Heart disease Soy was put in the spotlight in October 1999 when the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that “...soy protein included in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) by lowering blood cholesterol levels.”
After looking at many studies, the FDA felt that a minimum of 25 grams of soy protein every day would help to reduce 'bad' LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. The 'good' HDL cholesterol does not seem to be affected. People with the highest cholesterol levels will benefit from using soy the most. Using soy protein in place of animal protein has the added bonus of reducing the amount of saturated fat in the diet. This can lower blood cholesterol levels even more.
Cancer - Soy contains a weak form of estrogen, called isoflavones, that can mimic or block the body’s natural estrogen. Isoflavones are one of several substances in soy that may reduce the risk of cancer. While the research looks promising, more studies need to be done on humans to confirm these benefits. The main question is whether soy is helpful or harmful when it comes to certain types of hormone-dependent cancers, like breast cancer.
Menopause - Soy seems to reduce the number and intensity of hot flashes during menopause. This does not mean soy can take the place of hormone replacement therapy. However, for women who choose not to use hormone therapy, as little as 125 mL (1/2 cup) soy flour each day has been linked to a 40 per cent decrease in hot flashes. Soy does not seem to affect other symptoms associated with menopause.
Osteoporosis is a disease where bones become fragile or brittle. Calcium helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis by building and maintaining strong bones. Many soy foods are a good source of calcium. Whether or not the other substances in soy help to lower the risk of osteoporosis remains to be seen.
Other health benefits - Eating soy has the added bonus of boosting your nutrient intake. Soy is an iron-rich, complete protein that can complement or replace meat in your menu. Soy is also a good source of calcium, potassium and heart-healthy fat. Soybeans, soy nuts, tempeh, textured soy protein and soy flour are sources of insoluble and soluble fibre. Insoluble fibre can prevent and relieve constipation, and soluble fibre can reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Soybeans come in dried, fresh, frozen and canned varieties. Dried soybeans are the most common form. Soybeans can be added to soup, chili, casseroles and bean salad. They can be roasted in the oven to make soy nuts or eaten fresh from the pod. To cook dried soybeans, soak 250 mL (1 cup) of beans in 1 L (4 cups) of water for eight hours. Drain, add fresh water and bring water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for three hours or until the beans are soft. Hint: Do not add salt to the water as this will make the beans tough.
Soy flour - Regular and 'defatted' soy flours come from ground, roasted soybeans. Soy flour can be used in muffins, quick breads and other recipes that do not use yeast. Replace up to 1/4 of the flour in a recipe with soy flour or replace one egg with 15 mL (1 tbsp) soy flour and 15 mL (1 tbsp) water.
Tofu is made from cooked, pureed soybeans. It tastes bland on its own but when mixed with other foods and spices, will pick up their flavour. Tofu comes in a variety of textures, from soft to extra firm. Soft tofu can be used in dips, muffins, shakes and desserts in place of milk, sour cream or yogurt. Medium tofu can be used for cheesecakes or puddings. Firm or extra firm tofu can be marinated and grilled briefly on the barbecue, or cut up and added to a stir fry or casserole.
Choose vacuum-packed tofu and use it before the best before date. Once opened, cover the tofu with water and store it in the refrigerator for up to seven days. The water must be changed daily to preserve freshness. Tofu can be frozen for up to five months, but it will have a chewier texture when defrosted.
Soy milk - This is a mixture of cooked, ground soybeans and water. It is sold plain or flavoured, full-fat or reduced in fat. You will find soymilk alongside the fresh and evaporated cow’s milk in most grocery stores. If you are using soymilk to replace some or all of the cow’s milk in your diet, choose soymilk that has added calcium and other nutrients. Not everyone likes the taste of straight soymilk, but it can be used on cereal, in coffee, in baking or combined with yogurt and frozen fruit in a fruit shake. Soy cheese and soy yogurt are made from soymilk.
Veggie 'Meat' - Soy-based meat substitutes are the simplest way to get more soy in your diet. Veggie hamburger, ground round, pepperoni, deli meats, wieners and bacon can be used in place of animal products in casseroles, tacos and other recipes. Not all vegetarian products are made from soy so check the label to be sure. Most meat substitutes are pre-cooked so require very little heating. For example, veggie ground round should be added to chili during the last few minutes of cooking so that it is just warmed. You do not need to brown veggie meat like you would regular meat.
Textured soy protein - This product is made from dry granules of defatted soy flour. To use, add 220 mL (7/8 cup) boiling water to 250 mL (1 cup) textured soy protein and let it sit for a few minutes. The moistened granules can replace some or all of the ground beef in recipes such as chili and spaghetti sauce. Some vegetable burgers are also made with textured soy protein.
Tempeh - A fermented mixture of soybeans and rice, millet or other grain, tempeh has a smoky or nutty flavour and can be grilled or added to soups, casseroles or chili.
To experience the health benefits of soy, aim for at least 25 grams of soy protein each day. Adding this amount of soy to your diet is easier if you mix and match soy-containing foods. Drink a fruit shake made with soymilk for breakfast and add veggie ground round to your lasagna at supper. On another day, have veggie deli meat in your sandwich at lunch and soynuts for an afternoon snack. The combinations are truly endless. Some soy products will be less juicy than meat because they are lower in fat, while others may have a slightly beany flavour. Try preparing soy products in various ways to find recipes that suit your taste.
Soy Supplements - If adding soy to your menu is a struggle, you may be wondering if soy supplements or powders are the answer. There are many substances in soy that offer health benefits. A pill or powder that isolates just the protein or just the plant form of estrogen may not give you the full benefit of soy. The other risk with pills and powders is that it is easy to get too much of a good thing. Research needs to be done on the long-term benefits and risks of these products before they can be routinely recommended. Until more is known about how soy works in the body, you are better off trying to include soy foods into your diet.
Soy and children - While research has been done on the health benefits of soy for adults, there is some concern about giving too much soy to infants and children. Until more is known about how soy affects growing bodies, Health Canada only recommends soy-based infant formula for “...those infants who cannot take dairy-based products for health, cultural or religious reasons....” These infants are to stay on soy formula until they are two years of age. After two years, ask a health care profesional for advice on what soy products to use. Due to the lower fat content of soymilk and the varying amounts of vitamins and minerals added to these products, not all soy beverages can be used as milk substitutes.
Enjoy your soy - Canadians are encouraged to eat more low fat, high fibre foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes such as soy. If you are trying soy for the first time, a potluck or tasting party with your friends will give you a chance to sample a variety of foods which contain soy.
Be adventurous and try incorporating small amounts of soy into your diet today. You can increase the amount as you become accustomed to the taste and texture. With the wealth of soy-based foods on the market, adding soy to your menu has never been easier.