Soy is a food that we commonly find in supermarkets today. It is enough to look at any shelf, even in local gastronomy, to find soy-based alternatives, which often seem to be destined, however, for intolerant and vegetarians. But will it really be like this? Obviously not.
In truth, when it comes to the properties of soy or the benefits of soy, we are all pretty devoid of in-depth information. And this is a bad thing, because soy is good for everyone: it's good, and it's a very valid alternative to vary your daily diet a little.
For this reason, in this article we have decided to tell you everything, absolutely everything, about soy. Ready? Let's start!
Soy: a plant or a legume?
Soy is a plant, and to be precise a herbaceous plant. It also has the name of bristly soybean, as it is covered with bristly hairs, as well as having small clover-like leaves, and producing small flowers of different colors. The fruit, i.e. the soybeans we are used to eating, is produced in a pod that contains one to five seeds. As we have said, these are used in the food industry, as they are rich in proteins, polyunsaturated fats, saponins and isoflavones.
Thanks to these extraordinary properties, it spread from Asia – where it was cultivated for 5,000 years, mainly in Manchuria – to the USA, where its cultivation literally exploded during the Second World War. Today it is still widespread in China, but also in Japan and Indochina, while in the American continent its cultivation has also "infected" South America. In the Americas, however, the most convenient varieties to grow have been genetically manipulated so as to implement their production. A choice that is, however, prohibited elsewhere, for example in our country.
What is soy from a nutritional point of view
In addition to being a plant, soy is a legume, like chickpeas, beans and lentils. And it shares the nutritional properties with legumes, although it has an advantage in terms of digestibility. In particular, it is rich in:
- B vitamins
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated lipids
- Phospholipids (e.g. soy lecithin)
- Amino acids
- Phytoestrogens and isoflavones
And speaking of phytoestrogens and isoflavones, let's start talking about one of its first and main benefits. This is its effect on some forms of cancer - in particular breast, colon and prostate - as well as on menopause and related diseases such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. A study on Asian women has, in fact, revealed the incidence of soy consumption on these pathologies, highlighting how, thanks to phytoestrogens and isoflavones, it produces various positive effects on health.
Among these, there are also mood benefits such as a lower incidence of anxiety, irritability and depression. But that's not all, because soy also fights free radicals and improves arterial elasticity. It should be noted, however, that studies on these effects are still ongoing.
Finally, a small ethical parenthesis: to produce 100 grams of vegetable protein from soy you need 5 times fewer cultivated fields than to produce 100 grams of animal protein. In short, it's also good for the planet and not just for those who live there.
Foods that contain soy…
And soy products. That is: how to take it to vary the diet. Yes, because luckily many foods are produced with soy, and it is therefore possible to add it in various ways to your diet. In short, if you've ever googled "soy sauce benefits" or "how to cook soy" you already know: the answers to these questions are practically endless.
People who are lactose intolerant know this well, for the most part used to drinking soy milk every day. But also fans of oriental cuisine who use to cook tofu and miso, or tamari and shoyu. But it applies to everyone. In fact, soybean oil is also available on the market – excellent for frying thanks to its extreme lightness and the fact that it is tasteless – flour (yes, also ideal for spaghetti!), soy bread, lecithin, meat substitutes for vegetarians .
Insight: soy lecithin
One of the reasons why it is important to consume soy is the presence of lecithin. It is a natural substance also contained in egg yolk, which goes to work on the cholesterol in the blood, reducing it significantly and, thus, affecting pathologies such as stroke, heart attack and arteriosclerosis, linked precisely to cholesterol.
One of the most common ways to take lecithin, in addition to the supplement, is flour, which increases the fiber and protein content when used in making bread. Attention, lecithin not only works on cholesterol, but it is also a source of organic phosphorus and choline, essential in the metabolism of fats.
Insert soy into your daily diet: recipes and what you can find in the supermarket
If the properties of soy have intrigued you, and now you want to start consuming it, or you simply want to consume more, know that doing so is not only possible, but also absolutely easy. In fact, it is extremely widespread – and, let us add, it also tastes good – so eating it will be a pleasure.
We have already talked about soya milk, which also acts as a milk substitute for the lactose intolerant. This type of intolerance is quite common in Asia. This has led to the spread of products similar to our dairy products, but based on soy. Consequently, you can find not only milk, but also yoghurt (in numerous flavors and with a slightly more delicate flavor than yoghurt made from milk) and tofu silk – also ideal for making sweets -, ice creams and the traditional tofu, a cheese substitute it can be eaten both fresh and in broth – the diced tofu in miso soup is very famous – or fried.
Tofu in miso soup inevitably leads us to talk about Asian recipes. So green light not only to the ideas we have already mentioned, but also to the use of soy sauce instead of salt. (A quick and healthy recipe? Marinate chicken strips in soy sauce and put them in a pan without oil). And the use of soy flour for the preparation of protein spaghetti. Excellent sautéed with vegetables and with a little sesame oil which makes them even healthier. And who doesn't know the bean sprouts used to garnish spaghetti and salads?
Finally, let's talk about substitutes for vegans and vegetarians. Well, those who have tried soy burgers already know it: they are addictive. Soy is, in fact, one of the most popular substitutes for meat when it comes to taste, and does not make us regret products of animal origin at all. Available in both hamburger and meatball formats, veg chefs also use it for ragù! And obviously, everyone can consume soy as a legume – now it is also found in the pre-cooked version in cans, like beans – perhaps steamed and added to salads.
Contraindications and advice
Soy doesn't have many contraindications, which doesn't mean it doesn't have any at all. For example, it contains substances, phytates, which limit the absorption of minerals such as zinc, which is essential for the health of hair, skin and nails. Furthermore, it is still a legume, and even if its effects on the point of intestinal gas production are not comparable to those of the legumes we are used to, do not expect not to suffer from it at all.
For these and other reasons, experts advise adding it to one's diet, but never using it - it is a wrong choice in any case and with reference to any food - to completely replace cereals or proteins of animal origin.
No problem, however, for those who are intolerant to lactose and casein who consume soy milk. In fact, producers tend to add everything found in milk to this food, from vitamins to calcium, so that there are no nutritional deficiencies. And no problem for genetically modified soy either. Although GMOs are prohibited in Italy, in fact, the studies that have been conducted up to now have not highlighted any particular problems, confirming on the contrary that they are safe foods.