As more Americans explore a plant-based diet to boost their overall well-being, soy-based foods such as Edamame, tofu, miso, soy milk, and meat substitutes like tempeh are becoming prevalent and no longer relegated to uncommon stores. Only a few products are as nutritionally advantageous as unprocessed soy when you’re following plant-forward diets.
When it comes to plant-based protein sources, soybeans are a prevalent choice around the world. Soy has been integral to many cuisines for thousands of years, thanks to versatile food options and its plethora of health benefits. In the modern day, many people, apart from vegans and vegetarians, prefer including soy in their diet to some extent to enjoy the health benefits of versatile legumes.
Soy is a rich source of proteins, vitamins, nutrients, and minerals, and there is a long list of food products through which you can enjoy these as well. Let’s discuss the benefits and ways to include soy in your diet.
The Nutritional Benefits of Soybeans
As you might know by now, soy is one of the best options for legumes with a pack of flavorful punch. There are a lot of nutrients that soy offers, including fiber, protein, vitamins B and K, along with minerals such as iron and calcium. That said, they also have a low content of unhealthy saturated fat and higher content of healthy, unsaturated fats, making them even healthier than meat protein eatables. When all is said and done, these nutrients combine to make soy a great plant-based option for vegans and vegetarians.
In addition to the wide range of soy protein, soybeans also have a particular compound known as isoflavones. These are a kind of phytoestrogens known to have many health benefits and mimic estrogen effects that can be highly beneficial for women. Additionally, a user can experience a decrease in the risk of multiple issues, such as osteoporosis and other age-related health issues.
Soybean-Based Foods You Must Know
Pick any product; you might stumble upon a thing or two with soybeans on the ingredient menu. So, what makes them so popular? Is it soy’s protein source or something more specific?
Well, to put it simply, majorly known food products comprise tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and Edamame. These are staples across cuisines and cultures and make up a significant part of plant-based vegan diets around the globe. Incorporating these products into your diet is beneficial for your health and an easy way to get taste and texture to the recipe.
- Tofu: It is one of the most popular dishes and a highly versatile vegan alternative to cottage cheese. Tofu can be used in many dishes, such as stir-fried vegetables, soups, and salads, and has low-fat and high protein content, offering all amino acids that the body needs.
- Tempeh: Tempeh is another soy-based food product with high protein and nutrient value and is made with fermented soybeans, making it easier to digest and allowing the body to absorb all the nutrients.
- Soy milk: For lactose intolerant or vegan users, soy milk is a great choice, being a dairy-free alternative to milk while offering a high value of proteins and nutrients. Many soy milk producers also fortify their milk with vitamin D and calcium, making it great for bone health.
- Edamame: Another great soy product is Edamame, a soybean harvested when young and green. It is enjoyed as a popular snack that is healthy due to its high nutrient content.
The Relationship Between Soybeans and Health
Soybeans have shown potential for multiple health benefits, including heart diseases, alleviation of menopausal symptoms, and a positive impact on bone health. Isoflavones in soybeans have been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can go a long way in helping manage a plethora of health issues.
One of the significant health benefits is the impact of reducing the risk of cardiovascular issues. Various studies show that soy proteins and amino acids in soybeans help decrease and manage cholesterol and improve blood vessel functioning.
Moving on, Isoflavones found in soy have shown promise of a positive impact on bone health issues and other health problems in women, particularly in the case of postmenopausal women, who may have an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Speaking of which, a study states that postmenopausal women consuming soy isoflavones saw a noticeable rise in spine bone mineral density compared to another control group. Another study showed increased bone mineral content for premenopausal women who consumed soy protein and isoflavones for six months.
Soybeans are also fiber-rich, a crucial component for maintaining digestive health. Soy fiber can help move food easily along the digestive tract, promoting healthy bowel movement and preventing constipation. Fiber also fights certain bacteria in the stomach, enhancing stomach health. Research in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that soy fiber increased beneficial bacteria in the gut of rats while curbing harmful bacteria.
Soybeans and the Environment
Did you know soybeans aren’t just a wholesome food ingredient but also significantly impact the environment? These are legumes, and one known benefit of growing soybeans is that they contribute positively to the environment by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. On the other hand, soy plants also help improve soil health by adding nitrogen content, which also helps reduce the requirement for synthetic fertilizers. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth and is often added to the soil through synthetic fertilizers.
However, excessive use of synthetic fertilizers can lead to nitrogen runoff, contaminating water sources and contributing to harmful algal blooms. Soybeans solve this problem naturally, as these legume plants can release nitrogen from the air into the soil due to a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their roots. This reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and helps to maintain soil health.
Soybean production is also associated directly with sustainable practices, all thanks to the innovative efforts of industry leaders. One such sustainable practice is crop rotation, which helps solve erosion, soil quality degradation, and water pollution. In this practice, soy crops are rotated with other crops like corn, which can help break cycles of diseases and pests that impact one crop. The change also prevents one crop from draining the nutrient content of the soil and allows soil the time needed to replenish its nutrient value, health, and fertility. This reduces the need for chemical-based pesticides and fertilizers, which can harm soil, water, and the surrounding ecosystem.
Ultimately, soybeans are considered versatile and nutritious food sources, offering a multitude of health advantages. That said, incorporating soy-based foods in your diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and specific forms of cancer and promote healthy bones.
On the other hand, soybean farming tends to benefit the environment and helps ensure food security. Even though there are potential risks associated with soybean consumption, regulated consumption practices can mitigate such risks.