I love natto… there, I said it!  For the five years I have been in Japan, I have been reluctant to try the pungent, stringy and slimy looking substance the Japanese love so much.  Everything about it turned me off.

On a trip to Nagasaki with our Japanese friends, Tanda-san sat at a completely different breakfast table so we wouldn’t smell his fragrant bowl of natto.  He said it was healthy, but at that time it just wasn’t enough for me to try it.

Then my Japanese friend, Tomomi, told a few friends and me about the health benefits of natto when she took us on a fabulous market tour.   She said we should just bite the bullet and try it.  Marinda was first — she is so positive about everything and definitely not afraid of anything.  Heck, she has lions, tigers and giraffes in her backyard in Zebula, South Africa, so a little slimy natto is nothing.  She bought 4 packs, brave soul, and reported that she had never felt better after eating it for breakfast, and, she stayed full until lunchtime!  Hmmm… full until lunch, lots of energy, how could it be that bad?  So, I ran to Union, the newly opened and fabulously fine supermarket near me in Roppongi to get some.  I bought a 4 pack that looks like it is for kids, the portion size is so small (likely why the Japanese are so petite).

The container holds MAYBE a heaping tablespoon, maybe.  And inside, I found a teeny tiny packet of mustard (karashi) and a small packet of soy sauce.  I peeled back the waxed paper covering which was stuck to the beans like glue and when it pulled off, brought with it a stringiness I hadn’t expected.  And, oh, and the smell!   It was quite strong and stinky, like stinky cheese or my son’s gym socks.  Not very appetizing in the least, first thing in the morning.  But onward I continued… first the squirt of mustard and then the soy sauce.  I stirred it up with my tiny spoon and dug in.  It was strange.  It was kind of gritty, yet slimy like okra, with the texture of slightly firm baked beans.  I wasn’t too impressed, but I got through it, and, felt GREAT!  Truly!  Was it psychosomatic?  I don’t know, but the next day, I thought I’d try it again.  And once again, felt great all morning long!  Then I decided to make it a 30-Day Natto Challenge and see what happens.

The numerous health benefits of natto are astounding.  Back in WWII, it was used for its antibiotic effects against dysentery.  Today, they say it decreases hot-flashes, blood clotting and stroke (that’s from the high Vitamin K2 content), slows the aging process, relieves constipation, suppresses carcinogens, decreases cholesterol, increases circulation, increases energy levels, helps prevent cancer, increases joint health and increases the bioavailability of nutrients in the gut.  That’s a lot!  I wonder if it comes with a ginsu knife?

After reading research on polyamines, what natto proponents claim decreases inflammation in the body, I’m not sure I understand.  Polyamines are responsible for cell growth… all cells need them and consume them, even cancer cells.  The more polyamines, the bigger the cancer, right?  They are using polyamine deprivation in the treatment of cancer, especially ones sensitive to hormones like prostate and breast cancers.  They are making cancer drugs that block the ability of cancer cells to utilize polyamines for their growth.  In my mind, this contraindicates polyamines, more specifically spermidine, the polyamine in natto, as an anti-inflammatory.  I’d really like a greater understanding on this one before I blindly say how good it is for me.

For now, I will stick with my 30-Day Natto Challenge and see how I feel.

Who’s with me?