Soy Foods and Health

tofuThe importance of including soy in out diet is recently being stressed by health experts. But how important is it really?

What is soy?

Soy is a been commonly used in Asia. It’s found in foods like tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, miso (soybean paste ) and tempeh (a kind of soy cake), and is also added to bread, cereals and even meat products. It is used as a meat substitute in foods like soy burgers.

Foods containing soy are a good source of protein, especially for vegetarians. Soy foods provide all the amino acids we need to stay healthy.

Benefits of soy

Studies show that some soy products offer health benefits that include lowering cholesterol, lowering a person’s risk of developing heart disease.

Not all soy foods offer these benefits. Only "whole soy" foods or foods that contain soy products offer these health benefits.

Aside from protein, whole soy foods are a good source of fiber, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Meat substitutes that contain soy protein are a healthy alternative to animal meat that usually contain cholesterol and saturates fat.

Results of various study vary on whether the health benefits of soy include preventing disease such as cancer.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agree though, that diets which include 25-50 grams of soy protein a day can help decrease LDL cholesterol () levels. LDL or "bad cholesterol" is what builds up and clogs blood vessels, increasing the risks of heart disease and stroke.

Soy in the diet

Some soy products do not offer other health benefits, apart from soy proteins. For instance, soy milk may not be as good a calcium source as regular cow’s milk. Soy milk has to be fortified with calcium. And even then, it may not be as effective a mineral source as cow’s milk.

If you’re on low fat diet, know that soy foods do contain fats. A serving of tofu (½ cup) contains 5.5 – 6.5 grams of fat, but most of it is unsaturated, and won’t build up on and clog arteries.

If you’re still concerned about the amount of fat, you can opt for low-fat soy products. Low-fat tofu has only 1.5-2.5 grams of fat.

Soy foods that contain the highest amount of protein include soy flour, tempeh and tofu.

Remember though, that to achieve optimal health, you should eat a wide range of nutritious foods, and not single out a certain food or certain food groups.