Consumption of functional foods is one of the latest growing trends to reduce risk factors related to cardiovascular disease ─ among other diseases. Soy protein, in particular, has been at the forefront of consumers changing eating habits since it is associated with the reduction in blood cholesterol levels.
Soy is considered a functional food because it has isoflavone, an antioxidant which has a similar structure to estrogen, the female hormone. Studies show that this antioxidant works by reducing the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood and therefore reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease; it also balances the amount of estrogen in the female body which may reduce the multiple symptoms of menopause (due to reduced concentration of the hormone estrogen).
Soy contains iron, phosphorous, copper, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and B complex vitamins and 100g of soy products 3 times a week is good enough unlock its health benefits!
Many soy products exist in the market today and that renders our choice of the best one difficult, so here are some explanations which would help you choose:
Soy beans are very rich in protein; every 100g has around 35g of protein against 20g in a steak! They can be consumed in the form of cooked lentils, in salads and even toasted as appetizers ─ the so called edamame.
Soy meat: Usually vegetarians and vegans are the number 1 consumers of soy meat since soy meat can supply them with iron found in meat. Soy meat is also high in fiber! Non-vegetarians have recently started to replace animal meat with soy in many traditional foods here in Lebanon such as loubieh, fassoulia (beans), bemieh (ocra), in koussa mehche (stuffed zucchinis) and even in hamburgers. The main reason for this change being that soy meat doesn’t contain the saturated fats that animal meat contains which protects your heart and brain from atherosclerosis (formation of fat clots in the arteries) and lowers blood cholesterol.
Soy milk: If we want to compare soy and cow milk, soy milk is from a plant source whereas cow milk is from animal source. They are both rich in protein. Soy milk has all the vitamins and
minerals and antioxidants that soy has to offer, but you need to buy it fortified with calcium and vitamin D. This food stimulates the proliferation of intestinal lactobacilli that normally inhabit the intestines and maintain the balance of intestinal flora! If you don’t like the taste, you can try soy milk in different flavors made especially for those who cannot bear it like me. Cow milk is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, D and some of the B group. Cow milk belongs to the milk and derivatives group in the food pyramid whereas soy milk belongs to the beans group!
Some people are lactose intolerant so it would be good to consume soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D!
There are other soy products available such as soy sauce that we all add to our food in Japanese restaurants. A word of caution here, choose the low sodium one!
Now that you know the benefits of soy products you can vary its consumption by choosing among many products such as tofu (soy cheese), miso soup, whole wheat bread enriched with soy, soy oil, soy flour…
Just don’t exaggerate, Soy is not a miracle, it’s just a healthy food to be included in our menus with moderation!! Always remember: Moderation is the key to health!
Samia Khoury Dietitian