Health Benefits of Natto

By | April 3, 2024

Medically reviewed by Simone Harounian, MS

Natto is a dish of fermented soybeans from Japan. As the soybeans ferment, they form polyglutamic acid, which gives natto a distinct sticky consistency. Some say it is an acquired taste, but it is also a beloved food for many.

In Japan, natto is often eaten for breakfast, served over rice and mixed with raw egg, soy sauce and green onions. Even if you don’t live in Japan, you can find natto at most Asian supermarkets. It is often sold in individual packages that you can heat in the microwave, although you can also find it in glass jars.

Part of the reason natto is now more readily available in the United States is because of its health benefits. It is a nutrient-dense food rich in vitamins, minerals, vegetable proteins, polyunsaturated fats and fiber. Studies show it can benefit heart and intestinal health and fight inflammation.

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Supports heart health

There are many ways natto supports heart health. First, the fiber and polyunsaturated fat in natto can help lower LDL cholesterol levels — the “bad” kind of cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, so it is important to consider cholesterol levels for your overall heart health.

Related: The 13 Best Foods to Lower Cholesterol

Research has shown that natto consumption is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. This may be partly due to nattokinase, an enzyme produced by the fermentation of natto. Nattokinase has been shown to help lower blood pressure, lower blood lipid levels, prevent plaque formation in the arteries and act as a blood thinner. These are all properties that support cardiovascular health.

Can promote healthy blood pressure

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and more if not controlled over time. If you have high blood pressure, natto may be a food worth adding to your diet.

A study of 79 North American participants with hypertension found that consuming nattokinase improved participants’ blood pressure. However, this was only one study and it had a relatively small sample size, so more robust studies are needed to confirm the benefits of natto on blood pressure.

Natto also contains several nutrients that are important for blood pressure control. These include calcium, potassium, magnesium, fiber and protein – all nutrients encouraged in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. Additionally, it is a low-sodium food, another important nutritional consideration for blood pressure control.

Supports intestinal health

Eating natto can help support gastrointestinal health because it is a fiber-rich, fermented food.

Fiber is an important nutrient for intestinal health. Fiber helps promote intestinal motility, a healthy gut microbiome, and the health of your colon.

Fermented foods have been shown to positively impact the health of the gut microbiome, or the diverse distribution of bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract. Recent research has found evidence that having a healthy gut microbiome can improve your mental and physical health and help prevent or treat many metabolic disorders.

The bacteria Bacillus subtilis used to ferment natto, acts as a probiotic: live microorganisms that can help support a healthy microbiome. Research has shown that Bacillus strains can exert beneficial effects on the intestinal microbiome and help combat inflammation in the intestines. However, many of these studies have been conducted on animals or in test tubes, so more human studies are needed to further explore these benefits.

Related: 5 Best Foods to Eat for a Healthy Gut

Reduces inflammation

Natto may also play a role in reducing inflammation. Research has found that soy isoflavones, phytoestrogens naturally found in soybeans, may help reduce inflammation, especially when linked to menopause.

Studies have also shown that soy protein supplementation has anti-inflammatory effects by reducing circulating levels of inflammatory cytokines.

Although these studies did not specifically evaluate natto, the nutrients studied are present in natto. More natto-specific research is needed to confirm these benefits.

Lunasin – a peptide naturally found in soybeans – has also been shown to inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-α and IL-6. However, most studies on lunasin’s benefits on inflammation have been conducted in vitro or in animal models, so human studies are needed to verify these potential benefits.

Related: 13 Foods That Fight Inflammation

Nutrition from Natto

Because natto is made from soybeans, a legume, it is an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber, and is also rich in vitamins and minerals. One cup of natto contains:

  • Calories: 369

  • Fat: 19.2 grams (g)

  • Saturated fat: 2.8 g, or 14% of the Daily Value (RDI)

  • Unsaturated fat: 16.4 grams

  • Sodium: 12 milligrams (mg)

  • Carbohydrates: 22 grams

  • Fiber: 9.5 g, or 34% of the RDI

  • Egg white: 34 gr

  • Calcium: 380 mg, or 29% of the RDA

  • Magnesium: 200 mg, or 48% of the RDA

  • Potassium: 1280 mg, or 27% of the RDA

  • Zinc: 5.3 mg, or 44% of the RDI

Natto is an incredibly nutrient-dense food. Like other legumes, it is rich in plant protein and fiber, which support gut and metabolic health while reducing inflammation in the body.

It is also packed with vitamins and minerals. In addition to those mentioned above, natto is an excellent source of selenium, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, choline and vitamin K.

Although it is high in fat, most of the fat in natto is polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fat can lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind of cholesterol), which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Risks of Natto

The most common risks or side effects of natto are digestive symptoms such as diarrhea or constipation. Because natto is a high-fiber food, eating too much of it at once, especially if you don’t typically eat a lot of fiber, can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea.

Additionally, natto is made from soy, so people with a soy allergy should not consume it. According to the CDC, soy is one of the eight most serious allergens. Some signs of an allergic reaction to soy may include:

In addition, soy products may interact with certain medications. This is usually the case with soy-based supplements that contain higher doses of soy isoflavones, but it is still best to consult your doctor before eating natto if you are taking any of the following medications:

  • Warfarin (Coumadin)

  • Tamoxifen (Soltamox)

  • Levodopa (Ritary)

  • Ciprofloxacin (Cetraxal)

Soy isoflavones in natto may interfere with your body’s ability to break down and absorb these medications.

Soy is considered a safe food. There is some information questioning whether soy is safe for people who have had breast cancer or are at risk for breast cancer due to soy’s phytoestrogen content (substances that mimic estrogen). Current research shows that soy products are safe for these groups.

However, soy in more concentrated amounts, such as in soy isoflavone supplements, may not be safe for these groups, or for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Soy isoflavone supplements contain much higher doses of phytoestrogens.

Tips for Consuming Natto

Natto may be an acquired taste if you’re not used to it, but there are many fun ways to incorporate it into your diet. In Japan, where natto originates, it is often eaten with rice and a raw egg.

Here are a few more tips for storing and eating natto:

  • Store it in an airtight container to keep it fresh

  • Heat it before enjoying it. The microwave works great for this

  • Enjoy natto alone

  • Make Natto Gohan: a Japanese breakfast dish with rice, topped with natto, soy sauce, Japanese mustard and green onion

  • Experiment with toppings such as avocado, kimchi, ginger, seaweed, egg and miso

  • Add it to salad or udon soup

  • Mix it with fried rice or pasta

A quick review

Natto is a fermented soybean dish packed with fiber, micronutrients and plant-based protein to support heart health and digestion. It can also help fight inflammation. Natto originates from Japan, but can be found in many Asian supermarkets. The food has a distinct taste and a sticky texture.

Because natto is made from soy, people who are allergic to soy should not eat this food. If you experience swelling of the tongue and lips, shortness of breath, or dizziness while eating natto, you may be having an allergic reaction and should seek emergency medical attention.

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