Soy FAQ's . . .

Frequently Asked Questions About Soy Foods
Q: I keep hearing so much about the benefits of soy protein. What makes soy protein so good?

A: The soybean is the only vegetable offering a complete protein profile. Soy protein is of the highest quality, equal to that of meat and dairy products, but without the cholesterol and saturated fat. It can be the sole source of protein, without causing any nutritional imbalance.

Our body breaks down protein into individual amino acids, which form helpful antibodies and enzymes. Amino acids are necessary for proper growth, development, health and maintenance. Of the twenty-two amino acids we require, our body produces only fourteen. The remaining eight are called essential amino acids, because they must come from the foods we eat.

Soy protein provides all eight of these amino acids, making it a complete protein. Besides having a higher quality protein, soybeans also have a higher amount of protein than other beans.

Soybeans have 35 to 38 percent of total calories coming from protein, while other beans only have about 20 to 30 percent. However, not all soy foods contain the same amount of protein. Extra firm and firm tofu, for instance, have more protein than soft or silken tofu because they contain less water.

Read the Nutrition Facts label on soy foods to determine the protein content. Soy protein also contains a high concentration of the phytochemical compound called isoflavones.

Q: What are isoflavones?

A: Isoflavones are a plant-based estrogen (phytoestrogen) found in soy and many soy-based products. Soy isoflavones possess a myriad of biological properties that can benefit the body.

Scientists have attributed most of soy's positive health effects to its unique combinations of protein and isoflavones. Isoflavones have the ability to interrupt the function of hormonal estrogen produced in the body. They have antioxidant capabilities that help reduce the effects of LDL (the bad) cholesterol.

Chemists at the USDA also found that the isoflavones in soy protein help certain cells screen out error-prone messages before they can do any damage to the body. The two most studied isoflavones are genistein and daidzein.

Q: What are phyto - chemicals? Are isoflavones the only phyto - chemical contained in soy?

A: Phytochemicals are a large collection of chemical compounds found only in plants (phyto means plant). It is a general term for the vast array of chemical substances found naturally in beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seed, grains, herbs and spices.

Many hundreds of these bio-active plant chemicals are found in dietary sources. Soybeans contain a variety of phytochemicals, and are the only food source with significant amounts of one important class of phytochemical called isoflavones.

While chick peas and other legumes have low levels of isofavones, soybeans are unique because they have the highest concentrated amount of this beneficial compound. Soy phytochemicals show tremendous potential to fight disease on several fronts.

Researchers have discovered that isoflavones protect against errant cell signals that can spark illness; help prevent the buildup of arterial plaque, which leads to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease; may reduce the risk of certain cancers; fight osteoprosis; and possibly decrease many menopausal and PMS symptoms.

Soy contains other phytochemicals, like protease inhibitor, saponins and phytosterols. Protease inhibitors have been shown to slow the rate of cancer division in cells, saponins may prevent cells from multiplying and phytosterols seem to block estrogen.

Q: How much soy protein and isoflavones should I consume per day?

A: Researchers recommend consuming a soy rich diet that provides at least 25 grams of soy protein and 30-50 milligrams of isoflavones daily. Scientific studies have shown that 25 grams of soy protein a day in the diet is needed to produce a significant cholesterol lowering effect. The FDA recently gave food suppliers permission to use labels on soy-based foods claiming a link between eating soy and lowering the risk of heart disease.

Q: Are soy foods a good source of fiber?

A: Yes, soybeans and many soy-based products are excellent sources of fiber. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), fiber is important for the health of the digestive system and for lowering cholesterol.

Dietary fiber promotes healthy intestinal action and prevents constipation by moving bodily waste through the digestive track faster, so harmful substances don't have as much contact with the intestinal walls. A fiber-rich diet is also important in reducing the risk for heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes.

The AHA and the National Cancer Institute recommend consuming 25-30 grams of fiber a day. Whole soybeans and foods made from them, such as tempeh and textured soy protein, are extremely rich in fiber. However, some soy foods, like tofu and soymilk, contain very little fiber. Read the Nutrition Facts label to determine if a soy food is high in fiber.

Q: What kind of fat is found in soy foods? Are soy foods high in fat?

A: Soybeans and most soy products contain no cholesterol and virtually no saturated fat. The fat found in soy foods is mostly polyunsaturated and high in essential fatty acids, especially Omega-3.

Our body can't produce essential fatty acids, but we need them for correct growth and functioning. Omega-3 is necessary for proper brain growth and development. Tests have shown Omega-3 can help lower blood cholesterol levels, inhibit the growth of tumors, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, arthritis and diabetes.

The actual fat content in soy foods varies considerably. Some soy-based products, like textured soy protein and defatted soy flour, contain next to no fat. Other soy foods do contain fat, like tofu, tempeh, soy cheese, soy yogurt and soymilk. However, low-fat varieties of these products are also available.

Some ready-made soy products, like soy-based burgers, cold-cuts, pocket sandwiches and frozen entrees, can be high in total fat or contain trans fat (hydrogenated oil).

Always read the Nutrition Facts label and list of ingredients to find out the amount of, and type of, fat contained in any particular soy food. Avoid all foods that have fully or partially hydrogenated oil in its ingredients.

Two excellent sites that go into great detail about soy's safety and the anti-soy campaign.
1. By John Robbins (The Food Revolution and EarthSave)

2. By Virginia Messina, MPH, RD & Mark Messina, PhD (Vegan Outreach)
To learn more about soy foods and how to deliciously make them a everyday part of your diet,
order your copy of
Virtues of Soy:
A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook

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