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3 “can’t miss” health benefits of miso soup

3 “can’t miss” health benefits of miso soup

Pale, translucent and innocuous-looking, miso soup is not one of the more bold or colorful dishes to grace a table.  But this unassuming Asian soup actually offers up the sought-after, hard-to-define quality known as umami.  Expressed in Japanese as the “essence of deliciousness” and sometimes called the “fifth taste,” umami goes beyond the four basic flavors of sour, salty, bitter and sweet into the area of “savory.”  (The best examples of other foods with umami include those with satisfying, pleasing tastes such as cheeses, mushrooms and meats.)

But, there’s even more to miso soup than its umami.  This traditional Japanese delicacy contains not one, not two, but three super-healthy ingredients: miso paste, tofu and wakame seaweed.  And, this trio of superfoods is responsible for some pretty impressive health benefits.

Probiotic miso benefits immune system health

Miso made from soybeans is considered a source of complete protein, as it contains every amino acid needed for human health.  It is an excellent source of the mineral manganese – needed for healthy brain and nerve function -- with an ounce of miso paste containing 12 percent of the recommended dietary intake. 

Miso paste is also a good source of vitamin K -- which supports bone health -- and of zinc, important for immune function.  Other nutritional goodies in miso include various B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus and choline.  As if that weren’t impressive enough, miso is a probiotic food, which helps to balance “friendly” bacteria in the gut microbiome, the community of microbes in the intestinal tract. 

A balanced gut microbiome promotes efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients, defends against toxins and pathogens, promotes healthy metabolism and weight, and even influences mood and cognition.  Other potential benefits of miso include reducing inflammatory bowel disease-related discomfort such as gas, constipation and diarrhea.  In fact, a study published in Gastroenterology showed that probiotics isolated from miso reduced inflammation resulting from colitis.

Calcium-rich tofu promotes bone and heart health

Tofu, which is made from soybean curds, is – like miso -- a good source of plant-based protein.  In fact, between the two ingredients, an 8-ounce bowl of miso soup contains a respectable 5.6 grams.  Soy isoflavones in tofu may help reduce levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, and studies have supported the ability of daily tofu consumption to help decrease weight and total cholesterol.

In addition, regular consumption of soy foods is believed to help reduce bone loss and increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.  Tofu also contains healthy amounts of calcium and magnesium, which support  muscle and nerve function and regulate blood sugar levels.  According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, men should get 1,000 mg of calcium a day while women need 1,200 mg.  Miso soup, with 60 mg of calcium per bowl, can help you reach this goal.

Iodine-rich wakame offers surprising benefits to skin and hair

As a marine plant, wakame is high in amino acids from seawater, which can help promote skin hydration and contribute to keratin formation needed for healthy hair and nails.  This wholesome seaweed also contains fucoxanthin, a marine plant pigment with anti-inflammatory qualities, and omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to heart health.  According to a study published in Nutrition Research and Practice, wakame also may lower blood sugar in people with diabetes, reduce insulin resistance, improve lipid profiles and increase antioxidant activities.

With a negligible 5 calories, two tablespoons of wakame supply healthy amounts of manganese and folate.  And, a gram of wakame contains 28 percent of the reference daily intake for iodine, which is needed to produce thyroid hormones responsible for supporting metabolism, protein synthesis and cell repair.  Other nutrients in wakame read like a veritable “Who’s Who” of essential vitamins and minerals -- including calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K.

Miso soup combines intriguing flavors and textures

Miso, a type of fermented soybean paste, is fermented by means of a fungus known as Aspergillis oryzae.  To make miso soup, miso paste is stirred into a Japanese soup stock known as dashi, which is made from sea kelp and flakes of bonito fish.  While the words “paste,” “fungus” and “kelp” may not sound particularly appetizing, the finished soup is a delight to eat. 

Properly prepared miso soup features a delicately-flavored broth highlighted by chunks of silken tofu, zingy scallions and strips of tasty, chewy rehydrated wakame seaweed. If you want to make your own miso soup, you can find miso paste, wakame, tofu and dashi in Asian supermarkets. (Pro tip: Natural health experts advise getting unpasteurized miso, which features live enzymes.  And, of course, buying organic miso and tofu can help you avoid GMOs.)

One word of caution: Miso soup is relatively high in salt, with a one-ounce serving of its primary constituent, miso, providing a whopping 43 percent of the recommended dietary intake. If you are watching your salt intake, you may want to enjoy miso soup sparingly.  And, if you have thyroid disease, check with your integrative doctor about eating miso soup.

If DIY soup-making isn’t your “thing,” you can simply order a bowl at your favorite Japanese restaurant or sushi bar – and reap the benefits.  Miso soup is a great addition to your healthy diet.

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