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updated: 3/21/2013 11:57 AM

Ask the Nutritionist: Edamame looks like a vegetable, has meat-like qualities

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  • Fresh, green soybeans, aka edamame, are full of fiber, phytochemicals and protein.

      Fresh, green soybeans, aka edamame, are full of fiber, phytochemicals and protein.
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Q. I keep hearing about a form of soy called edamame. What can I do with it?

A. Edamame (eh-dah-MAH-may) are fresh (not dried) green soybeans. Although smaller than lima beans, they have a buttery, nutty flavor much like baby limas. Sometimes you can get them fresh in the grocery produce section, though usually it's easier to find them in frozen form, often with other frozen vegetables or in a natural foods section.

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Edamame must be cooked before serving (often by steaming or boiling about 10 minutes), but can be served in or popped out of the pod. Whether served hot or cold, when still in their pods, you put the pod to your lips and pinch, so the beans pop into your mouth. The pod is not eaten.

Purchasing shelled edamame makes it easy to add them to soups, stir-fries, rice or salads. Try using them as an alternative to peas in casseroles; their texture holds up even better, they make small portions very satisfying and they can substitute for all or part of the meat you usually use.

In Japan and China, edamame are popular as snacks, usually served still in the pod in one large bowl from which everyone helps themselves.

While they look like vegetables, they have the nutritional content of a substitute for meat. A half-cup of cooked beans contains more than 8 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber and supplies the nutrients and phytochemicals found in all soy foods.

Q. Is it easier to lose weight and keep it off by sticking to three meals a day or by grazing on more frequent mini-meals?

A. You've probably heard that eating smaller amounts more often might boost metabolism, and by keeping you from getting hungry, might make it easier to cut calories, providing twofold benefits to make weight loss easier. However, we don't actually have studies that clearly support such claims. Good quality research on this question is lacking; most studies tend to be small and short-term.

One statistical analysis of available studies found no association between eating frequency and weight loss or maintenance. A review of studies focused on appetite and calorie consumption found no overall daily differences between eating three meals a day or more often. A few studies link eating four or five times a day with less likelihood of obesity than eating more or less often, although this beneficial effect seems more apparent among men than women.

Here's what is critical for both weight and overall health: What you choose to eat and your portion sizes. A snack or mini-meal can provide an opportunity to include healthful foods you haven't worked in to other meals, help you avoid getting over-hungry and fuel physical activity occurring long after the previous meal. Eating more frequently could also mean more snacking on unhealthy choices, with less attention to a balanced selection of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans or other healthy sources of protein.

Experiment to see what eating frequency works for you, keeping you from getting so hungry that you overeat, while providing opportunities for an overall healthful pattern of food choices.

• Provided by the American Institute of Cancer Research

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