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Natto has enjoyed a prominent place in Japanese cuisine for centuries, but it wasn't commercially produced in the United States until the 1960s. Since it's simply fermented soybeans, natto retains their nutritional benefits, including a good dose of potassium. It makes a healthy addition to your meal plan because most Americans don't get sufficient potassium in their diets.
To produce natto, soybeans are cooked and then fermented with the bacteria Bacillus natto for a short time. The resulting dish has a very pungent odor, a sticky, stringy texture and a strong, cheese-like flavor. You can find it frozen and fresh in specialty stores. If you buy it fresh, keep it refrigerated and eat it within one week, or by the date suggested on the package, because it has a short shelf life.
One-half cup of natto has 638 milligrams of potassium, or 14 percent of your recommended daily intake. All adults need 4,700 milligrams daily, except women who are breastfeeding; their potassium needs increase to 5,100 milligrams daily. You don't need to worry about consuming too much potassium when you get it through your diet, but supplements can cause dangerously high levels. Talk to your health care provider before taking potassium supplements.
If you're like most Americans, your diet only provides about half of your recommended daily intake of potassium. The amount you consume is worth tracking because you need potassium to keep your heart beat regular and to stimulate muscles and nerves. A deficiency in potassium can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke. It also counterbalances the impact of consuming too much sodium by lowering blood pressure.
You'll get more than potassium from a serving of natto. One-half cup supplies 24 percent of your recommended daily allowance of magnesium and zinc, and 17 percent of calcium and vitamin K. Soybeans are one of the few plant-based foods that contain complete protein, and natto is a rich source, supplying more than 28 percent of the RDA. You'll get 186 calories and 5 grams of fiber from a half-cup serving. Even though it has 10 grams of fat, most of it consists of healthy unsaturated fats that lower cholesterol.
Eat natto plain or mix it with seasonings, such as hot mustard, red pepper flakes, ginger and garlic. Serve it on top of rice or use it as a spread on whole-grain crackers. Saute shiitake mushroom caps in olive oil and top them with natto, chopped scallions and low-fat Parmesan cheese. Add a nutritional boost to your favorite salad by turning natto into a dressing. You can blend it with sesame oil and garlic or mix it with your favorite Italian or tahini dressing.