You’ve probably heard this news, but it’s worth repeating: Soy foods are a powerhouse of health benefits. They’re high in protein and calcium, low in saturated fat, and packed with potent health-boosters known as isoflavones. Soy compounds are important weapons against cancer, heart disease, bone loss, and menopausal symptoms.
What’s more, soy is delicious. It’s a natural partner for herbs. Soy foods tend to be culinary chameleons; they absorb the flavor of whatever they’re paired with. Herbs are perfect partners for the nude taste of soy and can help create vivid palettes of flavors. Asian chefs have known for centuries that herbs and soy are a remarkable combination.
Today, a wide variety of products are made from soybeans; new, easy-to-prepare soy foods pop up regularly in supermarkets and health-food stores. These include soy milks and other products that mimic dairy foods such as yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. Tofu comes in silken, soft, firm, and extra-firm consistencies.
Tempeh is fermented bean curd; you can buy it plain or with added whole grains or sea vegetables in a variety of flavors. Miso, a cultured soybean paste, comes in a range of colors and flavor intensities. You can also find soy meat substitutes such as veggie burgers, soy hot dogs, and imitation bacon bits. Soy protein powders can be added to smoothies, juices, or cereals; textured soy protein can replace ground beef in burgers and stews. You may also want to check out soy butter, soy sprouts, soy flour, soy oil, soy nuts (roasted soybeans, plain and flavored), and fresh or frozen green soybeans (also called edamame).
Soy is a low-fat, cholesterol-free source of high-quality vegetable protein, rich in essential amino acids, antioxidants, fiber, calcium, and B vitamins. You may also have noticed that soy products now carry a heart-healthy label. A recent ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers to claim that 25 grams of soy protein a day (approximately three 8-oz. glasses of soy milk), when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Hundreds of studies confirm the disease-fighting potential of soy foods, including the following.
• Heart health. Soy isoflavones (namely genistein and daidzein) help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Soy appears to decrease LDL (the so-called “bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (the so-called “good”) cholesterol.
• Cancer prevention. Soy isoflavones may help reduce the risk of certain hormone-dependent cancers such as breast and prostate cancer. Research is continuing.
• Bone protection. Research suggests that certain soy isoflavones may help prevent osteoporosis and build bone density.
• Menopause moderation. Soy isoflavones may help reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.
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