If the only time you've ever eaten miso soup is at a Japanese restaurant, it may be time to reconsider that approach and add miso to your weekly or even daily menu. If you're trying to eat healthier and incorporate more plant-based recipes into your diet, know that miso soup has been linked to health benefits such as improving gut health, as well as fighting inflammation. And studies have linked it to help reduce heart disease and even fight cancer cell growth. Here’s what you should know about this uniquely nutritious food.

Why is miso healthy?

Miso is widely used in Japanese cuisine to add a deep umami taste to dishes, but the benefits go far beyond taste. It’s also about improving the nutrition content of your meals;  miso is a double win because it’s fermented and soy-based, both recommended by nutritionists. “I encourage people to eat more fermented foods and soy foods in their diet, even daily,” says, Sharon Palmer, RDN, a plant-based dietitian in Los Angeles and author of the cookbook California Vegan.

Here are five reasons to eat more miso:

1. Miso is anti-inflammatory

Soybeans contain anti-inflammatory compounds called isoflavonoids and phenolic acids, powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals that cause inflammation and cellular aging. Your gut breaks these isoflavones down into agents that help fight inflammation, which helps prevent chronic conditions and diseases, including heart disease.

2. Miso is heart-healthy

One study from the journal Nutrients notes that soy’s main heart benefit comes from its ability to lower LDL (or so-called “bad”) cholesterol. Another from Internal Medicine found that eating miso soup as a regular diet staple can lower heart rate in individuals aged 50 to 81 without affecting blood pressure, perhaps a surprise given that miso contains salt.

3. Miso can boost your gut health

Fermented foods like miso boost beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, which can aid in immune health, Palmer says. A study done at Stanford School of Medicine found that eating fermented foods for 10 weeks improved the diversity of bacteria in the gut, which shifts the microbiome to be healthier and improves immune response. If you are looking for a natural source of probiotics, add miso soup to your diet. (See below for recipe.)

4. Miso is high in vitamins and nutrients

Miso contains valuable minerals and nutrients, including B vitamins, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, choline, copper, manganese, and vitamins E and K.

And, because it’s made from soybeans, miso is also a rich source of plant-based protein with over 3 grams per ounce.

5. Miso has been shown to halt cancer cell growth

In a 2013 study done on mice at Hiroshima University, researchers showed that a steady diet of miso soup can protect against radiation poisoning which has applications to how this food can possibly slow or halt cancer cell growth. In the same study, not only did miso help halt the growth of stomach, liver, and colon cancers, it also worked to keep blood pressure low in these individuals.

The Nutritional Value of Miso

People often wonder how many calories miso contains. Here is the nutritional profile of 1 tablespoon or 15 grams of miso:

  • 30 calories
  • 2 grams of protein
  • .9 grams of fat
  • 3.5 grams of carbohydrate
  • .63 milligrams of iron
  • .49 milligrams of zinc
  • 5 micrograms of folate
  • 1.37 grams of salt

What are the different types of miso?

Miso comes in three basic types: White, yellow, and red.

White miso

White miso, also called Shiro miso, is the mildest and sweeter in flavor and is often used in sauces and glazes for a subtle flavor.

Red miso

Red miso, also called brown miso is fermented the longest and is the most pungent. It has a saltier flavor and is best for soups.

Yellow miso

Yellow miso is somewhere in the middle between white and red in flavor and is often used in broths as well as to make miso butter.

Which miso you choose will depend on how much flavor you want to impart upon your miso soup or whatever dish you’re making.

Palmer recommends using miso in recipes that call for a sauce or broth such as soups, stews, stir-fries, casseroles, and vegetable and grain dishes. Just a spoonful will work, she adds.

What does miso taste like?

Miso is a fermented paste made out of soybeans, a grain, salt, and a mold called koji, and it imparts a delicious flavor to your recipes, which has an unexpected benefit.

Miso adds what’s called an umami flavor to your meals, says Palmer. Umami has been called the "fifth” flavor, namely one that’s savory in nature, something that she says is often lacking from plant-based foods.

By adding miso to your plant-based creations, you’ll boost their flavor, making them more satisfying and enjoyable, which means you may then eat more plants. And the more plant-based you eat, the better, given that plant-based diets can reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and hypertension.

Try this healthy miso soup recipe with fresh vegetables and tofu

Bottom Line: Regularly eating miso fights inflammation and improves gut health

Add miso to your diet on a regular basis for its ability to improve gut health, fight inflammation, protect heart health and even halt cancer cells. And because miso is fermented, you’ll get an array of nutrients and probiotics, which will boost healthy bacteria in your gut microbiome.