The Joy of Soy
by Nancy Ling, RD
In ancient times, the soybean was cultivated from its wild state to become an agricultural staple food for humankind. The Chinese farmers who first grew it saw that this remarkable food helped keep their families healthy. We now know that soybeans contain carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils and healthful isoflavones, all of which make the soybean one of the most healthful foods on the planet.
Today, this crop thrives on thousands of farms throughout America's heartland. In the U.S., 2.2 billion bushels of soybeans were grown in 1992, accounting for 51% of the world's production.
Who eats America's soybeans? Not many Americans - at least, not directly. Americans are more likely to eat the cattle and pigs that consume soybeans than they are to consume soy foods like tofu and soy milk. However, as the benefits of vegan foods become more apparent, many Americans are turning to these previously foreign delicacies and including them as part of their regular diet.
Nutritionally, soybeans provide protein that is equivalent to the protein in meat, milk and eggs. They also contain a group of special natural ingredients not possessed by other beans, known as isoflavones. Isoflavones are chemical compounds produced by plants that are like hormones produced by humans. Scientific studies have found that isoflavones are likely to help in fighting heart disease and cancer, promoting bone health and relieving symptoms of menopause.
On November 10, 1998, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a rule allowing a health claim that links the consumption of soy protein with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. The FDA based its conclusion on numerous studies cited in the petition submitted by Protein Technologies International, Inc. (PTI), on May 4. In general, the consumption of 25 grams of soy protein per day had a cholesterol-lowering effect. Americans can achieve this level by consuming foods containing 6.25 grams of soy protein four times a day.
In order for a soy product to carry the health claim, it must contain at least 6.25 g. of soy protein. The following are examples of soyfoods that could be combined to reach the 25g of soy protein recommended to achieve the cholesterol-lowering benefit:
Soyfood: Whole cooked soybeans
Amount: 1/2 cup
Soyfood: Roasted soynuts
Amount: 1/2 cup
Soyfood: Soynut butter
Amount: 2 tbsp.
Soyfood: Soy flour (whole grain)
Amount: 1/2 cup
Soyfood: Soy flour (de-fatted)
Amount: 1/4 cup
Amount: 4 oz.
Soyfood: Firm Tofu
Amount: 4 oz.
Soyfood: Soft or Silken Tofu
Amount: 4 oz.
Soyfood: Regular Plain Soymilk
Amount: 8 oz.
Tofu is a versatile food made by curdling hot soy milk. Also known as soybean curd, it's low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol. With a unique, custard-like consistency, tofu acts like a sponge in recipes, absorbing flavors from other ingredients. There are four different types of tofu. They vary by firmness, texture and nutritional value.
1. Extra firm tofu contains less water and maintains its shape very well, making it ideal for slicing, dicing, frying and broiling. With the highest protein and fat content, this type of tofu can be frozen and thawed, then added to casseroles, lasagna or spaghetti sauce in place of beef.
2. Firm tofu is not as dense, though it also holds its shape for slicing, dicing and frying. It works well in desserts and dressings and as a cheese substitute, particularly for cottage cheese, ricotta or cream cheese.
3. Lower in both protein and fat, soft tofu is ideal for blending into dressings and sauces. It can be used to reduce the amount of egg used in a recipe and to replace sour cream or yogurt.
4. Silken tofu has a much finer consistency, and is available in extra firm, firm and soft varieities.
A variety of types and brands of tofu can be purchased in grocery stores. Tofu is usually found in the produce section, although some stores sell it in the dairy or deli sections. An excellent source of high quality vegetable protein, tofu contains all nine amino acids that people must consume for good health. It also can be a good source of calcium. One of the curdling agents used is calcium salt.
Tofu TipsAdd chunks of firm tofu to soups and stews.Mix crumbled tofu into a meatloaf for a pleasant light dish.Mash tofu with cottage cheese and season to make a sandwich spread.Create your own tofu burgers with mashed tofu, breadcrumbs, chopped onions and your favorite seasonings.Add a package of taco seasoning to pan-fried, crumbled firm tofu, or a mixture of tofu and ground beef, for tofu tacos.Blend dried onion soup mix into soft or silken tofu for a cholesterol-free onion dip.Stir-fry firm tofu with olive oil and vegetables, and season with soy sauce.
Soy milk is a healthful, satisfying beverage for health-conscious and/or lactose-intolerant people. It has a smooth, creamy texture and a mild sweetness. Soy milk is made by grinding dehulled soybeans, mixing with water and cooking. Finally, the liquid is filtered and sweetened.
Soy milk is a smart choice for anyone seeking to limit their cholesterol, fat or sodium intake, and for those who want to reduce or eliminate lactose from their diets. A good source of protein, thiamin, iron, phosphorous, copper, potassium and magnesium, it contains little sodium, it's low in saturated fat and is cholesterol free. Some brands are fortified with calcium, Vitamins D and B-12.
Soy Milk Suggestions
Try plain or flavored soy milk as a refreshing drink with breakfast or lunch.Pour soy milk over hot or cold breakfast cereal.Use soy milk to make cream sauces.Make rich pancake and waffle mixes.Create your own delicious shakes with soy milk, ice cream and fruit.Use soy milk to make cream soups.Use soy milk instead of milk or evaporated milk to make desserts.
Try these soy-licious recipes!