The magic of soy

The lowly soy bean is as versatile a food source as any on the planet. Asian people have utilized soy as a staple in their diets for centuries. In a corner of the world where population has always been dense and poverty is the norm, the soybean -- hardy and indigenous to the area -- would by necessity become important to their survival.

Soybeans, a legume, are quite different than other kinds of legumes. Not only do they contain all of the eight essential amino acids necessary for good health, they are nitrogen sparing to our soil and therefore good for our planet as well. Originally grown as a cash crop in the Midwest, they were mainly used in livestock feed and exported to the east for human consumption, possibly with the exception of soy oil and soy sauce.

It may have taken us a few centuries to catch on to the benefits of soy, but it's no holds barred now! The American consumer demands new and creative products made with soy and that's exactly what the manufacturers of natural food products have given us -- along with creative ways to use the old standby, tofu. Soy now makes appearances in meatless hot dogs and burgers, soy based milk, cheeses and yogurts, soynut butter, and soy flour -- to name a few. If you haven't tasted some of these new creations, I think you might be nicely surprised.

Beyond the versatility of the bean are the remarkable health benefits. Numerous studies show soybeans to be beneficial in the fight against many of the diseases caused -- at least in part -- by our dietary indiscretions including osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer. Their remarkable healing energies come from plant-based chemicals (phytochemicals) known as isoflavones.

Worldwide health statistics tell us that, until recently, Asian people eating a typically Asian diet enjoyed a much lower rate of these chronic diseases that seem to plague the west. This observation led researchers to focus on the health benefits of a plant-based diet, including soy as a major source of protein, with very positive findings.

Heart disease, including stroke and high blood pressure, accounts for more than 40 percent of all deaths here in the US. Researchers investigating the effects of soy and risk factors for heart disease have concluded in evidence-based studies that blood lipids, total cholesterol and LDL (the bad cholesterol) can be lowered by consuming as little as 25 grams of soy protein per day.

Osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease, is a major cause of disability in our seniors today -- especially women. Studies following postmenopausal women who used animal-based protein diets versus plant-based protein diets high in soy had significantly lowered rates of calcium loss from their bones. How does soy rate next to dairy? The milk mustache lost hands down next to calcium-fortified soy. The milk protein group lost significantly more bone mineral and bone density than the soy group.

Research shows many positive benefits of soy-based foods in the fight against cancer as well. Cancer is the second largest killer in the U.S. and certainly one of the most dreaded of diagnoses. A study recently released by the pharmaceutical industry shows soy isoflavones bind to estrogen receptors in hormone-dependent tumors and block the grow of new cancer cells.

Some studies also suggest that certain proteins within the bean can actually block growth of new blood vessels into the tumor, denying the cancerous cells the oxygen and nutrients it needs in a process known as angiogenesis.

Nutritionists everywhere may choose to agree or disagree on the various aspects of what composes a healthy diet. None will disagree on the attributes of using soy-based foods in the diet. The facts are the facts: soy is just plain good sense nutrition that tastes good!

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online March 28, 2000

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