Edamame Beans: Not as Healthy as You Think

Effects of Edamame

Edamame, or immature soybean, is one of the most popular ingredients in Japanese cuisine. It is most commonly served as an appetizer, but it can also be sweetened and served as dessert. Nowadays, some people even eat it as a “healthier” alternative to popcorn.1

But while it has been widely praised for the bulk of vitamins and nutrients it supposedly possesses, edamame can potentially expose you to a variety of health risks when eaten in excess, or when eaten raw or undercooked. For more information about edamame and its possible effects, continue reading this article.

What Is Edamame?

The name “edamame” comes from its Japanese name, which directly translates to “beans on branches.”2 Edamame soybeans are harvested at the peak of their ripeness, before the pods start to harden. They are usually light green and become inedible when they start turning yellow or brown. After harvesting, these pods are partially boiled and frozen to seal in their freshness. Edamame is usually served lightly boiled, either hot or cold.3

In cultivating edamame, fields are divided between mature soybean production and edamame production. About 95 percent of the edamame found in the U.S. is imported from China. However, the production in the U.S. is slowly picking up. Edamame consumption in the U.S. is also on the rise, with an estimated 15 percent rise annually.4 This increase in the demand may be credited to the widespread advertisement of edamame as a superfood. But don’t be quick to believe all the hype, as there are potential detrimental effects linked to this food.

Is Edamame Really Good For You?

Edamame soybeans contain high amounts of lectins and other harmful toxins, which are introduced to your digestive system when eaten. Unfortunately, the toxic effects of these components may not be easily and immediately observed in your body; however, various disorders and conditions can develop over time.

One of the most pernicious toxins found in edamame are lectins. Plant lectins are proteins that function as a defense mechanism for the plant. Some of these have been observed to be pro-inflammatory, immunotoxic, neurotoxic and cytotoxic. Lectins are commonly found in grains and beans, with soybeans and wheat being the worst sources. Because edamame is an immature soybean, there’s no question that it contains the same alarming levels of this protein as mature soybeans.

In addition to the lectin content, edamame is filled with phytoestrogens. These are chemicals that are functionally similar to estrogen, and can negatively impact male fertility and increase breast cancer risk in women.5

Is Edamame Healthy?

Edamame contains proteins, calcium and various vitamins,6 but unfortunately, these are easily overshadowed by the high amounts of toxins and harmful materials in the beans. The only form of soy that is ideal for human consumption is fermented soy, which is usually available as tempeh, miso and natto, because fermentation deactivates these toxins.

However, the majority of Americans don’t consume fermented soy. If they do incorporate soy into their diet, they typically consume unfermented varieties like tofu, soy milk and edamame. Some of the possible health effects that unfermented soy can have on the body include:

  • Increased risk of blood clotting. Unfermented soy contains high amounts of hemagglutinin, a substance that can cause red blood cells to clump together and stop oxygen uptake.
  • Gastric distress. Soybeans contain enzyme inhibitors that stop protein digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Mineral deficiency. Unfermented soybeans contain high levels of phytates, dangerous substances that stop the absorption of essential minerals in the body.

In addition, the majority of soybeans available in markets across the country are genetically modified. The use of Roundup in the conventional production of soybeans does not only expose you to the ingestion of harmful chemicals, but also heightens your risk of infertility. This means that if you have high amounts of unfermented soy in your diet, you’re not only getting harmful substances from the soybeans themselves, you’re also ingesting high amounts of glyphosate because of the unnatural way these soybeans are being produced.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of soybeans without the fear of suffering the consequences, make sure that you only consume organic soybeans that has been traditionally fermented.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Edamame

Q: Is edamame a vegetable?

A: Yes. Edamame soybeans are contained in green pods, and are usually classified as vegetables.7

Q: Is edamame gluten-free?

A: Yes. But it can fall victim to cross-contamination because it’s usually prepared with numerous ingredients that contain gluten.8

Q: Is edamame paleo?

A: Like other legumes, edamame is not paleo. This is probably because soy and its many variants are a huge source of antitoxins, lectins and phytates, which all contribute to body malfunction.9

Q: Is edamame soy?

A: Yes. Edamame pods are technically immature soybeans. The only difference between these two food products is the time period in which they are harvested.10