What is Edamame?
Edamame is/are immature soybeans still in the pod. They are a popular Eastern Asian cuisine snack and are prepared by steaming or boiling the seeds while still in the pods. They can be ordered at most sushi bars and restaurants. With some salt, they are a pretty tasty appetizer.
What are Lectins?
Lectins are proteins produced by plants that help to defend themselves against predators. You see, since plants can’t run away or bite the animals that eat them, they use chemicals like lectins to immobilize and kill their prey. When a human eats a plant full of lectins we don’t get immobilized or fall over and die (most of the time: See Risin). Instead, we might experience some mild intestinal distress.
Although, over time, lectins can have significant deleterious effects on your health. For example lectins have been shown to disrupt the digestive system, compromise the immune system, cause weight gain, and even cause arthritis.
How Does Edamame fit into this whole thing?
In order to answer this question we first must have a basic understanding of evolutionary biology.
Plants want to have as many offspring as possible. So do all living things. The more offspring an organism has, the better the odds are of that particular organism having reproductive success. This is how you “win” at the game of evolution: you propagate your genes throughout as many generations as possible.
One of the ways plants try and spread their genes as much as possible is by producing fruit. When you think of fruit, you probably envision a big juicy apple or peach, which is correct; they are fruit. However, the scientific definition of fruit is simply the ripened, fertilized ovary of a plant.
Plants have coevolved with animals to produce sweet, sugary and energy dense food so that animals will eat the fruit and pass the seeds in different locations after leaving the animal’s digestive tract. Essentially, animals serve as seed spreaders for plants.
Now, put yourself in a soy plant’s shoes for a minute. In order for a soy plant to produce its seeds or beans, the plant needs to first get fertilized by another soy plant. Then the soy plant needs to devote significant energy towards growing those beans. In the meantime, to deter animals from eating the soybeans prematurely, the soy plant intentionally increases the toxicity of the seeds by increasing the seed’s lectin content. This This is the main reason why edamame are filled with lectins.
Fermentation Eliminates Lectins
Many soy products, like soy sauce, for example are fermented. The fermentation process helps to remove these damaging lectins and makes the soy more tolerable. Edamame on the other hand, does not undergo the fermentation process. They are harvested when they are “green” or immature, which is when the seeds have the highest lectin content.
Edamame’s Other Toxic Compounds
Besides being filled with toxic lectins, edamame and many soy products such as tofu are considered phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are basically compounds produced by plants that mimic the estrogen molecule in animals. Phytoestrogens have been shown to disrupt male fertility and cause breast cancer in women.
Goitrogens disrupt your natural thyroid production by interfering with the body’s ability to absorb iodine.
Edamame are the immature seeds of the soy plant. They are served in many Japanese restaurants and are quite tasty. Unfortunately, they are filled with lectins. The soy plant itself contains lectins, but since edamame are harvested when they are immature, there is a large increase in their overall lectin content.
Besides containing lectins, edamame contains phytoestrogens, goitrogens, and a high omega-6 fat content. These compounds all have deleterious effects on health and well being.