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Soy products
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

The mighty little soybean is a veritable nutritional powerhouse that has given us many interesting and versatile foods. Soy products used to be appreciated by "those in the know," health-food aficionados, vegetarians, and culinary daredevils. Thankfully, soy products are now widely consumed and are available in many forms. High in potent nutrients such as phytoestrogens (the isoflavones genistein and daidzein), and amino acids that create a high quality form of plant-based protein, soy products are also a rich source of other salutary compounds such as saponins, beta-sistosterol, and phytic acid. Other benefits associated with soy products are that they are low in saturated fat, and contain no cholesterol and are high in soluble and insoluble fiber. No wonder, then, that soy products have generated a large number of studies investigating a myriad of uses for soy in the prevention of disease. Soy may be instrumental in reducing symptoms of menopause as well as the risk of developing certain cancers, atherosclerosis, and possibly osteoporosis.

Soy Products and Heart Disease
Soy protein is a high-quality plant-derived protein that contains essential amino acids necessary for the building and maintenance of human body tissues. One of the few plant proteins with protein quality comparable to that derived from animal sources, soy protein in foods such as tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and baked goods made with soy flour, has been shown to have significant cardiovascular protective properties. Clinical studies have shown that replacing animal protein with soy protein in the diet lowers total and LDL cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol. A meta-analysis of 27 research studies concluded that soy protein lowers total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides, without lowering HDL ("good") cholesterol in people with high cholesterol levels.

In fact, to heighten awareness of the cardiovascular protective properties in soy protein, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently authorized a nutrition label claiming that at least 25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a low-fat diet, can lower blood cholesterol levels in people who have high cholesterol. Soy products containing at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving are allowed to bear the FDA approved health claim label. There is evidence that isoflavones associated with soy proteins enhance these cholesterol-lowering effects. Soy protein's potential to reduce risk of heart disease is also attributed to its ability to inhibit LDL oxidation, thus reducing onset of atherosclerosis. Soy protein has become a meat substitute, a milk substitute, and an important ingredient in baby formula.

Soy Products and Phytoestrogens
Soy isoflavones are phytochemicals (naturally occurring plant chemicals) in soy products. Some isoflavones, such as genistein and daidzein, exert mild estrogenic effects and are thus called phytoestrogens. Structurally similar to estrogen, soy isoflavones have the capacity to bind to empty estrogen receptors and relieve hormonally based symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes. It is this ability to decrease hormone reception that also seems to be the mechanism by which phytoestrogens such as soy isoflavones prevent hormone-dependent cancers. Soy isoflavones are currently being investigated for their anticancer activity, particularly in relation to hormone related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer. While researchers think that the chemoprotective potential attributed to soy is due specifically to the isoflavones, genistein and daidzein, some studies suggest that for some individuals high soy consumption may pose health risks such as disruptions in hormone balance or induction of certain hormone dependent cancers.

It should be noted that soy protein may decrease the absorption of iron, and thus if you are concerned about your iron intake, it would be prudent to consume iron-rich foods separately from soy foods. Also, if you have gout, you should go easy on soy products as they contain purines, which can aggravate this painful condition.

Varieties

Most traditional soy products, such as soymilk, tofu, miso, and tempeh, are rich sources of isoflavones (providing about 30 to 40 milligrams per serving). But not all soy products are created equal: The way each soy product is prepared will affect soy isoflavone content accordingly. While the amount of soy required to exert health benefits has not yet been determined, it is clear that the health benefits associated with this versatile food may prove to be significant.

Products derived from soybeans are varied in form, taste and texture, and include miso, soymilk, tempeh, tofu, soy sauce, soy cheese, soy flakes, soy grits, soy flour, texturized vegetable protein, among others.

Soy flour: See Soy flour.

Soy sauce: Soy sauce is a piquant, dark brown, salty condiment that is popular throughout the world. Soy sauce is derived from fermented soy beans mixed with roasted grain (wheat, barley, or rice are common), injected with a special yeast mold, and flavored with salt. Flavor, color and consistency of soy sauce depends upon how it is processed. Different types of soy sauce include light, dark, mushroom soy sauce, and tamari. Light soy sauce (not to be confused with low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or "lite" soy sauces) is saltier than the darker varieties. Dark soy sauce is thicker, richer, and more pungent in flavor. Mushroom soy sauce has Chinese straw mushrooms added to it and has a pleasant, rich flavor. Tamari is a dark soy sauce from Japan. It is thicker than Chinese-style soy sauce and has a strong, robust flavor. Available in wheat and non-wheat versions, tamari retains its flavor after cooking. Low-sodium and reduced-sodium soy sauces are available in all varieties. Once opened, soy and tamari should be refrigerated.

Use soy sauce to season dishes, sauces, and marinades. Even reduced-sodium soy sauce is relatively high in sodium so use it in small amounts if you are salt sensitive.

Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP): TVP is a highly nutritious substance derived from isolated protein extracted from soybeans. Low in fat and rich in protein, TVP adds flavor and texture to foods. TVP is often added to an endless variety of foods such as sauces, casseroles, stews, seafood dishes, meat, and cereals. TVP absorbs flavors well and is available in powder form, chunks, slices, and granules. Dehydrated TVP has a long shelf-life, and may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three months. Once the TVP is rehydrated, make sure to refrigerate it, and use it within a few days after rehydration.

Soy cheese: A cheese substitute made from soy milk that comes in both firm and soft. Soft soy cheese is a good alternative to sour cream or cream cheese. The firmer cheese can be used as you would dairy cheese, though they do not melt the way dairy cheeses do. Firmer soy cheese is often colored and/or flavored to resemble particular dairy cheeses, such as mozzarella or Cheddar. Check the label carefully as some commercial soy cheese may also contain dairy proteins such as whey or casein (caseinates), which some may want to avoid due to allergies or diet preferences.

Soy grits and flakes: Soy grits are toasted, cracked soybeans that are usually the size of very coarse cornmeal. Soy flakes are cracked soybeans that have been pressed through rollers (like rolled oats). Grits are high in protein and may be used the way you might use cracked wheat, for example as a side dish, cooked with other grains, such as rice. Soy flakes are used the way you would rolled oats, usually cooked and served as a hot cereal.

Soy yogurt: A commercially available yogurt-like product that has the texture and consistency of dairy yogurt. Soy yogurt is available in different flavors and generally has no active cultures. Soy yogurt is an excellent substitute for sour cream or cream cheese.

Meat alternatives (meat analogs): Meat alternatives have become quite popular and include numerous "fake meat" products made from soybeans, including soy hot dogs, soy beacon, etc. Generally soy meat alternatives contain soy protein or tofu and other ingredients mixed together to simulate various kinds of meat.

Availability

The more traditional soy products such as soy milk, miso, and tofu are available at supermarkets. Soy milk is often sold in the dairy section, and tofu may be found in the dairy or produce section. Generally, all soy products, including the less traditional products such as soy flour, tempeh, soy flakes, to name a few, can be purchased at health-food stores.

Shopping

When purchasing fresh soy products such as tofu or tempeh, check to see if there is a "sell-by" date and use the product within two days of the date. When purchasing shelf stable products, shop at a store that does a brisk business, that ensures there is a quick turnover and products are fresh.

Storage

Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP) can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three months.

Soy nuts and soy sauce can be stored away from heat on the kitchen shelf. Soy flour should be refrigerated if you won't be using it quickly. Other products should be stored as they come, either in the refrigerator or on the kitchen shelf and used within a few days of their sell by date.

Preparation

Soy Flour: For a protein boost in yeast-raised products, replace up to 15% of wheat flour with soy flour. Because soy flour has no gluten, it can't replace wheat flour cup for cup. In nonyeast-raised products, you can replace up to 25% of wheat flour with soy flour. Be aware that soy flour browns more readily than wheat flour, so it may be necessary to reduce the oven temperature accordingly.

Texturized Vegetable Protein: TVP can be used in place of meat in chili, burritos, and stews. Granules, chunks, and slices of TVP must be rehydrated before using. Combine 1 cup of granulated TVP with 3/4 cup boiling water, let stand five minutes until softened. Chunks of TVP should simmer several minutes in water to soften. Sometimes TVP is sold in chicken and beef flavor, so check the label and choose accordingly. Once rehydrated, TVP can be stirred into a dish and simmered to absorb flavor.

Tempeh: Cut into cubes or strips it can be braised, sauteed, baked, or grilled. It can also be marinated before cooking to impart more flavor.

Soy Cheese: Use soy cheese as you would other cheese.

Soy Yogurt: Like soy cheese, use soy yogurt as you would regular yogurt.

Soy Nuts: Crunchy soy nuts can be used in place of peanuts or other nuts in most recipes. The nuts come both salted and unsalted.

Soy grits: Add soy grits to other grains when cooking.

Soy sauce: Soy sauce, light, regular or any of the other varieties are used for seasoning. Remember that soy sauce is high in sodium (even the reduced-sodium variety is up there) so use accordingly.

Nutrition Chart

Soy Flour/1/2 cup

185
Total fat (g)
8.8
Saturated fat (g)
1.3
Monounsaturated fat (g)
1.9
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
5
Dietary fiber (g)
4.1
16
Carbohydrate (g)
11
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
6
Thiamin (mg)
0.3
Riboflavin (cg)
0.5
Copper (mg)
1.2
Iron (mg)
2.7
Magnesium (mg)
182
Manganese (mg)
1
Phosphorus (mg)
210
Potassium (mg)
1069

Soy Sauce/1 tablespoon

10
Total fat (g)
0
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
0
2
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
920


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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