Soy foods have become very popular because of their nutritional content and health benefits, according to LSU AgCenter food and nutrition expert Catrinel Stanciu.
The FDA has approved one health claim related to soy and heart disease. Soy foods may also have beneficial effects on preventing some types of cancers, such as gastrointestinal, breast and prostate.
In keeping with April Soy Foods Month, Stanciu offers some basics about the nutritional bean. Soy foods, of course, have soy beans as their basic ingredient. These beans are an excellent source of high quality proteins, fiber and folate. They can be eaten fresh or dried and can be found in many forms and colors (yellow, black or green).
The most popular soy products are soy milk, soybean oil and tofu. Other soy products include soy nuts (roasted whole soy beans), soy protein, miso (fermented soy food), tempeh (white cake of cooked soybeans), soy flour, soy coffee, soy yogurt, soy cream cheese and soy frozen desserts.
Soy milk can be used as a substitute for whole milk, for people with lactose intolerance or vegans. It can be found in the supermarkets in different flavors, from vanilla to rich chocolate. Plain soy milk has about the same amount of calories as skim milk; however, the fat content is much higher (about 5 g of fat per cup, compared with 0.5 g for skim milk). Also, the calcium content is lower compared to cow’s milk.
For healthier choices, Stanciu advises trying low-fat or fat-free soy milk varieties. Soy milk can be used as a beverage or in preparing sauces, gravies, soups, puddings or custards.
Soybean oil is used in cooking and for salad dressing. It is high in unsaturated fatty acids (about 82 percent), which makes it healthier than sesame seeds or coconut oil. Soybean oil is the most common oil used in processed foods and in mayonnaise.
In Asia, tofu, also known as soybean curd, is one the most popular ways to serve soy. Tofu is a soft cheese-like product, usually sold in small blocks. Unlike cheese though, tofu has a very bland taste, but it can absorb other flavors cooked with it. Tofu can be stir-fried, broiled, grilled or mashed to make dips or salad dressings. It also can be a good addition to chili, pot pies or lasagna. Marinated tofu cubes can add variety and good nutrients to a salad.
"Whether you eat soy in the form of soy milk, tofu or soy nuts, your diet will benefit from high quality proteins, dietary fiber and other nutrients," Stanciu says. Also, according to the health claim approved by FDA, "25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
The nutrition expert offers a few quick ways to include soy foods in your eating pattern: snack on soy nuts, enjoy a soy yogurt smoothie, use soy milk in cakes and muffin recipes and blend pureed tofu into guacamole; nobody will notice the difference.
For information on related family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/
Extension/Departments/fcs/. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.