Healthy Living

Natto: Surprising Benefits for Your Heart, Brain, and Skin

Natto: Surprising Benefits for Your Heart, Brain, and Skin

What is Natto?

Natto is a staple food in Japan made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis. It is usually served with soy sauce, karashi mustard and Japanese bunching onion. 

Natto is rich in macronutrients and micronutrients. Natto is a great source of proteins, vitamins, minerals and fibers. During fermentation process, the bacillus subtilis in natto produces an enzyme nattokinase, which produces vitamin K2. People who eat natto on a regular basis experience its numerous health benefits.

Natto is rich in minerals such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron and potassium, manganese and selenium. One cup of natto provides 31 g of proteins, 134 percent manganese, 84 percent iron, 58 percent copper 50 percent magnesium, 38 percent calcium, 36 percent pota2ssium, 35 percent zinc, 30 percent phosphorus and 22 percent selenium. one cup natto also provides 51 percent vitamin K, 38 percent vitamin C, 20 percent riboflavin, 19 percent thiamine, 11 percent vitamin B6, 4 percent folate and pantholenic acid. The sodium content is low in natto.

Natto is made from soybeans and needs to be fermented with Bacillus subtilus. It is a traditional Japanese dish. Unless soybean is fermented, it cannot be eaten since it may create some health issues. Soybeans are soaked overnight and then for about an hour, they are steamed. Then, powdered bacillus subtilus which is natto bacteria is sprinkled on them and then they are fermented for 24 hours. Then, they are cooked and aged so that its flavor and texture develops.

Often, Japanese people eat natto with rice, mustard, broth, raw egg, soy sauce and vegetables. Some countries have natto sushi, natto dusted with sugar, natto ice cream and natto toast. Often, natto comes wrapped in sea weed and rice. In western diet. it is a challenging food since it has an odd texture, pungent odor and assertive flavor. It has a nutty, salty and strong flavor and its texture is slippery.

Natto has been looked upon as a remedy for cardiovascular diseases and a health food in Japan. Vitamin K in natto regulates the calcium level in the body and maintains the deposits of calcium in the bones and does not allow it to accumulate in the arteries. Also, it reduces the risks of cancer and heart disease. Nattokinase is known to prevent blood clots. Its supplements are available in the form of capsules. It helps to dissolve blood and lower blood pressure. As an alternative to anticoagulant drugs, supplements of nattokinase are promoted. However, more studies need to be done to know its effectiveness and safety.

Natto and Vitamin K

In the typical western diet, almost 90 percent of the vitamin K is obtained from green leafy vegetables. Vitamin K is produced by certain type of bacteria in plants. The western diet consumption makes up to 10 percent of vitamin K.

Some health benefits are enlisted below:

  • In postmenopausal women, natto reduces bone loss by 80 percent.
  • By arterial calcification, natto reduces blood clots and enhances the function of liver and increases the flow of urine.
  • Vitamin K2 is shown to stay longer in the body, hence it has better bioavailability. It is effective even at lower doses.
  • Immune system can be suppressed by natto.
  • Source of vitamin K.

Primarily, vitamin K1 is found in green leafy vegetables and vitamin K2 is produced by bacteria. Natto is a rich source of both, vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Vitamin K helps in blood regulation, blood clotting prevents bone loss and calcification of arteries. Rarely, any food contains vitamin K and natto is one of those rare foods that contains vitamin K. 23.1 mg of Vitamin K can be obtained from a serving of 100 g. This incorporates 20 percent of our daily intake. Deficiency of vitamin K causes osteoporosis and increases the chances of bleeding.

Other Health Benefits of Natto

  • Rich source of Probiotics - In order to make natto from soybeans, they need to be fermented. Soybeans contain antinutrients which our body finds difficult to digest and they can also cause bloating, nausea. The amount of nutrients our body can absorb is reduced by natto. Health issues can be caused if the soybeans are not fermented. They can cause dysfunction of hormones and thyroid. When soybeans are fermented, these problems are eliminated.The level of antinutrients can be reduced by natto fermentation. Also, fermentation is beneficial for health. Significant amount of bacterial cultures is present due to fermentation process. These bacteria act as a natural laxative and an excellent remedy for constipation. They also help the digestive tract. The right type of bacteria creates a healthy gut environment and healthy gut flora. This provides numerous health benefits such as improved digestion.Against toxins and harmful bacteria, probiotics are our body’s first line of defense. Probiotics not only aid in digestion, but also reduce symptoms such as diarrhea and bloating, which is associated with antibiotics. Also, it reduces symptoms of Chron’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis.Foods rich in probiotics per serving contain 5-10 billion colony forming units. Between the ranges of one million to one billion colony forming units of bacteria can be obtained from per gram of natto. The probiotic bacteria, bacillus subtilus, obtained from natto helps to fight against pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli. Bacillus subtilus was earlier used to treat intestinal problems and dysentery. Bacillus subtilus also treats gastrointestinal conditions, fights cancer, prevents allergic disorders and the immune reaction of intestinal cells is increased.
  • Source of Calcium and Magnesium - Natto contains calcium and magnesium. Calcium is required to strengthen the bones and teeth and magnesium is required for absorption of calcium. 217 mg of calcium contains 100 g of natto. It fulfills 22 percent of the recommended daily intake. 115 mg of magnesium is delivered in 100 g of natto, which is 29 percent of recommended daily intake.Natto is an ideal food, since it contains calcium and magnesium in large quantities. Natto helps in the process of bone building and protects the bones from diseases such as gout, arthritis and osteoporosis. Bacillus natto bacteria produce vitamin K2, which helps in calcium deposition in our bones. One study showed that bone mass loss was reduced due to consumption of 160 grams of natto per week.Also in people with osteoporosis, vitamin K2 helps maintain bone mineral density. It helps to prevent fractures of bone. Polyglutamic acid in natto helps in calcium absorption. This is a typical compound found in natto. Also, study has revealed a link between lower rates of cervical bone breakage and consumption of natto. 
  • Good Source of vitamin C - 13 g of vitamin C is obtained form 100 g of natto. This is about 13 percent of our recommended daily intake. Vitamin C contains antioxidants that scavenges free radicals and thus protects the body from damage. Free radicals are harmful since they can cause cancer and degenerative diseases such as cystic fibrosis. Also, vitamin C boosts our immune system.
  • Source of Iron and Proteins - Iron and proteins can be obtained form natto. Protein is required for body building and iron is needed for oxygen transportation to the lungs. Normally, nutrients such as iron and proteins that are obtained from meat can be obtained from natto. Hence, it becomes an important source for vegetarians. 17.7 mg of proteins and 8.6 mg of iron can be obtained from 100 grams of serving. This fulfills 35 percent of recommended daily intake of protein and 48 percent of daily intake of iron. Natto provides all 8 essential amino acids.
  • Weight Loss - For those trying to lose weight, natto is a great option since 100 grams of natto contains 5 grams of dietary fiber and 212 calories. Its fat content is 11 grams and these are good fats which our body needs for energy production. Hence, people who consume natto and do not want to gain weight, need not worry about it.
  • Healthy heart - Natto reduces the level of cholesterol since it contains fiber and probiotics. Natto contains an enzyme nattokinase, which can be produced from fermentation process. Nattokinase helps dissolve blood clots. Angiotensin converting enzyme helps control blood pressure. Research has shown that natto by inactivating angiotensin converting enzyme helps lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that in patients with blood pressure of 130/90 mm of Hg or higher, nattokinase supplements reduced the blood pressure by 3-5-5 mm Hg. Vitamin K2 also prevents accumulation of calcium deposits in arteries. Studies have revealed that the risk of dying due to heart disease was lowered by regular intake of vitamin K2. In another study, it was revealed that chances of heart disease were lowered by 9 percent by intake of 10 mcg of vitamin K2. Hence, natto is linked to lower heart disease risk since it is a source of vitamin K2. Natto helps break clots, prevents its formation and thus improves blood circulation.
  • Healthy skin and Purification of blood - Linoleic acid, fiber and lecithin present in natto help in improving the process of digestion and also help purify blood. Natto is also rich in Vitamin PQQ, a vitamin obtained from diet, which is essential for maintaining healthy and beautiful skin. For maintenance of healthy skin, blood purification is necessary. Both can be achieved from natto.
  • Fermentation process - Fermentation process makes the soybean proteins easy to digest and absorb. This is beneficial to those who have gut issues when eating legumes. Nattokinase produced during fermentation process is also helpful in beriberi, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, pain, infertility, cancer, endometriosis, muscle spasms and uterine fibroids.
  • Makes immune system strong - Several nutrients in natto boost the immune system. Healthy gut flora achieved from probiotic-rich foods such as natto boosts the production of natural antibodies and also prevents harmful bacteria from inhabiting the gut. Also, they increase the recovery time and lower the risk of infection. Also, the need of antibiotics for recovery from any infection is reduced by 33 percent. Vitamin C, iron, selenium, copper and zinc obtained from natto helps boost immune system.
  • Risk of certain cancers is reduced- The isoflavones and vitamin K2 in natto may help lower the risk of certain cancers such as of liver, breast, prostrate and digestive. However, the protection offered by natto against certain cancers needs to be further studied.
  • Longetivity- Japanese enjoy a life of about 5 years longer than the Americans since each year they consume billions of packets of natto.
  • Improve brain health- Since natto is rich in probiotics, it may help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism. 

Nutrients in Natto

It is one of the healthiest foods in Japan. It has a lot of nutritional benefits provided by the nutrients present in natto. They are:

  • B-complex vitamins - Natto removes physical fatigue and also helps eyes to recover from fatigue. Natto makes the hair and skin healthy.
  • Nattokinase -It is known to effect metabolism and anti-aging.
  • Natto Lecithin - Keeps the blood thin and prevents thrombus. Also, it prevents myocardial infarction and cerebral infarction.
  • Polyamine - This nutrient present in natto helps prevent pimples, stains and prevents the skin from becoming rough.
  • Isoflavone - This hormone balances the female hormones and thus prevents breast cancer. Also, it prevents the symptoms of menopause and bone diseases.
  • Dietary fibers - It prevents constipation by keeping the intestine clean and it maintains the health of the skin.
  • Calcium - It helps to maintain the thickness and health of the bones.

On a regular basis when natto is consumed, it is beneficial in various ways such as:

  • Effective against osteoporosis
  • Effective against hip fractures
  • Helps fight against fibromyalgia
  • Effective against high level of cholesterol
  • Reduces the risk of colon cancer
  • Prevents heart diseases, stroke and heart attack
  • Prevents vitamin deficiency diseases 
  • Provides relief from constipation
  • Reduces menopause-related symptoms

Natto is recommended by doctors to be included in our daily diet. For people who seek vitality and longevity, natto is am excellent option. Since it contains flavonoids and isoflavones, it can also help prevent breast cancer. Since it contains phytoestrogens and has blood thinning effects, it protects the heart from diseases.

Side Effects

More research is needed to be done to know about its safety and its interactions. One cup of natto serves 371 calories which would be nearly 20 percent of the recommended daily intake. Natto is rich in proteins, but too many proteins may result in health conditions like kidney stones or osteoporosis. It is better to be cautious when taking nattokinase in supplement form.

Key Takeaways

  • Natto is a traditional Japanese food. It is one of the healthiest foods.
  • It is an excellent source of proteins, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals and is also rich in vitamin K.
  • The various nutrients in natto enable it to fight against intestinal diseases, heart attack, cancer, stroke, osteoporosis, cancer, senility etc.