We all know how versatile a jar of miso paste can be. It can instantly transform a multitude of everyday dishes – try adding a spoonful to your next spaghetti bolognaise or add an extra kick to your salad dressing. Not forgetting how it can be enjoyed in it’s most classic of forms, a quick and easy, tasty miso soup. A complex flavour, this fermented food is quite simply a kitchen cupboard essential. But did you know that miso also has a wealth of health benefits? Nutritionist Cassandra Barnes has listed just some of the many health benefits that miso offers – it certainly packs a powerful punch!
1) Building strong bones
Miso is a great natural source of vitamin K2, which helps calcium to be stored in our bones. Now, you may think you get plenty of vitamin K from green vegetables, but they contain vitamin K1, which is not thought to be as effective for this purpose – although it does have other important roles. Miso also provides the minerals manganese and phosphorus, which supports bone strength too.
2) Good for your gut
Unpasteurised miso in particular can be great for our digestive health. It’s a natural source of friendly bacteria, which plays many vital roles in gut health, including breaking down and absorbing nutrients and helping to keep the ‘bad’ bugs at bay. For the greatest benefits, make sure you go for unpasteurised miso, as the pasteurised versions are heat-treated and will contain only minimal – if any – beneficial bacteria. And if you’re using unpasteurised, don’t heat your miso to high temperatures, for the same reason; add it to sauces or cooked foods at the end of cooking, or use it in dressings, dips or spreads.
We’ve seen that unpasteurised miso – that contains natural ‘friendly’ bacteria – may support our gut and digestion. But our immune system may benefit from this effect too. This is because there are lots of immune cells and tissues found in and around the gut. The friendly bacteria in the gut are thought to help ‘train’ these immune cells to recognise which substances are safe and which are unsafe, and respond appropriately. Miso is also a good source of zinc and copper, which play important roles in immunity.
4) A source of protein for vegans/vegetarians
Clearspring’s Brown Rice Miso (RRP £4.49, www.clearspring.co.uk) can be a helpful source of protein – especially for vegans and vegetarians, who may be more likely to fall short in this nutrient. It’s worth noting that the protein in fermented forms of soya beans – such as that found in miso – can be more easily digested than unfermented forms such as tofu and other beans and pulses. So miso is worth including in your diet even if you feel you get lots of protein from these other sources.
5) Hormone balancing
The natural phytoestrogens found in soya foods may be beneficial for women’s health and hormone balance – especially from around the time of menopause onwards. The greatest benefits are linked with eating traditional fermented forms of soya such as miso – as Japanese women do – rather than unfermented forms such as tofu or soya milk.
Miso provides energy-supporting B vitamins, manganese, copper and phosphorus. All of these nutrients play a role in converting the food we eat into energy.
7) Heart health
We’ve seen that vitamin K2 in miso is good for our bones. But the same nutrient is helpful for our heart and blood vessels too. While it helps calcium to be stored in bones, it helps to prevent calcium being stored in the arteries where it could cause hardening and stiffening, helping to keep them flexible. Vitamin K1 as found in vegetables may not be as useful for this purpose as the vitamin K2 in miso.
8) Memory and brain health
Among the many nutrients in miso are B vitamins, zinc and copper. These all play various roles for the nervous system and brain. Miso also contains a nutrient called choline. Choline is not only vital for the nerve cells that make up our brain; it also helps to make a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is vital for storing new memories.
9) Healthy hair
Miso is rich in two important nutrients for our hair: zinc and copper. Zinc is essential for healthy hair growth and hair condition, and copper is one of the most important nutrients to maintain hair pigmentation and prevent those greys setting in!
10) Antioxidant protection
Miso is a particularly good source of the minerals copper and manganese. Both have a role in our antioxidant defences, including helping to make one of our body’s most important antioxidants, called superoxide dismutase. For this reason, these nutrients help protect against disease and could even help keep us looking younger!