Spilling the Beans on Soy

If you live near agricultural areas you’ve probably seen soybeans. Soybeans are grown in at least 30 states, often rotated with corn because soy is a legume which partners with nitrogen fixing bacteria to leave nitrogen in the soil for the following year’s corn crop.

As a food, soy is uniquely nutritious. First, it provides high quality protein which supplies all of the essential amino acids you can’t produce yourself – a complete protein. That puts soy protein in the same class as eggs, meat and milk, but without the saturated fat. Soy is also a source for important micronutrients – iron, phosphorus, manganese, potassium and folate are notable in tasty green soybeans called edamame. Soy also contains the powerful isoflavone antioxidant genistein. Antioxidants reduce general inflammation and reduce the risk for clogged arteries, but genistein is a phytoestrogen (plant estrogen) which has caused concern and confusion about a potential link to breast cancer.

The soy versus breast cancer discussion is too complex for detail here. Currently, most experts consider a moderate amount of soy food as safe, and possibly even protective, even for breast cancer survivors. Soy or genistein concentrated supplements, however, are best avoided because of an absence of research.

You can get more soy into your diet by adding edamame to virtually any dish, especially salads or stir fry concoctions, or by finding recipes calling for tofu or the fermented product tempeh. Another fermented soy product that is well known to most Americans – soy sauce – should be used in moderation. Unfortunately, while soy sauce is certainly tasty, its only notable contribution to your diet is excess sodium.

Soy foods offer a healthy and convenient alternative to meat products because of the high quality protein in these little legumes. Don’t forget to check the carbohydrate content.

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