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Why is natto a superfood?When you think of Japanese cuisine, fresh, delicate flavours and intricately presented sushi food come to mind. Amidst all this loveliness, gooey, sticky and stinky fermented soybeans seem somewhat out of place.
Called natto, this stinky dish is lesser known in Europe, but some Japanese (sushi) restaurants offer it as part of their menu and some Asian supermarkets stock it as well.
Natto has a long history as a super food. This little-known Eastern health secret has been a staple in the Japanese diet for more than 1,000 years.
Nutritionally, natto does have a lot to offer. A serving provides the same amount of protein as a similar amount of beef, but with fewer calories.
Natto is a fermented soy food with a distinctive, powerful smell that has been described as similar in pungency to fermented ripe cheese. Or worse, like foot odour mixed with paint thinner.
While some love the taste and will eat it on its own, it's often served with condiments such as sliced green onions, wasabi or pickled ginger.
As a dish it often comes wrapped in rice and seaweed. In Japan, many eat natto at breakfast with rice and, sometimes, with mustard, soy sauce, broth, vegetables or a raw egg.
Natto is a food that divides Japan: half of the Japanese population hates it while the other half likes it.
Natto may not sound that appealing if you aren't a fan of funky flavours, but the growing body of research supporting its health benefits certainly is.
Why eat natto?Many of natto’s most potent health effects are related to fermentation. Fermentation improves the digestibility of soy and increases nutrient absorption by your body.
All fermented foods and drinks are good sources of probiotics—essential to optimal health, especially digestive health. A particularly powerful probiotic called Bacilus subtilis is used to ferment the soybeans in natto.
If you want to increase your youthful longevity—and gain more beautiful skin, a healthier heart, stronger bones, and a sharper mind—you might want to make Japan’s best-kept health secret a regular part of your diet.
Natto contains unique enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids that help fight heart attacks, strokes, osteoporosis, and intestinal disease.
The main player in natto is nattokinase, an enzyme extracted from natto. Nattokinase has the ability to get into the blood stream and can directly destroy blood clots, thin the blood and improve blood flow. It cleans out the blood vessels, reducing the risk of hypertension and stroke and can also reduce the risk of heart attack.
Natto benefits offers supreme protection against blood clots. Natto’s blood clot-dissolving properties are said to rival those of very expensive blood thinners used in the emergency room for heart attack patients—but with longer lasting benefits and no side effects. Both the isolated nattokinase as a singular supplement as well as the food serves as a natural, side-effect free alternative to pharmaceutical anticoagulants.
Natto is also a rich source of vitamin K2, which is important for bone health. In a 2012 Japanese study, scientists found that habitual intake of natto was associated with significantly higher bone mineral density, which they ascribed largely to the vitamin K content of natto. Other research tracking the bone mineral density change of postmenopausal Japanese women over time discovered that those who consumed natto regularly were less likely to experience bone loss, and as such, may be better protected against osteoporosis.
Natto benefits also provides lecithin, linoleic acid, and fiber, which purifies the blood and improves digestion.
Furthermore, natto is a great source of Vitamin PQQ. This little-known vitamin is essential for maintaining healthy skin, and must be obtained primarily through diet.
Finally, natto benefits have even been shown to help fight against pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.
If you can’t acquire a taste for natto (or fail to get hold of it), some of the benefits may be attained via a supplement containing nattokinase. While nattokinase doesn't contain all of the active ingredients natto can offer, most people still report significant results from taking nattokinase. <
Benefits of fermented foodsFermented foods are well worth incorporating as they are considered probiotics, because they contain live bacteria. There is evidence fermented foods are beneficial in the treatment of diarrhoea, IBS, inflammatory bowel disease and also just for protection against infection generally.
Even if are sensitive to soy, you may find natto completely tolerable. That’s because the fermentation process breaks down the proteins that are difficult to digest, and that are the source of sensitivity for most people.
Fermentation also increases some of the micronutrients in food, B vitamins particularly, and for some people it can make food more digestible.
If you’re keen to branch out into Japanese fermented foods, sipping on miso soup, using pickled vegetables as a seasoning or trying natto itself is a great place to start.
Or branch out to Korea and get acquainted with their famous fermented health food, kimchi.
Westerners who have grown to appreciate natto for its health benefits, have experimented eating it not just with Japanese condiments but also with Western condiments such as mustard and mayonaise.
Or to 'hide' it in foods such as yoghurt or cottage cheese.
It is best to eat natto cold. If you do heat it, don’t exceed 65°C, because the enzymes lose their effectiveness.