Everything You Need to Know About Soy

There are so many ways to get this good-for-you protein into your daily diet. Here’s how to do it—and why you absolutely should.

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If you bypass tofu at salad bars, skip the meatless dishes at Chinese restaurants, and avoid edamame when youre out for sushi, well, its time to give soy-based foods a second look. "Whole soy foods are a great substitute for meat,"says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Their healthy protein content makes them a good option even if youre not one of the growing number of people going "flexitarian,"or opting to eat less meat. Heres your guide to making this legume a regular and great-tasting part of your diet.

Soy 101
All soy products are made from soybeans, mostly grown here in the United States. You can buy whole soybeans dried or canned, or in the produce section or freezer aisle as edamame, the common name for soybeans picked before theyre fully mature. (Edamame can be purchased either in pods or shelled.)

Beyond whole beans, soy takes on a number of different guises. Roasted soybeans are sold as soy nuts or ground into soy nut butter. Soybeans can besoaked in water, cooked, and filtered tomake soy milk and soy yogurt. Adding a coagulant to soy milk curdles it, producing tofu, which ranges in texture from "silken"(very soft) to "extra firm,"depending on howmuch liquid is removed. Soybeans can also be fermented into a paste called miso (the base for miso soup) or a cakeor patty called tempeh, which is often used in place of meat in sandwiches or grilledand eaten on its own. Finally, soy can be found in many packaged foods—such as frozen meatless burgers, cereals, and energy bars—often in the form of "soy protein isolate,"meaning its mostly the protein from soybeans youre getting.

The power of soy
Soys biggest nutritional claim to fame is its complete protein, one of the only plant proteins that contains all nine essential amino acids our bodies need from our diets to function properly. This makes it an ideal substitute for meat, poultry, and eggs. In fact, a half cup of cooked soybeans supplies about one-third of your necessary daily protein, for a mere 149 calories (versus about 230 for one serving of cooked ground beef). That protein and the fiber it contains make it incredibly filling. Plus, soybeans are cholesterol-free and lower in heart-unhealthy saturated fat than meat and dairy.

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Sally Kuzemchak, RD
Last Updated: February 09, 2012

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