Soy Foods and their Benefits
In almost every coffee shop, soy milk is now a viable option for lightening up your coffee. It's no longer necessary to shop at esoteric health food stores to buy a pack of tofu, ready-made tofu burgers, nuggets and soy cheese. Think back a few years. Was this cornucopia of soy products so readily available five years ago? Okay, maybe for Californians and New Yorkers. For the most part, the fact that grocery stores are setting aside entire sections, especially for organic foods, is a relatively new phenomenon. Maybe Americans are starting to become more conscious of their health. WE will examine the soy bean: its merits and its controversy.
Believe it or not, soy has been one of America's top cash crops for years, though used mostly to feed livestock. However, that is changing. U.S. retail sales of soy foods have increased by several billion dollars between 1992 and today, and sales are projected to continue increasing. This is due in part to a 1999 FDA approved soy protein health claim.
The FDA determined that diets with four 6.25-gram installments of soy daily can reduce levels of low-density lipoproteins, also known as the bad cholesterol that clogs blood vessels, by as much as 10 percent. As with other FDA-approved foods of the past (such as oat bran), consumers now have tangible scientific evidence on the benefits of soy protein that will help them make informed choices. Vegetarians and health enthusiasts have known and regarded soy protein as a healthy alternative to animal-based products for some time now. Asian cultures have been using the soy bean in several fashions for centuries.
Soy milk in particular is also proven a good alternative to those of us who are lactose-intolerant. It is an incredibly malleable food; you can steam it, drink it, dice it, grill it and fry it. If seasoned and cooked well, soy can shape shift (and taste shift) into almost anything. Though the explosion of soy may seem a new American phenomenon, Americans have been enjoying the benefits of soy for quite some time now. According to the United Soybean Board, soybean oil accounts for 79% of the edible fats used in the U.S. Commercial mayonnaise, margarine, vegetable shortening and salad dressing all utilize high amounts of soybean oil. That is just one of the many faces of soy. Here are a few others.
Tofu is made from cooked and pureed soybeans processed into a custard-like neutral flavored cake. It can be grilled, stir-fried, mixed into "smoothies" or transformed into a cheese substitute.
Soymilk is the name marketers use for soy that has been made into a beverage. It is produced by grinding dehulled soybeans and mixing them with water to form a milk-like liquid. It can be consumed as is or used in recipes as a substitute for cow's milk.
Soymilk is often fortified with calcium and comes in a rainbow of flavors like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and coffee. /p>
Soy flour is made by grinding roasted soybeans into a fine powder. The flour provides protein for baked goods and can be used as an egg substitute in products because of its moisture. You will also find it in cereals, frozen desserts and pancake mixes.
Tempeh is made from whole cooked soybeans and formed into a chewy cake. It is mostly used as a meat substitute.
Textured soy protein is created from defatted soy flour, which is compressed and dehydrated. It is most commonly used as a meat substitute or as a filler in dishes like meatloaf.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste used for seasoning. It is also used in soup stock.
Soy protein is also found in many "fake meat" products such as soy sausages, burgers, franks, cold cuts as well as soy yogurts and cheese, all of which are used as substitutes. Since not all foods that contain soy ingredients fulfill the conditions of the health-claim, it's best to check the labels to see if what you're about to buy is making a meaningful contribution to your health.
The Soy Conundrum
Behind every glory trails its shadow, especially when it comes to food and drugs. As the FDA-approved claim began to splash across soy-related cartons, bottles and packages of all kinds, concerns arose almost simultaneously regarding particular components in soy products, particularly the soy isoflavones daidzein and genistein. These chemicals, available over the counter in pills and powders, are often advertised as dietary supplements for women to help them lessen symptoms of menopause, primarily hot flashes. Some researchers say that isoflavones are phytoestrogens, a weak form of estrogen that could have a drug-like effect on the body. Some studies suggest that high levels of isoflavones might increase the risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer. The National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) is conducting a long-term multi- generational study of rats and their relationship to the soy component genistein. Early data suggests that genistein alone may prompt growth of breast tissue in males. However, some studies show just the opposite--that under certain conditions, soy may help prevent breast cancer.
Furthermore, some studies dating back to the late 50's link our soy culprits, daidzein and genistein, to thyroid disorders such as goiter.
A 1997 study published in Biochemical Pharmacology supported these earlier studies. The National Institutes of Health is also sponsoring a long-term study on the safety of soy infant formula. Young adults who consumed soy formula as infants will be compared to young adults who consumed milk-based formulas as infants. An earlier study published in 1997 in the medical journal The Lancet showed that infants consuming soy formula have significantly higher levels of phytoestrogens in their blood stream than women receiving soy supplements for menstrual cycle disturbances. These levels may cause toxicological effects, as infants receive higher doses of soy and isoflavones than anybody because it is their only food. On the flip side, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published guidelines showing that in some cases, soy protein-based formulas are "appropriate for use in infants" when cow's milk is not an option.
Clearly, these indirect (and sometimes direct) squabbles can (and will) go on and on. Soy, like every other food and drug can be picked apart and studied in endless scientific permutations.
Every dietary health claim that has ever been published had resulted in controversy. Let's not forget the "incredible edible egg!" Because all foods are complex alliances of chemicals that can be beneficial for many people in many situations and harmful to others when used inappropriately, every food is going to have its dark side. And this is the precise crux of most scientific food dilemmas.
The Softer Side of Soy
Though the controversial studies that have been conducted on the negative impacts of soy are still for the most part nebulous and inconclusive, available evidence on the benefits of whole soy protein is much clearer. Soy, unlike other beans, offers "complete" protein, which makes it a good substitute for animal products, which also have complete protein, but more saturated fat. Whole soy foods are a good source of fiber, vitamin B, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. Soybeans also contain all the amino acids essential to human nutrition. Amino acids, as you may know, must be provided by the human diet because they cannot be synthesized in the body. Along with the reduction of lipoproteins, a 1995 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also found that soy can also prompt "significant reductions" in triglycerides, another factor linked to health problems. A myriad of investigations are also being conducted to prove soy's positive effects beyond the realm of the heart.
As soy products become more available, many people are turning to the vegetarian lifestyle. The question is, is a vegetarian diet healthy for children? Some parents and even some pediatricians don't believe it is. However, it is widely accepted that if a vegetarian diet (like any diet) is well-planned, it can provide everything the body needs to be healthy. In fact, since vegetarian diets are generally high in fiber and low in cholesterol and saturated fats, they are a healthy alternative. This is as long as the diet is somehow making up for the nutrients that certain meats provide.
It's important to understand that there are plenty of options within the vegetarian world. There are several permutations of vegetarians, from those who just avoid red meat to vegans who don't eat any foods containing animal products. Here is a run down of the different types of vegetarian.
1. Semi or partial vegetarians avoid red meat only.
2. Oco-lacto-vegetarians avoid meat, seafood and poultry but consume milk products and eggs.
3. Lacto-vegetarians avoid meat, seafood, poultry and eggs but do consume dairy products.
4. Ovo-vegetarians avoid meat, seafood, poultry and dairy but do consume eggs.
5. Vegans avoid all foods that contain animal products including meat, seafood, poultry, milk products and eggs.
Our children's diets are very delicate. The health practices we cultivate in them now can and will affect their bodies and their habits for the rest of their adult lives. The more restrictive a child's diet is, the greater propensity for certain vitamin deficiencies. If you need help planning a vegetarian diet, it may be wise to see a nutritionist that specializes in such fields. In the meantime, here are some concerns to consider:
Calories. We know our kids need their calories for all that jumping around they do all day. Vegetarian diets may have less calories than non-vegetarian diets. If your child is eating a well-balanced vegetarian meal, is continuing to gain weight and grow and is remaining active and energetic, she is most likely getting enough calories.
Vitamin D. You can find this vitamin in egg yolks, fish and fortified milk. The body also produces its own Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, so for the most part, children are fine. If your child isn't a lover of the great outdoors, then consider supplements or vitamin D-fortified soy milk.
Vitamin B12. This vitamin comes from animal products so your child will need supplements and/or foods fortified with it such as soy milk and some meat substitutes. Check the nutrition labels. Also, nutritional yeast is a great way to get B-12.
Iron. Keep in mind that the absorption of iron from meat, fish and chicken is much higher than other sources. So, even though some fruits and veggies contain iron, it is not as easily absorbed. Check nutrition labels for foods high in iron or foods that are fortified with iron, such as cereals, breads and pasta. Also consider an iron supplement.
Protein. A good balance of grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, fruits and veggies can insure that your child gets enough protein and amino acids. And, there's always tofu.
Calcium. This mineral dwells mostly in the bones. For healthy bone development in your child, a calcium-rich diet is a must. Vegetables like broccoli, sweet potatoes, leafy greens and certain beans have a wealth of calcium. Plus, it's not uncommon for orange juice and soymilk to be fortified with extra calcium.
Zinc. The best sources of zinc are meat and yogurt, so your child may need to take supplements or eat foods fortified with zinc to get enough. Zinc is also present in whole grains, brown rice, legumes and spinach.