Soy and Health
Soy is a product obtained from the soybean plant. It's high in protein and, when used in place of animal meat, reduces the amount of fat in the diet. (Meat from animals is often high in saturated fat - the kind that is linked to heart disease and some types of cancer.) Soy may protect against heart disease. Studies have found women and men who begin eating soy experience lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and triglycerides. Study subjects also experience small increases in HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). Observational studies find Japanese women, who typically consume large amounts of soy, have higher bone mineral density than American women. Japanese women also have lower rates of breast cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration now allows manufacturers of soy-based products to tout the health benefits of soy on their package labels. Look for products that contain the following information: "Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of (name of product) provides ___ grams of soy protein." To qualify for the label, a single serving of the product must contain at least 6.25 grams of soy protein, less than 3 grams of fat, less than 1 gram of saturated fat, less than 20 milligrams of cholesterol, and low sodium (less than 480 mg. for individual portions, less than 720 mg. for main dishes, and less than 960 mg. for complete meals).
Soy in the Diet
Soybeans are available in several different forms. Green vegetable soybeans are beans harvested while they are still green and sweet. They can be served as a snack or cooked as a vegetable. Miso is a smooth paste made from soybeans, grains (such as rice), salt, and mold culture. Soy milk is a beverage made by grinding dehulled soybeans and mixing them with water to form a liquid. Soy milk can be further processed to make soy cheese, soy yogurt, nondairy desserts, and soy-based whipped toppings. Tofu is made from hot, curdled soy milk. Depending upon the processing, it can have a firm to soft texture. By itself, tofu is a very bland product. However, it picks up the flavor of other ingredients in a recipe, so the taste can vary greatly. Soy flour is made by roasting and grinding soybeans into a fine powder. It adds protein and moisture to baked goods, desserts, and other foods. Tempeh is a chunky soybean cake made from cultured soybeans. It can be grilled, fried, steamed, or marinated and is often used as a meat substitute. Soynuts are roasted soybeans that are soaked in water and baked until brown and crispy. Textured soy protein is made from defatted soy flour that's compressed and dehydrated. It has many uses as a meat substitute.
Getting the recommended 25 grams of soy/day may seem like a daunting (and maybe even taste-challenging) task. However, with a little planning, you can easily replace many everyday foods with soy products. A single soy burger contains about 10 to 12 grams of soy protein. An 8-ounce glass of soy milk contains about 10 grams of protein. If you don't like the taste of soy milk as a beverage, use it in baking and cooking. And just a quarter cup of roasted soy nuts contain 19 grams of soy protein. You can also top pizzas with soy cheese or soy meat analogs.
For general information on soy and soy products:
American Dietetic Association, http://www.eatright.org
American Soybean Association, http://www.amsoy.org
U.S. Soyfoods Directory, http://www.soyfoods.com