Miso has recently ascended the ladder of trendy foods and is being utilized in a variety of ways by chefs to add the mysterious umami taste that is largely absent in American cuisine. However, Eastern healers have employed this “super food” for centuries as a tool to reduce the risk of degenerative disease, contribute to overall health and add exceptional flavor and depth to their food. And, although it took a couple thousand years, modern scientific inquiry has begun to catch on to the ancient folklore and has found that the daily use of miso can be a potent medicine in the fight against a variety of Western ailments.
While simply hearing of the healing power of miso was enough encouragement for me to give it a spin, reviewing the three secrets of its power will make converts out of us all.
1. Bastion of Health
The benefits of miso start with its tremendous nutrient profile. Miso is a great source of iron, calcium, potassium, B vitamins and protein. In fact, miso, which is made from fermented soybeans, is high in complete proteins that contain all essential amino acids and should be considered an important source of protein for herbivores and carnivores alike. Further, soybeans are about 20 percent oil and are an excellent source of quality polyunsaturated fats. This variety of fat is so beneficial that the FDA has even recognized its ability to lower “bad” cholesterol and has authorized manufacturers of soy products to label them as able to reduce the risk of heart disease. Yes, please.
2. Disease Mercenary
Also, miso is no friend to lifestyle disease, which is becoming more and more pervasive with every cheeseburger or milkshake we stomach. In addition to miso’s ability to improve cholesterol, the soybeans from which miso is produced contain the isoflavon Genistein, which has been shown to inhibit cancers ability to grow and spread. Further, Genistein is a powerful antioxidant that helps eliminate the free radicals that pollute our bodies. A product of our environment, diet and stress, free radicals have the keen ability to cause cellular degeneration and a host of other health concerns. This is particularly important for active individuals and endurance athletes, because exercise produces a crazy amount of free radicals.
3. Fermenting Force
The complex combination of ingredients and the magical process of double fermentation transform the lowly soybean into a digestive force to be reckoned with. The fermentation process helps break down the complex proteins, oils and carbohydrates found in miso and aids in the digestive process. Also, as soybeans are fermented, lactobacilli increases which facilitates assimilability of nutrients while promoting a healthy pH in the digestive system. As an individual with a cantankerous stomach, this digestive stimulation is a godsend and is the major reason I maintain a diet high in miso.
While miso is gaining widespread notoriety for its ability to heal and improve health, the majority of the benefit I receive is from the “connectedness” I feel with the earth and myself after drinking a huge bowl of miso soup. Its strange ability to comfort and soothe in even the most stressful of times has me convinced that a life without miso is a life that is not fully in line with my desire to be happy, healthy and of service to my fellows. Plus, it’s pretty darn tasty to boot.
Matthew Lovitt is an avid runner, writer, reader, eater, cooker, yogi and student of holistic nutrition.