The Simple Truth About Soy. Part 1

Diet |

There is so much power packed into the little soybean and the world is starting to recognize just how much. It has been written that soy foods are an excellent addition to a healthy eating lifestyle. Now it is time to find out how soyfoods began. What really are the health benefits of soy? What is tofu anyway?

Imagine, 5000 years ago in China, the soy bean first became a staple. As a food staple, soy beans spread throughout Korea, Japan and southeast Asia, by 300 B.C. Europe noticed the soybean a mere 1000 years later.

Recently, studies have shown the many health benefits of eating soyfoods. Women in Japan, where soyfood is consumed every day, are one-third less likely to experience menopausal symptoms. Breast cancer mortality is much lower in Asia, where soyfood is also eaten regularly; thus, connecting a diet rich in soy to cancer prevention. An overall low soy consumption in the U. S. presents women here with four times more likely chance of dying from breast cancer. With such powerful benefits, it leads to the question of “what are some contributing factors that lead to the health benefits of soy?”

There are many components to the soybean that promote health. One that may be surprising is the protein content of the soybean which gives it distinction among all other plant foods. Containing high amounts of protein, including all the essential amino acids, soy is an exception for plant foods. No other plant food, discovered to date, contains all the essential amino acids. Protein accounts for 35-38 percent of soybean’s calories. Other beans are only 20-30 percent protein. What is really amazing is that milk has only 27 percent and beef 33 percent of its calories from protein. Soy is one of the best sources of assimilable protein for the human body.

For a plant food, soybeans are unusually high in fat. About 40 percent of the soybean is fat, compared to 14 percent of other beans. Though this is true, the fat in soybeans is mostly polyunsaturated, which means it will not raise the blood cholesterol. Also present is a particular type of polyunsaturated fat called omega – 3. Soybeans are one of the few plant sources that contain sizable quantities of omega – 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are crucial for blood cholesterol control, anti-inflammatory activity, liver function, the health of the immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. It is believed that digesting the omega – 3 fatty acid component in soybeans is one of the ways it can help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Although soybeans themselves are high in fat, many of the foods prepared or manufactured from them are not. Soyfoods low in fat are reduced fat tofu and soy milk, and defatted soy flour.

All whole foods contain fiber; thus, another aspect of the soybean in health promotion. Soyfoods made from the whole soybean contain high amounts of fiber. Some of these high fiber foods are flour, tempeh and textured soy protein. Soy milk and tofu contain little fiber due to the manufacturing process, although many times they are added to foods containing fiber. Soy milk in cereal or tofu in stir fry are good examples of this type of combining.

Other important components of the soybean are vitamins and minerals. One of the most known minerals in soy is calcium. All soyfoods contain calcium. Amounts vary depending on the soyfood. Soybeans, high in calcium, magnesium and boron help to promote bone health. There is about 88 milligrams of calcium in a half cup of soybeans. Some soyfoods provide much higher amounts of calcium, such as, soy nuts and tofu. Tofu varies widely in the amounts of calcium; between 120 – 750 milligrams per half cup. Calcium content of tofu is dependent on the processing procedure. Also plentiful is iron, but may not always be absorbed by the body due to the high protein content of soy. If concerned about iron, eating a vitamin C food source with soyfoods will aid in iron absorption. A good source of B vitamins, soyfoods contain niacin, vitamin B-6, and folic acid.

Soyfoods also contain a non-nutritive component called phyto (plant) chemicals. These have amazing affects on human health. Soybeans are the only food source with significant amounts of one important phytochemical called isoflavones. Two primary isoflavones are daidzein and genistein. They resemble estrogen in the body. This similarity enables them to directly or indirectly reduce menopausal symptoms, promote bone health, lower cholesterol, have anti-cancer activity and control diabetes. One serving (35-60 grams) of soyfoods a day can contain isoflavones to have a significant impact on good health.

Isoflavones ameliorate menopausal symptoms in response to the phyto (plant) estrogen fraction of soybeans. These are similar to the human hormone estrogen, and function similarly to estrogen replacement therapy. After menopause there is less available human-made estrogen circulating in the blood stream. Adding soyfoods to the diet of menopausal women, increases circulating estrogen (although, from a plant source). The key is to maintain estrogen levels, whether plant or animal. The phytoestrogens reduce hot flashes and night sweats, and help maintain bone tissue. Women are at greater risk after menopause for experiencing osteoporosis and heart disease. Preventative measures can be taken by eating soyfoods daily. In reducing osteoporosis, the soy calcium is easily assimilated by the body, along with boron and magnesium. These are important for bone health; while the daidzein and genistein prevent bone breakdown. An increased risk of osteoporosis can be caused from high intake of animal protein, by increasing calcium loss through excretion. By integrating soyfoods into the daily diet, a natural reduction of animal products transpires.

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