Soy Foods Decoded

April 15, 2011

Is soy a safe alternative? And what exactly are all of those soy alternatives in the Supermarket? Find out here

Should you stock up on soy? Well, a study recently presented at the American Association for Cancer Research demonstrated that soy food intake among breast cancer survivors is safe and may even reduce the risk of recurrence. The study’s authors stress that the study reviewed soy foods, not supplements. Many cancer survivors have feared eating soy foods, worried that soy would increase their risk of a cancer recurrence, but new research suggests that those worries appear unfounded. The studies authors comment that soy contributes to an overall healthy diet pattern, and healthy diet patterns are linked with lower recurrence and general wellbeing.

So how much soy is considered protective? Just a cup of soy milk or just two ounces (or half a serving) of tofu per day. And what are some of the different types of soy foods in the store?

Soy milk: soybeans, soaked, ground fine and strained, produce a fluid which can be substituted for cow’s milk. Plain, unfortified soymilk is an excellent source of high quality protein, and B-vitamins.

Soy yogurt is made from soymilk. It has a creamy texture similar to dairy yogurt, sour cream or even cream cheese. It can be found in variety of flavors in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.

Tofu: is also known as soybean curd, is a soft cheese-like food made by curdling fresh hot soymilk with a coagulant. Tofu is relatively tasteless and easily absorbs the flavors of other ingredients with which it is cooked. It is rich in high-quality protein, B-vitamins and low in sodium. Firm tofu is dense and can be cubed and served in soups, stir fried, or grilled; it’s higher in protein, fat and calcium than other forms of tofu. Soft tofu is good for recipes that call for blended tofu. Silken tofu is a creamy product and can be used as a replacement for sour cream, ricotta cheese (etc) in dip recipes.

Tempeh: is a combination of whole soybeans, sometimes mixed with another grain such as rice or millet. It is then fermented into a rich cake of soybeans with a smoky or nutty flavor. Tempeh is commonly marinated and grilled and added to soups, casseroles, or chili.

Soy Cheese: Made from soybeans therefore a veggie cheese. Its consistency and texture is lighter and some brands are difficult to use in dishes that require melting. Soy cheese makes a great addition to sandwiches or salads. Soy cheese is available in many varieties similar to dairy cheeses.

Soy flour is made from roasted soybeans ground into a fine powder.

Edamame or green vegetable soybeans are large soybeans harvested when still green and sweet. Edamame is commonly served as a snack or a main vegetable dish, after boiling in slightly salted water. They are high in protein and fiber and contain no cholesterol.

Meat Alternatives / Analogs made from soybeans contain soy protein or tofu and other ingredients mixed together to simulate various kinds of meat. These meat alternatives are sold as frozen, canned or dried foods. Usually, they can be used the same way as the foods they replace. With so many different meat alternatives available to consumers, the nutritional value of these foods varies. Generally, they are lower in fat, but read the label to be certain. Meat alternatives made from soybeans are excellent sources of protein, iron and B vitamins.

Miso is a rich, salty condiment that characterizes the essence of Japanese cooking. The Japanese make miso soup and use it to flavor a variety of foods. A smooth paste, miso is made from soybeans and a grain such as rice, plus salt and a mold culture, and then aged in cedar vats for one to three years. Miso should be refrigerated. Use miso to flavor soups, sauces, dressings, marinades and pâtés

Health benefits linked to eating soy:
Antioxidants: Soy foods contain antioxidants - compounds that protect cells from damage caused by unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals.

Breast cancer: Soy foods are rich in natural betacarotene, which converts to Vitamin A in the body. Women with the highest levels of Vitamin A had a 20 percent reduction in breast malignancies, compared to women with lower Vitamin A intake.

Cholesterol: In 38 studies involving 730 people, the connection between soy consumption and low cholesterol levels was strong. Those with diets where half the protein was soy had 10 percent lower cholesterol than those not eating soy.

Colon cancer: People who made soy foods a regular part of their diet had significantly lower rates of colon cancer that those who did not eat soy.

Hot flashes: Menopause symptoms are almost immediately responsive to isoflavones. Often, within weeks of beginning soy protein consumption, women experience a 25 percent drop in hot flashes.

Immunity: Soybean peptides (chains of amino acids) can boost the immune system, helping the body fight disease.

Kidney disease: Soy protein is easy on the kidneys, and may slow down or prevent kidney damage in people with impaired kidney function.

Information for this article gathered from US Soyfoods Directory and the Soyfoods Association of North America.