Sizing up Soy
Americans have fallen in love with the soybean. Soy foods like soy milk, soy ice cream, soy nuts, soy yogurt, soy burgers, and soy cheese are flooding supermarket shelves. And sales of soy products in the U.S. have more than tripled in the past decade to around $3 billion a year. That's a whole lot of soy.
There are many research studies that show that people who eat diets high in soy, as well as high in vegetables, have less risk for certain types of cancer.
In recent years the humble soybean, and its many incarnations (see 'Soy What?'), has been touted as a cure-all miracle worker. Convinced it can prevent everything from heart attacks to hot flashes to cancer, consumers have sent soy sales soaring. But how much of the soy hype is based on fact and how much is fiction?
Soybeans belong to the family of legumes, the same as peas and lentils. Soybeans are high in protein and fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals, and they're also loaded with phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are non-nutritive substances found in plants that are believed to offer various health benefits. Soy is naturally rich in isoflavones (a type of phytochemical), which are thought to play a critical role in the positive health aspects associated with consuming soy, such as relieving menopausal symptoms and protecting against cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
It all started in Asia. For centuries soybeans have been mainstays of diets throughout Japan and China. Asians have lower incidences of breast and prostate cancers and heart disease than Americans. They also have fewer hip fractures, and Asian women report fewer symptoms from menopause.
"There are many research studies that show that people who eat diets high in soy, as well and high in vegetables, have less risk for certain types of cancer. And there is currently a FDA (Food and Drug Administration) petition pending that will allow this type of health claim on foods containing soy", says Barbara Klein, Co-Director for the Illinois Center for Soy Foods.
Although the optimal isoflavone intake to prevent or treat specific diseases is not known, it is apparent that including soy protein in one's diet can help lower cholesterol levels. "It's generally accepted that soy consumption lowers serum cholesterol levels", says soy expert Stephen Barnes of the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
The FDA officially recognized the cholesterol-lowering effects of soy in 1999, when they told manufacturers that their labels could claim that soy can help reduce the risk of heart disease. The FDA-approved health claim states that 25 grams of soy protein per day may reduce the risk of heart disease. The FDA, however, allows soy foods that contain a quarter of that amount (6.25 grams) per serving, to carry the claim.
And your heart is not the only reason to start noshing soy. Soy protein products are excellent substitutes for animal products because soybeans are the only common plant foods that contain 'complete' protein, meaning they provide all the essential amino acids needed for human health. In fact, the amino acid profile of soy protein is nearly equivalent in quality to meat, milk, and egg protein. This means that soy products can replace animal-based foods that tend to contain more saturated fat and cholesterol. So the next time you are deciding between a hamburger and a soy-burger, go with the latter.
More good soy news: people who have trouble digesting lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in milk), and people who are allergic to milk protein, should have no trouble with soy dairy. And growing soy takes less of a toll on the environment than raising dairy cows as it takes nearly ten times more energy to produce and transport livestock than vegetables.
While soy foods clearly get the healthy green light, soy supplements are another matter. Concentrated soy isoflavones are now available in supplement form, but it remains unclear whether they can provide the same health benefits as soy isoflavones consumed as part of the diet. Mark Messina, author of The Simple Soybean and Your Health (Avery Publishing Group, 1994), advises against taking isoflavone supplement pills and capsules, as no scientific research has been done to prove that they are effective or safe.
Another concern is the variable amounts of isoflavones found in soy supplements, and how these differ from the levels in soy foods. Because you don't know what you're getting in these supplements, or even what would be a good formulation, it's best to stick with soy foods.
The Bottom Line:
The soybean is not a cure-all, but soy foods are worth adding to your diet since they help reduce the risk of heart disease and may have other health benefits. They are an environmentally-friendly, healthy substitute for meat, poultry, and other animal-based products and a delicious addition to a balanced, varied diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Whole soybeans are the basis of all soy products including:
Tofu soybean curd made from coagulated soymilk, which has been formed into blocks.
Soy Milk liquid filtered from soybeans that have been soaked, ground fine, cooked, and strained. Used to make soy ice cream, yogurt, and cheese.
Soy Flour soybeans that have been roasted and ground into a fine powder.
Soy Grits soybeans that have been roasted and cracked into coarse pieces.
Miso a fermented soybean paste used for seasoning and in soup stock.
Soy Nuts soybeans that have been soaked in water and roasted or baked until lightly browned.
Soy Sauce liquid made from soybeans that have undergone a fermenting process.
Edamame large soybeans that are harvested while the beans are still green and sweet tasting.
Textured Soy Protein defatted and dehydrated soy flour that has been compressed into meat-like shapes.
Tempeh made from whole cooked soybeans that have been fermented and made into a soybean cake.
Not just for noshing
Soy is used to make a variety of beauty products including shampoo, lotion, and soap. Soy lipids are high in the antioxidant vitamin E, which may help restore damaged tissue and regenerate skin cells.
Sneaking in Soy
The FDA recommends 25 grams of soy protein a day to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Here are some easy ways to sneak more soy into your diet:
Pour soy milk over cereal or use it in a smoothie.
Substitute soy milk for dairy milk in favorite recipes.
Combine roasted soy nuts with dried fruits for a quick trail mix, or sprinkle a handful of soy nuts over a salad.
Found in the freezer section of the supermarket, edamame (green soybeans) make a great snack or appetizer.
Order bean curd dishes and miso soup at Asian restaurants.
Cube tofu and use it in a stir-fry, or substitute tofu for ground meat in chili or lasagna.
Canned soybeans can be used interchangeably with other canned beans in soups, stews, and bean salads.
Soy flour can be used to replace some, but not all, of the all-purpose flour in a recipe. (Soy flour does not contain the protein gluten responsible for the structure in baked products.) For best results, put two tablespoons of soy flour in a measuring cup; add all-purpose flour to make one cup.
Grill soy burgers instead of hamburgers.
SOY RESOURCE GUIDE
Solae Branded Products
8th Continent Soymilk (8thcontinent.com)
Snapple-A-Day Meal Replacement Beverages (www.snappleaday.com)
V8 Splash Smoothies (v8juice.com)
Gardenburger Meat Alternatives (gardenburger.com)
Mori-Nu Tofu (morinu.com)
Yves Veggie Cuisine (yvesveggie.com)
NuGo Bars (nugonutrition.com)
Linda McCartney Spicy Peanut Pasta with Vegetarian Chicken (linda-mccartney.com)
Body Choice Premium High Protein Cookies (bodychoicenutrition.com)
El Burrito Meat Alternatives (elburrito.com)
Chocolate Dream Dessert
12 oz. semi-sweet dark chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
2 pkgs Mori-Nu Silken Lite Extra Firm Tofu
9-inch pie crust, if desired
Melt chocolate chips in microwave oven with 2 tablespoons of water. Thoroughly blend tofu in a blender or food processor. Add melted chocolate and vanilla to the tofu and blend at high speed for 2 minutes. Pour mixture into pie crust or pudding cups. Refrigerate 1-2 hours. Garnish with bananas if desired and serve.Serves 10. Per Serving (filling only): 176 calories, 4g protein, 22g carbohydrates, 10g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 38 mg sodium, 2g fiber.
Mu Shu with Twice Cooked TofuCanyon Ranch executive chef Scott Uehlein. Makes 6 servings
1/4 cup low-sodium tamari sauce
1/4 cup honey
2 tbs. sherry
1 tsp. five spice powder
2 tsp. minced ginger root
16 ounces hard tofu, cut into six 1/2-inch pieces
1 tbs. canola oil
6 wild rice crepes (see recipe below)
1 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 cup chopped scallions
1 cup sliced red onion
3 cups shredded Napa cabbage
1 cup bean sprouts
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
6 tbs. hoisin sauce
1. Combine tamari, honey, sherry, five spice powder, and ginger in a bowl and mix well. Add tofu and marinate several hours or overnight in refrigerator.
2. Prepare rice crepes and set aside.
3. Remove tofu from marinade and cut each piece in half. Reserve marinade. Heat canola oil in a large saute pan over medium. Saute tofu until golden brown on each side. Return to marinade while cooking vegetables.
4. Lightly spray a wok or large saute pan with canola oil. Stir-fry carrots, scallions, onions, cabbage, and bean sprouts until tender, but still crisp. Season with salt and pepper. Remove tofu from marinade and saute briefly again to warm.
5. Spread 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce over each rice crepe. Top with 3/4 cup stir-fry vegetables and 2 pieces tofu.
Fold in half.
Wild Rice Crepe
1/2 cup rice flour
2 1/2 tbs. cornstarch
2 1/2 tbs. potato starch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tbs. canola oil
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup cooked wild rice
1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Batter should be the consistency of heavy cream.
2. Heat a crepe pan over medium heat and lightly spray with canola oil. Measure 1/4 cup batter into pan and turn pan to quickly distribute to edges. Cook until edges begin to turn golden brown. Loosen edges and flip crepe. Cook second side for 10 to 20 seconds.
3. If making crepes ahead of time, layer with parchment paper or paper towels.