Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans, and is characterized by its strong taste, pungent smell, and gooey texture. Natto isn’t well-known outside of Japan, and its acquired taste and unpleasant appearance probably confines it to a limited audience. Nonetheless, natto can be found in some Western health food stores for one reason: it is highly nutritious. In fact, the health benefits of natto are so considerable that some stores sell it in capsule form so that people can take it as a dietary supplement.
What Natto Does for Us
Rich in vitamin K – Not many foods contain both vitamin K1 (which is found in leafy green vegetables) and vitamin K2 (which is produced by bacteria), but natto is one of the rare exceptions; one 100 gram serving of it contains 23.1 micrograms of this important vitamin, which is 29 percent of our recommended daily intake. Vitamin K is needed to regulate blood clotting, and to prevent bone loss and the calcification of arteries. A deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, increased bleeding (including menstrual bleeding), and a delayed response to wounds and bruises.
Good source of probiotics – One of the main reasons why natto is healthy is because its soybeans are fermented. While processed, non-fermented soybeans can cause health problems like thyroid and hormone dysfunction, the fermentation process eliminates these issues. Moreover, fermented soy contains a lot of beneficial bacterial cultures that aid our digestive health and serve as a natural laxative (making natto a good cure for constipation).
High in vitamin C – 100 grams of natto contain 13 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 22 percent of our RDI. Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants on Earth, and aside from protecting us from free radical damage (which can lead to cancer and degenerative diseases such as cystic fibrosis and macular degeneration), it also contains incomparable immune-boosting properties.
Weight loss properties – 100 grams of natto provide us with a mere 212 calories, and a respectable five grams of dietary fiber (which makes us feel fuller after eating). Consequently, natto is a good breakfast for people trying to lose weight. While the same amount of natto does contain 11 grams of fat, which is quite high, these are good saturated fats needed by the body for energy.
Excellent plant-based protein and iron source – Vegetarians and vegans love natto because it provides them with numerous nutrients normally associated with meat products – with protein and iron topping the list. Indeed, 100 grams of natto contains 17.7 grams of protein (35 percent of our RDI), including all eight essential amino acids, and 8.6 milligrams of iron (48 percent of our RDI). Protein is needed to build muscles and cells, while iron is needed to transport oxygen from the lungs to our body.
Good for the bones and teeth – 100 grams of natto contain 217 milligrams of calcium (22 percent of our RDI), and 115 milligrams of magnesium (29 percent of our RDI). Most people know that we need calcium for strong bones and teeth, but not many people also know that we need magnesium to help us absorb that calcium. Since natto contains both minerals in generous quantities, it is the perfect food for building bones and guarding us from bone-related conditions like osteoporosis, gout, and arthritis.
Natto also provides us with sizable amounts of B-vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, folate, pantothenic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12 (which aid cell metabolism), trace minerals such as potassium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, and manganese, and even some omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which improve brain function. 100 grams of natto also has an estimated glycemic load score of five, meaning it has little effect on blood sugar levels and is suitable for diabetics.
About the Author
Michael Ravensthorpe is an independent writer whose research interests include nutrition, alternative medicine, and bushcraft. He is the creator of the website Spiritfoods, through which he promotes the world’s healthiest foods.