelled edamame, such as:
- Parmesan Artichoke Dip
- Easy Three-Bean Salad (edamame can take the place of one of the types of beans)
- Pesto Pasta Salad
- Most of the entrée salads
- Any of the soup/stew recipes
Just journal the amount of edamame you add as starch/legume without added fat.
Here are a couple more recipes to help send you on your merry edamame way!
Journal as: 2 eggs alone without fat, 2 ounces low-fat cheese, 1/4 cup legumes without added fat, 1 cup vegetables without fat
Don't let the list of the ingredients scare you. This is easy to whip up and very filling.
1 large egg
2 egg whites or 1/3 cup egg substitute
1 tablespoon fat-free half-and-half or any type of milk
1 teaspoon olive oil (or substitute canola oil)
1 1/2 cup fresh raw spinach leaves, loosely packed
1/3 cup shelled edamame, frozen or thawed
1/8 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/8 cup finely chopped sweet or yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup shredded grated cheese of choice (cheddar, Swiss, etc.)
1 medium tomato or 1 1/2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh herbs, such as chopped parsley or basil (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
- Add egg and egg whites or egg substitute and half-and-half to 4 cup measure and whisk until smooth; set aside.
- Add olive oil to nonstick medium frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. When hot, add spinach, edamame, bell pepper, onion, and garlic and sauté until spinach shrinks down and onion is lightly brown (about 2-3 minutes).
- Pour in egg mixture and reduce heat to medium. Continue to gently stir and cook until eggs are soft and cooked throughout.
- Turn off heat. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Top with tomatoes and cover frying pan with lid. Let sit for a couple of minutes to melt cheese. Sprinkle fresh herbs over the top as garnish, if desired.
Yield: 1 large serving or 2 small servings.
Per large serving: 415 calories, 37 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 18 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 7.7 g monounsaturated fat, 4 g polyunsaturated fat), 229 mg cholesterol, 8 g fiber, 430 mg sodium (not including added salt). Calories from fat: 39%.
Journal as: 1/2 cup vegetables with 1 tsp fat + 1/4 cup starch foods and legumes with fat
OR 1 side salad mixed
If your guests or family members don't care for olives, leave them out. This salsa is great with reduced-fat tortilla chips and as a garnish for quesadillas or burritos.
1 cup frozen petite corn kernels, thawed
2.25-ounce can sliced ripe olives, drained
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/3 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup prepared light vinaigrette salad dressing
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (optional)
1 avocado, diced
2/3 cup shelled edamame, thawed
Pepper to taste, if desired
- Add corn, olives, bell pepper, onion, and garlic to a medium bowl.
- Pour light dressing into the corn mixture and toss to blend. Add pepper to taste, if desired. Cover and chill in the refrigerator all day or overnight.
- Right before serving, add the diced avocado and edamame into the corn mixture and stir.
Yield: Four 1/2-cup servings
Per serving: 190 calories, 6.5 g protein, 19.5 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 6.6 g monounsaturated fat, 3 g polyunsaturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 254 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 52%.