Are Edamame Beans Safe During Pregnancy? Benefits and Risks

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Soy is a controversial food, so it’s no wonder that if you’re pregnant, you might find yourself double-checking if edamame and other soy-based foods are safe for you to eat.

Edamame is generally safe during pregnancy, but it cannot be eaten raw – whether you’re pregnant or not. As usual during pregnancy, good food safety will help you eat edamame safely.

I’ll show you what you need to know about any potential health implications of edamame and how to safely enjoy it in any trimester!

Are Edamame (Soy) Beans Safe When Pregnant?

Although there’s a lot of controversy around soy, edamame is generally safe during pregnancy. However, the beans should always be thoroughly cooked before eating. Raw or undercooked edamame is not safe.

Edamame are immature soybeans served still in the pod. They are usually boiled or steamed and can be served with salt, soy sauce or other condiments. 

A lot of the concern about pregnancy safety is based on studies about baby boys. There were concerns that consuming soy could cause baby boys to have an increased risk in hypospadias, which refers to differences in the position of the opening of the urethra, and cryptorchidism, which are undescended testes, in animal studies.

Animal studies have some noted births with abnormalities after being exposed to soy isoflavones but animals and humans do not metabolize soy isoflavones the same way. Studies on humans did not reveal any significant long-term effects when it came to babies being fed soy formulas (Source: NCBI).

A study on rats found that consuming high amounts of soy foods during pregnancy could suppress the baby’s immune system. It also observed a lower weight at birth in baby girls (source: International Journal of Toxicology).  However, phytoestrogens were not found to increase the risk of this (Source: EHP).

Small studies on humans as well as animal studies reported that phytoestrogens can impact the baby’s reproductive system, such as the brain, reproductive tract, and external genitalia while in utero (source: National Library of Medicine).

Keep in mind, that many of these studies have been on animals, were short-term, or had few human participants. We still don’t know the full effects of soy, but it’s still thought to be generally safe in food amounts.

raw edamame beans with salt and soy sauce

Here’s what to keep in mind when it comes to safely consuming edamame:

Raw Edamame: edamame should not be eaten raw. Raw edamame has been reported to cause illness. Always make sure to cook edamame thoroughly. If cooking at home, be sure to follow the cooking instructions on the packaging. If you’ve not cooked the beans yourself, always check that they’ve been cooked sufficiently.

Always follow any cooking instructions given for edamame, or they could make you sick. For example, a woman in the UK became ill after she cooked edamame in the oven for a short period of time but the packaging had instructions to fry them (source: Metro).

Frozen Edamame beans: frozen edamame usually comes pre-cooked, just like frozen peas! They should be re-heated before being added to stews, salads, risotto or enjoyed alone.

Cooked Edamame: cooked edamame is safe if cooked properly. The beans should be boiled for three to five minutes. Cooked edamame can be enjoyed alone or in a salad.

Roasted Edamame: edamame can be bought pre-roasted and seasoned or can be cooked in the oven. Ensure that they have been cooked in the oven at around 375F/190C for 20 minutes. They are usually seasoned with spices for a healthy alternative to potato chips or popcorn. 

Do Edamame Beans Affect Estrogen Levels?

Soy is a phytoestrogen. This is a plant-based compound that can behave similarly to estrogen. 

Edamame is a source of a phytoestrogen called isoflavones. Isoflavones can replicate activity similar to natural estrogen in the body which means that they can alter levels of estrogen in the blood (source: National Library of Medicine).

Phytoestrogens have been linked to health benefits such as a lowered risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, and menopausal symptoms but they are also considered to be endocrine disruptors which may have the potential to have negative health effects too.

Studies on how phytoestrogen impacts health have had mixed results so there is no solid answer (source: Front Neuroendocrinol). 

As the results are mixed, there is no consensus on whether this is a good thing or not. For this reason, it’s best to consume edamame in moderate amounts. 

The Benefits of Edamame Beans for Pregnancy

Edamame is loaded with beneficial vitamins and minerals. Edamame is also a great source of protein. 

With veganism and vegetarianism becoming more popular, soy is a good plant-based source of protein. Foods like tofu and soy milk are more popular than ever. During pregnancy, it’s important to have enough protein in your diet to help the fetus and placenta grow.

vegan tofu bowl with rice, edamame beans, radish, carrots and cucumber

Soy is a complete protein, which means it all has all nine essential amino acids that our body cannot synthesize. Other plant-based proteins such as nuts and seeds are incomplete proteins, which means they do not have all nine of these amino acids.

Incomplete proteins need to be mixed and matched to ensure you’re getting everything you need.  As your blood volume expands and maternal tissues form, it’s recommended that pregnant women increase their protein intake (source: Advances in Nutrition). 

Edamame is an excellent source of folate (source: Nutrition Data). Folate, which is also known as vitamin B9, has been linked with lowering the risk of complications such as preeclampsia and birth defects such as spina bifida (source: Plos One).

It’s not uncommon for pregnant – or menstruating women – to become anemic. Folate can help to create red blood cells. These cells help to carry oxygen around the body which is why amenia is not always caused by low iron levels. It’s also been linked with having the potential to protect against preterm birth (source: Obstetrics & Gynecology). 

Edamame is also a good source of manganese. Manganese plays a role in the formation of your baby’s bones. Keep in mind that too much of this mineral can slow down fetal growth, and impact your reproductive health (source: University of Rochester Medical Center).

You can also get some Vitamin K from edamame. This vitamin is linked with blood clotting and the formation of bones and protein in the liver (source: NHS). Consuming too much can cause oxidative damage and red cell fragility (Source: Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals 2003).

I hope this article cleared up any concerns you had about eating edamame during pregnancy. Overall, edamame has many benefits if you’re expecting, and so long as the beans are fully cooked and eaten in moderation, there’s no reason not to enjoy them!