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I Bet You Never Said, “Oh Boy, Soy!” That Could Change…

Edamame

No, this isn’t “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Soy (But Were Afraid to Eat).” There are some things about soy you should know, though, even if you always avoid it. (Or think you do.) We’re not simply talking nutrition, either.

What sort of foods use soy from the soybean? There’s the ever-popular tofu, of course. Soybean oil is important in many things, and the dried bean is nearly 20% oil by weight. Soy meal goes into all sorts of animal feed, including cattle, swine, poultry and fish. (Even dog foods.) Soy finds its way into specialty flours, infant formula, non-dairy milk, and many more items. It’s a versatile legume!

Why is the soybean so popular?

First off, soy is a reasonable substitute for meat in what you eat. The proteins from the soybean are “complete;” they contain all the essential amino acids the body needs. This means soy products can replace animal-based foods. The advantages of this? Less fat, for one. Also, production of a ton of edible soy protein is overall cheaper than for a ton of meat. Indeed, soybeans produce at least twice as much protein per acre as any other vegetable, between 5 and 10 times as much protein as milk-producing grazers, and more than 15 times the protein output per acre of meat animals.

Of course, not all agricultural lands are suitable for soybeans; so it’s not a simple economic substitution to make. Still, there are production and economic gains to be had. Interestingly, the vast majority of soybeans are produced right here in the USA. (Bet you didn’t know that.)

Tofu and Beans

There are some specific health benefits to soy protein. A diet based on soy appears to reduce the risk of breast and colorectal cancers. Soy can lower cholesterol. Apparently soy can reduce symptoms of menopause and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Prostate cancer rates are lower in men who include soy in their diet.

If only tofu tasted good.

There are some catches, of course. First off, raw (uncooked) soybeans are toxic. To humans, dogs, , pigs, chickens, cats and more. In fact, only those animals with multiple stomachs, like a cow, can safely eat raw soybeans. Soybeans must be cooked with “wet heat” to make them safe for human consumption. That’s why your edamame are steamed or boiled, PJ! Sprouted beans also lose the trypsin inhibitors that are toxic.

No eating raw soybeans, okay? And of course, there are some folks with a documented allergy to soy. (We’re not talking the heebie-jeebies you get when you hear the word “tofu.”)

So what can you eat? Tofu and edamame, of course. But tofu by itself isn’t very exciting. Soy milk is useful stuff, and you should consider it in many situations.

Tofu Stollen

As for tofu: Well, there’s tofu, and then there’s tofu. Silken tofu is very soft stuff, and can be used as a thickener for sauces, or put into smoothies. It’s basic flavor is so mild that other things will cover it up. Firm or extra-firm tofu can be deep-fried, stir-fried, grilled, or baked in lots of dishes. You can even marinate firm tofu to flavor it up! That’s the magic that most people aren’t aware of; you can actually make tofu taste almost any way you want.

Need another reason to consider tofu? It’s economical. (That’s code for “cheap.”) Because it’s so protein-dense, a full serving is about 3 ounces. If you buy the good stuff at your local Asian food market you’ll be paying less than half for equivalent protein from chicken, pork or beef. It’s a budget-friendly food in addition to being good for you.

Look for soy cheese, soy nut butter and other soy-based substitutes for your favorite foods and snacks. Although they’re not always a 1-for-1 replacement, they can help with both nutrition and, in many cases, budget controls.

What more can you as of a humble legume, I ask you…

Enjoy the (Magical Fruit Foods) Heat!

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