Edamame photo
Photo by Magic Robot

If you’re like many people, you hear the word edamame and ask, “Eda-what?”

Edamame, which is the Japanese word for “twig bean” (eda=twig, mame=bean), is—you guessed it—a kind of bean. Basically, you can think of edamame as boiled green soybeans, and their healthful benefits have been touted far and wide ever since Faith Hill started snacking on them backstage during concerts. But is edamame really a healthful Paleo option?

Edamame are the babies of the soy family—young, and still in the pods—but that doesn’t make them any less of a soy product. So for those following the Paleo lifestyle, where soy and its toxins are well-known and completely unwelcome, edamame is already down by a few points. Soy contains powerful toxins, especially phytoestrogens (note the term “estrogen” in that word). These toxins interact with estrogen receptors in the body, which can throw off hormones and lead to a whole host of unwanted side effects; one study discovered a possible link between phytoestrogens and irregularities in the prostate, including cancer.

Additionally, edamame is unfermented, meaning that toxins like phytic acid and gluten have not been broken down by the fermentation process. All of these toxins contribute to general inflammation and intestinal irritation, so knowing that we can find them in edamame is yet another strike against these little beans.

However, it may be too early to throw edamame out of the race just yet. Compared to other sources of soy, edamame has a clear advantage: the fatty acids are mostly monounsaturated (which is great!), and compared to mature soybeans, edamame’s phytoestrogen levels are quite low. The beans also have a decent amount of magnesium and folate, a B-vitamin that helps our body to replicate DNA and divide cells properly. That’s pretty important!
Since edamame have both toxins and helpful nutrients, it can be difficult to know just where on the Paleo spectrum these baby beans fall.

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says: “Not Primal, but don’t stress over a couple handfuls at a sushi restaurant. While I wouldn’t make it a regular part of my diet, edamame appears to be relatively benign as an occasional snack. Just don’t eat bucketfuls, don’t make it baby’s first food, and don’t get into edamame pancakes or some silliness like that.”

The team at Whole9 says: “Do not eat legumes. This also includes all forms of soy—soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, tamari and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).”

So is edamame Paleo?

No, but don’t panic if you slip up.

Because edamame has lower levels of toxins compared to other forms of soy, fitting it in as an occasional snack might be fine. It’s not really that bad, but avoiding it entirely is still the best option.

Issue No. 30

Photo by Magic Robot

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