The surprising health benefits of Natto


    29th November 2023 – (Hong Kong) Natto, a traditional Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans, is one of the most divisive foods around. With its sticky, slimy texture and pungent odour, natto has a bold flavour profile that many find unpalatable at first. However, behind its acquired taste lies an incredibly nutritious food with science-backed benefits for health and wellness.

    Natto origins date back over 1000 years to feudal Japan. To create natto, soybeans are boiled and combined with Bacillus subtilis bacteria before entering a fermentation process. The resulting natto beans take on a signature sticky, stringy texture along with a potent smell. Flavour-wise, natto is savoury and umami with slightly bitter, earthy notes. It’s commonly eaten over rice and seasoned with soy sauce, mustard, green onions and other ingredients to balance its robust profile.

    Natto owes much of its nutrition to the fermentation by Bacillus subtilis. This process breaks down proteins and carbohydrates, increasing the bioavailability of nutrients. Fermentation also promotes the growth of vitamin K2, which natto contains in abundant levels.

    A 3.5 ounce serving of natto delivers a wealth of vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds:

    • 19g of protein
    • 11g of fat
    • 13g of carbohydrates
    • 5g of dietary fiber
    • 327% DV vitamin K
    • 48% DV iron
    • 74% DV copper
    • 67% DV manganese
    • 28% DV zinc
    • 27% DV magnesium
    • 17% DV calcium
    • 14% DV vitamin C
    • Probiotics
    • Nattokinase enzyme

    This nutrient density makes natto highly effective for nourishing the body from head to toe. Let’s explore some specific ways natto can boost wellness and longevity.

    Natto’s sky-high vitamin K content helps activate osteocalcin, a protein vital to bone growth and density. Specifically, the K2 form in natto is highly bioavailable and has shown efficacy against osteoporosis. Research reveals daily vitamin K2 supplementation significantly improves bone mineral density while lowering fracture risk. As people age, bone breakdown can surpass new bone formation, causing loss of mass. Natto provides a dietary weapon against this decline.

    The nattokinase enzyme has demonstrated ability to break down blood clots and prevent coagulation. Thinner blood lowers dangers like strokes, heart attacks and pulmonary embolism. For patients on blood thinners, nattokinase also reduces medication needs by mimicking such drugs’ effects naturally.

    Studies indicate nattokinase supplementation effectively reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well. Hypertension damages arteries over time, so keeping levels in check is key. The rich mineral content of natto further supports cardiovascular wellness.

    Fermented foods like natto provide probiotic bacteria that enhance gut health and immunity. Bacillus subtilis survives stomach acid to populate intestinal flora. A diverse, well-regulated microbiome wards off pathogens, infections and inflammatory conditions. The vitamin C and antioxidant activity of natto also fight free radicals that impair immunity.

    Soy isoflavones in natto demonstrate anti-cancer properties, inhibiting tumour growth and metastasis. Population research reveals that increased soy intake correlates with lower cancer rates, especially for prostate, gastrointestinal and breast cancers. Natto’s vitamin K levels also help, as deficiency has links to higher cancer risks.

    Natto’s folate content assists fetal development, while probiotics reduce the risks of preterm labour and miscarriage. Its vitamin K is vital for proper blood clotting in newborns as well. However, pregnant women should temper intake due to natto’s high vitamin K levels.

    Probiotics are well known to ease digestive issues like diarrhoea, constipation, IBS and inflammatory bowel diseases. Natto’s Bacillus subtilis survives passage through the GI tract and colonizes it with beneficial microorganisms that support regularity. Fiber serves as prebiotic fuel for these bacteria too.

    Natto provides a very filling, low-calorie protein source that stimulates satiety signals. The fibre content also delays gastric emptying. One animal study found Bacillus subtilis supplementation suppressed weight gain even on a high-fat diet. Further human research is still needed, but natto’s composition suits weight management well.

    How to Enjoy Natto

    • Mix into rice with soy sauce, mustard and chopped scallions
    • Stir into oatmeal or yogurt
    • Blend into smoothies
    • Top a bowl of ramen noodles
    • Add to scrambled eggs or an omelette
    • Mix with vegetables and grill into a veggie patty
    • Add to noodle dishes like soba or udon
    • Sprinkle over a salad for added protein
    • Fold into dumpling or tempura batter
    • Mix into tuna salad or chicken salad

    Natto can seem like an acquired taste, but integrating it with familiar flavours helps ease its robust profile. Even a few servings per week can provide benefits. Advances in preparation like freeze-drying have also made natto more approachable for novice eaters. However you incorporate it into your diet, natto deserves consideration for the wealth of nutrition it provides.