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Is Natto Paleo?

Jeremy Hendon | July 29

Is Natto Paleo?Natto may not be a food with which you are intimately familiar, unless you’re really into Japanese cuisine. In fact, you may not even know what natto is.

What is Natto?

Simply, natto is a fermented form of soybean.

It’s often eaten for breakfast with a bit of rice but can also be found in sushi and other Japanese foods.

Natto has a very pungent smell that deters some people from eating it. Moreover, the fermentation process makes the soy beans form stringy strands.

Traditionally natto was made by fermenting the soybeans in straw, but nowadays, fermentation is done in much more sterile conditions, for better or worse.

Potential Concerns

To begin with, natto is made from a legume, which should immediately relegate to the non-Paleo realm. (Read here for more about why legumes aren’t Paleo.)

And not only is natto made from a legume, it’s made from soybeans, which are very high in phytoestrogens that can disrupt your body’s hormones.

Generally, you should probably try to avoid soybeans as much as possible – especially in processed forms like tofu and soymilk.

Why Natto Might be Very Good for You

Natto, soybeans, and PaleoMost of the problems with legumes are made worse by the fact that legumes are generally eaten as staples. In other words, they’re eaten constantly, rather than just occasionally.

However, unless you live in certain parts of Japan, natto is not likely to be something that you eat on an ongoing basis.

In addition, natto has a huge advantage: it’s fermented.

As you probably know, fermented foods are generally pretty healthy foods. The fermentation process breaks down a lot of toxins (including phytic acid), and fermented foods often serve as beneficial prebiotics.

In the case of natto, this is certainly true. It’s a great prebiotic, but even more importantly, natto is exceptionally high in Vitamin K2. If you’re not familiar with vitamin K2, it’s partially because it isn’t found in many foods at all. Natto is certainly the best source.

Mark has the most succinct analysis here of why K2 is such an important vitamin, but general research shows that it prevents osteoporosis and reverses arterial calcification. In other words, it’s a pretty awesome vitamin.

Is Natto Paleo?


It’s arguable whether it was eaten a million years ago, but it really doesn’t matter. Natto has a lot going for it nutritionally, and has relatively few toxins, so long as you’re not eating it on a daily basis.

Huge Caveat

Almost 100% of the Natto that we’ve found in supermarkets in the United States have quite a few added ingredients that you should avoid.

Most natto that we see contains added MSG and also a huge amount of sugar, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Those tend to be the worst additives, but we’ve seen countless others.

Obviously, even to the degree that we consider natto to be Paleo, you should be very careful about what’s in the natto that you purchase at a supermarket.

Let me know what you think! Do you eat Natto? Can you stand the smell? Where do you get it?

Images (in order): jasja dekker and juicyrai.

Robin Huber - February 18

I’m half Japanese and have loved (obsessively) natto since I was a child. I believe natto usually does not contain many additives, but the seasoning packet that comes with it does. Usually there is a seasoning packet (looks like soy sauce) and often (not always) a hot mustard packet (it’s yellow). I use the mustard and a dash of my own soy sauce. That way it’s more healthy. Yum! If you’re not used to natto, try eating it alongside other Japanese food in a meal. The flavor will make more sense in that context. Sprinkle a little finely chopped green onion on the top. And if you’re into safe starches, have it with very hot steamed white rice. Or make it into a sushi hand roll. Yum! If you think of it as a health food that you can force down, it will be horrible. Natto is very Japanese, and it likes to be consumed with respect within its proper cultural context. Good luck.

    Jeremy Hendon - February 18


    Thanks for the info and suggestions. We’re going to be in Japan in early April, so I’ll definitely be consuming Natto in its proper context a few times. 🙂

    Tallwheel - March 16

    I live in Japan and I eat Natto without using the seasoning packet or mixing anything into it at all. It doesn’t taste like much, but it is mostly the texture that I crave. I eat 4 packs a week. Hope the positive health effects are not outweighed by the negative.

Nickolas - March 21

wait so paleo has nothing to do with what early pre agricultural ancestors ate but what is healthy despite the fact that early gatherer’s to this day ate wild legumes and never ate cow? Despite the fact that meat contains trans fats proven to be the cause of heart disease and inflammation

    Jeremy Hendon - March 21

    Any discussion of diet and health necessarily involves a discussion of evolutionary science. It’s the basis of all modern biology, whether we like it or not. I’m sad that you you think that meat has been “proven to be the cause of heart disease and inflammation.” Nothing could be further from the truth in terms of proof, but I do understand that a lot of people have spun things in that direction. My general advice is to not eat meat if you believe that or if you just don’t want to. I’m the last person who would ever want to force anyone to eat meat. I just try to give people the tools to make the best decisions possible, although hoping for everyone to agree with me would be silly.

      Nickolas - March 22

      Sad? Really? Well meat contains trans fats and that has been proven to cause heart disease. Hmm? It’s not about me. It’s about children and their future. This is more important than killing animals for pleasure. Sure if eating meat didn’t jeopardize everything fine eat it all you want or do drugs I don’t care but when it effects me. I wonder do you have any suggestions on where we can find a few more planet Earths?

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