The Skinny on Soy
By Marie Oser
Learning about soyfoods is on the top of my list these days. I was recently tapped to lead the Soyfoods Association of North America (SANA), the trade group which represents soyfoods manufacturers, soy processors, and soybean farmers. SANA’s mission is to increase consumption of soy-based foods and beverages through educating the consumer about the health benefits and nutritional advantages of soyfoods, making soy protein the preferred source of plant protein.
My recent reading included last year’s “The Skinny on Soy” by Marie Oser. Ms. Oser is a best-selling author, healthy lifestyle expert and the Host and Executive Producer of VegTV (www.vegtv.com).
Prompted to write the book because of the many questions and accusations directed at soy and all of the products made from it, Oser believes the questions and rumors are merely a backlash stemming from all of the good news about soy. Soy is one of the most researched plants on Earth, and its nutritional benefits have been documented repeatedly in clinical studies.
Take a look at SANA’s Top 5 Reasons Soy Belongs on Your Plate: http://www.soyfoods.org/blog/to-eat-or-not-to-eat-top-5-reasons-soy-belongs-on-your-plate
Like other beans, soy is a legume that grows in a pod. If you’ve spent any time on a highway in America then you’ve seen soy growing, about waist high as you drive along. Soybeans are an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals, soluble and insoluble fiber, and unique phytochemicals that can prevent many chronic diseases such as breast cancer and heart disease .
One of the more widely known benefits of soy protein is the prevention of coronary heart disease. This benefit really matters. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S., with over 600,000 Americans dying each year from heart disease.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
Twenty-five grams of soy protein per day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.
This clear support for the benefits of soy has undeniably been a leading factor in the increased soyfoods consumption over the years.
For more information on the health claim go to: http://www.soyfoods.org/nutrition-health/soy-for-healthy-living/soy-for-heart-disease/soy-protein-and-heart-disease-health-claim
This claim though, has been challenged, most notably by The Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit named in honor of an early twentieth-century dentist. The Price Foundation promotes the consumption of beef, pork, and other meat products high in saturated fat and cholesterol – in short, the opposite of soy in many ways. Oser takes on the Price Foundation in her book and compares the foundation’s unusual dietary recommendations to those from more mainstream organizations like the U.S. FDA and the Centers for Disease Control.
It is certainly true that when industries feel threatened by the value of soy they often make claims that do not stand up to rigorous examination, and unfortunately frighten and confuse people along the way.
One of SANA’s objectives is to dispel unsubstantiated myths about the value and safety of soy. We do this by publishing factual, timely, science-based information on soyfoods, while keeping readers up to date as new studies become available.
Oser’s book covers many of the common myths about soyfoods and explains the facts. Unfortunatley, soy has been falsely accused of many things, development of breasts in men, triggering Alzheimer ’s disease, and even causing cancer. Of all the problems associated with the modest consumption of soy, I can only find one situation where caution is warranted, and that’s in the case of thyroid conditions.
The thyroid gland’s essential function is to convert iodine found in food into thyroid hormones to control the metabolism. Patients that have any type of thyroid dysfunction should have their thyroid levels measured before consuming large quantities of soy. This is because soy, like many cruciferous vegetables and legumes, can suppress the thyroid gland by interfering with the uptake of iodine, thus making it more difficult to produce thyroid hormones.
Other soy myths are carefully addressed and debunked by Oser. In each case, she concludes that there is no reason to be concerned about eating reasonable amounts of soyfoods, and she explains why soy protein is so healthy and nutritious.
Hundreds of clinical studies have proven the many health benefits of soy. Providing high-quality protein without the high saturated fat and cholesterol content of many animal protein sources, soy protein is the only plant protein that contains all eight of the essential amino acids just like an animal protein, therefore making it the only complete non-animal protein. Whole soy foods are also an excellent source of fiber, B vitamins, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Further, soy remains unmatched among vegetable proteins, and so it’s not surprising that it is the preferred source of vegetable protein.
The variety of soyfoods available to consumers continues to grow. Available for decades at “natural” foods stores and certain retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, soyfoods can now be found in more mainstream grocers like Giant, Safeway, Kroger, Publix and Hy-Vee. Having always enjoyed soymilk, I find offering my children edamame, or green vegetable soybeans, is a great way to get them to enjoy eating protein, vitamins and fiber, in a tasty snack they’ll continue to come back to.
When you mention “soyfoods” the first thing that most people think of is tofu. A popular food in Asia for thousands of years, tofu is made from soymilk in the same way cheese is made from milk. Because the flavor is relatively neutral and it easily absorbs flavor, tofu is a versatile, easy food to cook with. In the same way that Westerners rely on meats, tofu is a staple in many Eastern diets. Tofu is enjoying a surge in popularity at restaurant and kitchen tables throughout the U.S.
Tips on enjoying soy can be found on the soyfoods.org website at www.soyfoods.org/enjoy-soy/tips-to-enjoy-soy. Also available is a section on cooking with soyfoods at www.soyfoods.org/enjoy-soy/cooking-with-soyfoods.
Another popular staple of a soyfood diet, soymilk has been in the news recently due to increasing consumer interest in healthy, plant-based beverage alternatives. A nutritious and delicious drink, soymilk provides high quality protein and critical minerals and vitamins for those who cannot, or chose not to, consume cow’s milk. Some argue that the term “milk” should only be used for something that comes from a cow. This logic is antiquated. The term “soymilk” has been used for decades. Clearly, consumers know that what they’re drinking doesn’t come from a cow.
As the world’s population continues to multiply, and our need for sustainable resources grows, soyfoods will be an increasingly important food. Oser cites the National Soybean Research Laboratory’s finding that soybeans can produce at least twice as much protein per acre than any other major vegetable or grain crop. Soyfoods prove time and again that they are an excellent low-cost protein solution for feeding the world’s hungry populations both today and as our population continues to expand. Remaining unmatched among vegetable proteins, it’s not surprising that soy is the preferred source of vegetable protein.
The Skinny on Soy was a great way to help me get up to speed on soyfoods. As delicious as it is healthy, I’m excited to learn more about soy, and to help expand awareness of this important food. If you’re involved in the production of soyfoods I hope you’ll contact me to see how you can help SANA’s efforts.
Here’s to soy, and to the soyfoods so many of us are enjoying every day!
For more information, contact John Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This post was co-published at: http://www.soyfoods.org/newsroom/soyinfusion.
Copyright 2017, Soyfoods Association of North America.