To Soy or Not to Soy…That is the question
Tofu originated in China and is the key protein source in the Asian diet. It is made from soybean curd and one serving of tofu is 150g or ¾ cup which is considered one meat alternative serving in Canada’s Food Guide. Other foods made from soybeans include soymilk, miso, tempeh, natto, and soy protein isolate. Soy products are excellent sources of protein and contain B vitamins, zinc, some iron and calcium if packed in a calcium base. They are lactose free and contain powerful chemicals called isoflavones. Much research is underway on the benefits and risks of isoflavones in the diet. It seems isoflavones may stand-in for estrogen in certain sites in the body, providing beneficial effects, but may also act as anti-estrogens in other sites, preventing full expression of the hormone’s effects on tissues. Some of the beneficial effects of isoflavones include reducing LDL and VLDL cholesterol, which can reduce the risk of heart disease. It has been said, however, that a minimum of 25 grams of soy protein must be consumed daily to gain the cholesterol lowering effect. Isoflavones may also minimize the symptoms of menopause, particularly hot flashes in some women, they may help keep strong bones and may reduce the risk of cancer. In men, isoflavones may minimize the risk of prostate problems (particularly the enlargement of the prostate gland). There is some research that shows excess isoflavones may have negative effects in terms of cancer risk so it is important, as with all foods, not to overdo it.
Data on soy and prostate cancer are promising, but data on soy and breast cancer is still mixed. Scientists caution against using large amounts of soy, soy supplements or isoflavone supplements because it is too early to know the risk/benefit and suggested amount. A balanced diet that includes soy is a good idea, but it should also include lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Loading up on any one nutrient is not advisable. Many different plant foods appear to offer health benefits, therefore the best way to take advantage is to eat a large variety all the time.
Uses of soy
Tofu comes in many textures. Firm tofu is a hard block and can be cut into strips or cubes for stir-fries and casseroles. Medium tofu can be used in scrambles, burritos and dips and soft tofu can be blended into shakes, soups or tomato sauces. Unopened, tofu can last 2 months in the fridge (check the expiration date). Once opened it needs to be stored in water in a covered container and can last up to one week. Tofu can be frozen but its’ texture changes. After thawing, squeeze out the moisture, crumble or cube it and use it in place of ground beef in lasagna or pasta sauce.
There are many foods on the market now that use soy protein as a meat analogue. Tofu wieners, burgers, veggie pepperoni and veggie ground round. The ground round is a great time saver. It is pre-cooked and can be added to any recipe that calls for ground beef such as lasagna, shepherd’s pie, tacos and casseroles. There are also several soy cheeses, mayonnaise and soy margarine.
Other ways to include more soy in your diet:
- Chocolate soy milk with calcium as a snack
- Soy cheese sandwich
- Soymilk on cereal, oatmeal or smoothies
- Silken Tofu salad dressings
- Almond dessert tofu
- Edamame salad with corn, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, purple onion and lime
- Soy yogurt with fruit and granola
- Tofu kebobs on the BBQ with onions and peppers
- Roasted soy nuts in trail mix.