Soy Foods in Your Diet

Some examples of soy products Some examples of soy products

What is soy?

Soy products come from soybeans. Soybeans are vegetables that have been part of Asian diets for centuries.

Soybeans are used to make tofu, soymilk, soy flour, miso, and many other foods. Unlike other plant foods, soybeans have a high protein content, equivalent to animal foods. Like meat, soy is a complete protein. This means that it provides all the essential amino acids that your body needs but cannot produce on its own.

Soy provides more than protein

Not only is soy a good source of protein, it also provides many other beneficial nutrients. Soy contains two healthy types of fat, called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Soy is also an excellent source of folate, iron, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, insoluble fibre, phosphorus, copper, magnesium​, manganese, and B vitamins.

Soy has many health benefits. It has been linked to reducing menopausal symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes. Soy can increase bone density, thus offering protection against osteoporosis. Soy can also help lower blood cholesterol levels, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Food that contain soy

  • Tofu
  • Soy beverages
  • Soy milk
  • Green soybeans
  • Roasted soy nuts
  • Soy flour
  • Soy protein powder
  • Veggie hot dogs or hamburgers
  • "Meatless" lunch meats

Potential safety concern

Soy contains soflavones, which are natural compounds with estrogen-like properties. There are data to suggest that because of this, soy can have negative effects on estrogen-dependent breast cancer. If you are concerned, speak to your doctor.

Some people are allergic to soy.

Eating and cooking with soy

Learning how to use and cook with soy products may seem difficult at first. Even though soy may seem unfamiliar, it is actually found in many foods that are already widely consumed. For example, soybean oil is an ingredient in common foods such as mayonnaise, margarine, and salad dressing.

Tofu

Tofu is made naturally from cooked soybeans. Tofu comes in a variety of textures and flavours. There are two broad categories of tofu: firm and soft (silken). Firm types of tofu have more soy protein than the softer varieties. Either form can be baked, broiled, grilled, fried, or eaten raw. Tofu can be eaten whole, mashed, cubed, or combined in a variety of tasty combinations to make an unlimited number of nutritious and delicious dishes.

Soymilk

Soymilk is made from ground soybeans mixed with water to produce a milk-like liquid. It can be used instead of milk for children over the age of two and adults. Soymilk is great with cereal and can also be used when cooking. Soymilk usually comes plain or in a variety of flavours such as vanilla, chocolate, and coffee. Look for soy drinks that are enriched with calcium and vitamin D.

Soy nuts

Roasted soy nuts are not really nuts. They are whole soybeans that have been soaked in water and then baked to a golden brown. Soy nuts come in a variety of tasty flavours and are similar in texture and flavour to peanuts. You can find a variety of delicious roasted soy nuts in health or specialty food stores and in many grocery stores.

Tempeh

Tempeh is made from whole, cooked soybeans that are formed into a chewy soybean cake. It can be marinated and added to many of your favourite dishes. It is often used as a meat substitute and takes on the flavour of the other ingredients it is being cooked with. Tempeh is normally sliced and fried until its surface is golden brown. Tempeh is found in the frozen food section and stays fresh in the freezer for many months.

How much soy?

There is currently no recommendation on how much soy you should consume per day. However, soy products should be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. In general, variety and moderation are key to healthy eating.

Introduce soy slowly into your diet by adding small amounts each day or mixing it with foods you already eat and enjoy. As you get used to the taste and texture of the various soy products, keep adding more. The beauty of some soy products is that they have a mild or neutral flavour, which makes them easy to incorporate into dishes.

The following servings are equivalent to one serving of soy according to Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating:

  • 1/3 cup tofu (any texture)
  • 1 cup fortified soy beverage
  • 1 ½ ounces (50g) soy cheese
  • ¾ cup soy yogurt

Ways to include more soy in your diet

There are many simple ways to incorporate soy into your diet. Just follow Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating as a starting point.

In the Grain Products food group:

  • use soy flour instead of all-purpose flour in baking recipes.
  • enjoy soy grits instead of oatmeal.
  • choose a tasty soy cereal such as Kellogg's Vive® or Vector®, or Nature's Path Optimum®.

In the Vegetables and Fruit food group:

  • add soybeans (cooked or canned) or soy nuts to your salad.
  • enjoy steamed Edamame (green soybeans) as a healthy snack or added to stir-fry. They are available in the frozen foods section of most grocery stores.
  • substitute soybeans for some or all of your regular beans in soup.
  • blend soft (silken) tofu or soy yogurt with fruit, juice, and ice cubes in a blender for a terrific breakfast shake.

In the Milk Products food group:

  • include soy beverages enriched with calcium and vitamin D.
  • use fortified soy beverages in your coffee or on your cereal.
  • replace the cream in desserts with soymilk or soy yogurt.
  • look for soy versions of ice cream and yogurts.
  • soy cheeses work great in pasta and pizza recipes.

In the Meat and Alternatives food group:

  • include protein-rich tofu instead of ground beef in tacos, chili, or spaghetti sauce.
  • cube firm tofu and add to stir-fry. Brown it in sesame oil and add to your veggies.
  • try a soy-based burger or veggie burger.
  • try the delicious and convenient soy products available that are made to taste like ham, pepperoni, bologna, and ready-to-eat sausage.
  • add pureed tofu or ground soy sausage to your next meatloaf.

Key Points

  • Soy is a protein rich vegetable
  • Soy has many health benefits
  • Soy can be eaten and cooked in many ways
  • Introduce soy into your diet slowly

Kellie Welch, RD

5/10/2010

This article was created by the dietitians at The Specialty Food Shop.





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