Soy protein products can be good substitutes for animal products
because, unlike some other beans, soy offers a "complete"
protein profile. Soybeans contain all the amino acids essential
to human nutrition, which must be supplied in the diet because
they cannot be synthesized by the human body. Soy protein
products can replace animal-based foods--which also have complete
proteins but tend to contain more fat, especially saturated
fat--without requiring major adjustments elsewhere in the
While foreign cultures, especially Asians, have used soy extensively
for centuries, mainstream America has been slow to move dietary
soy beyond a niche market status. In the United States, soybean
is a huge cash crop, but the product is used largely as livestock
With the increased emphasis on healthy diets, that may be
changing. Sales of soy products are up and are projected to
increase, due in part, say industry officials, to the FDA-approved
health claim. (U.S. retail sales of soyfoods were $.852 billion
in 1992 and are projected to rise to $3.714 billion in 2002)
"We've seen this before with other claims FDA has approved,"
says Brian Sansoni, senior manager for public policy at the
Grocery Manufacturers of America. "It brings attention
to products; there are newspaper and TV stories and information
on the Internet."
FDA determined that diets with four daily soy servings can
reduce levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), the so-called
"bad cholesterol" that builds up in blood vessels,
by as much as 10 percent. This number is significant because
heart experts generally agree that a 1 percent drop in total
cholesterol can equal a 2 percent drop in heart disease risk.
Heart disease kills more Americans than any other illness.
Disorders of the heart and blood vessels, including stroke,
cause nearly 1 million deaths yearly.
One of the studies, conducted over nine weeks at Wake Forest
University Baptist Medical Center and reported in the Archives
of Internal Medicine in 1999, found that soy protein can reduce
plasma concentrations of total and LDL cholesterol but does
not adversely affect levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol,
which at high levels has been associated with a reduction
in heart disease risk. Another often-quoted study, published
in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1995, examined 38
separate studies and concluded that soy protein can prompt
"significant reductions" not only in total and LDL
cholesterol, but also in triglycerides, another fat linked
to health problems when present at elevated levels.
Other studies hint that soy may have benefits beyond fostering
a healthy heart. At the Third International Symposium on the
Role of Soy in Preventing and Treating Chronic Disease, held
in late 1999, researchers presented data linking soy consumption
to a reduced risk of several illnesses. Disorders as diverse
as osteoporosis, prostate cancer, and colon cancer are under
Benefits of Soy
Soy's protein and isoflavones lower LDL (the bad) cholesterol
and decrease blood clotting (thrombosis), which reduces the
risk of heart attack and stroke.
Soy's protein and isoflavones provide antioxidants, reduce
artery clogging plaque, improve blood pressure and promote
healthy blood vessels, which protects the body from free radical
damage, boosts the immune system, and lowers the risk of atherosclerosis
(hardening of the arteries), heart disease, and hypertension
(high blood pressure).
Soy's soluble fiber protects the body from many digestive
related cancers, such as colon and rectal cancer. While its
isoflavones may protect the body from many hormone-related
cancers, like breast, endometrial (uterine) and prostate cancer.
Soy's protein enhances the body's ability to retain and better
absorb calcium in the bones. While its isoflavones slow bone
loss and inhibit bone breakdown, which helps prevent osteoporosis.
Soy's isoflavones help the body regulate estrogen when this
hormone is declining or fluctuating, which helps alleviate
many menopausal and PMS symptoms.
Soy's protein and soluble fiber help regulate glucose levels
and kidney filtration, which helps control diabetic conditions
and kidney disease.
Products Where you can find Soy
Though soy may seem like a new and different kind of food
for many Americans, it actually is found in a number of products
already widely consumed. For example, soybean oil accounts
for 79 percent of the edible fats used annually in the United
States, according to the United Soybean Board. A glance at
the ingredients for commercial mayonnaises, margarines, salad
dressings, or vegetable shortenings often reveals soybean
oil high on the list.
But the health claim only covers the form that includes soy
protein. This form can be incorporated into the diet in a
variety of ways to help reach the daily intake of 25 grams
of soy protein considered beneficial.
While not every form of the following foods will qualify for
the health claim, these are some of the most common sources
of soy protein:
Tofu is made from cooked puréed soybeans processed
into a custard-like cake. It has a neutral flavor and can
be stir-fried, mixed into "smoothies," or blended
into a cream cheese texture for use in dips or as a cheese
substitute. It comes in firm, soft and silken textures.
"Soymilk," the name some marketers use for a soy
beverage, is produced by grinding dehulled soybeans and mixing
them with water to form a milk-like liquid. It can be consumed
as a beverage or used in recipes as a substitute for cow's
milk. Soymilk, sometimes fortified with calcium, comes plain
or in flavors such as vanilla, chocolate and coffee. For lactose-intolerant
individuals, it can be a good replacement for dairy products.
Soy flour is created by grinding roasted soybeans into a fine
powder. The flour adds protein to baked goods, and, because
it adds moisture, it can be used as an egg substitute in these
products. It also can be found in cereals, pancake mixes,
frozen desserts, and other common foods.
Textured soy protein is made from defatted soy flour, which
is compressed and dehydrated. It can be used as a meat substitute
or as filler in dishes such as meatloaf.
Tempeh is made from whole, cooked soybeans formed into a chewy
cake and used as a meat substitute.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste used for seasoning and in
Soy protein also is found in many "meat analog"
products, such as soy sausages, burgers, franks, and cold
cuts, as well as soy yogurts and cheese, all of which are
intended as substitutes for their animal-based counterparts.
Since not all foods that contain soy ingredients will meet
the required conditions for the health claim, consumers should
check the labels of products to identify those most appropriate
for a heart-healthy diet. Make sure the products contain enough
soy protein to make a meaningful contribution to the total
daily diet without being high in saturated fat and other unhealthy
Are Consumers Warming Up to Soy?
Although it's clear that Americans are increasing their consumption
of soy products, the soybean has a long way to go before it
becomes a staple in the average pantry. According to a 1999
survey by the United Soybean Board, two-thirds of consumers
surveyed believe soy products are "healthy," up
from 59 percent in 1997. While the public may think it's good
for them, only 15 percent eat a soy product once a week.
The reason for the disparity appears to be a problem of perception.
"Americans are not prepared to make massive lifestyle
changes in order to get healthy foods into their diet,"
says chef and soy cookbook author Dana Jacobi. "Many
people have negative attitudes toward soy products due to
their misconception of, or their experiences with, taste and
texture. But in fact, there are so many ways to work soy into
Industry figures show that in some cases, the popularity of
soy foods is increasing dramatically. For example, in 1998,
sales of soymilk grew 53 percent in mainstream supermarkets
and 24 percent in health food stores over the previous year,
according to data from Spence Information Services, a San
Francisco sales tracking firm. Another research firm, HealthFocus,
reports that 10 percent of shoppers in 1998, versus 3 percent
in 1996, said they are eating more soy specifically because
they believe it will reduce their risk of disease.
According to the Soyfoods Association of North America, three
factors are responsible for driving soy's upward trend:
Baby boomers are more enlightened about, and more interested
in, longevity and good health than previous generations.
The double-digit growth in Asian populations in the United
States has fueled demand for traditional soy foods. Americans
also are eating more Asian foods, which often include soy.
Young people are choosing more plant-based foods. A food industry
survey found that 97 percent of colleges and universities
now offer meatless entrées on their menus.
Mainstream grocery stores also have been prominently displaying
soy products amid traditional foods. Soy-based burgers and
sausages are often found in the freezer case next to other
meats. Some stores offer refrigerated soymilk alongside cow's
milk products. And it's not unusual to see tofu, along with
soy cheese and cold cuts, in a store's fresh fruit and veggie
department. "We expanded our line of soy products in
the produce section even before [FDA approved] the health
claim," says Paulette Thompson, nutritionist for Giant
Food, a large East Coast grocery chain. "But soy is still
rather mysterious to many consumers, so it's important to
educate them." She says her company is offering information
about soy in its Sunday newspaper supplements and its quarterly
consumer magazine. It also plans a special "healthy products"
promotion that will trumpet the benefits of soy and other
For consumers reluctant to try soy foods because they fear
a bad taste, food manufacturers are creating new lines of
soy-based products that contain enough soy to meet the claim
requirement but are developed specifically to taste good.
"Soy's major stumbling block has been its taste, real
or perceived," says Meghan Parkhurst, spokeswoman for
Kellogg Co. She says the company plans to introduce in several
western states a granola-like soy cereal that got high marks
for taste in consumer trials.
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