By Densie Webb, PhD, RD
There are many reasons to consider soybeans a “superfood.” In addition to soy’s vitamins, minerals, potassium and fiber, it’s the only food with a plant protein equal in protein quality to that of meat and eggs. However, it is the isoflavones genistein and daidzein that are believed to be responsible for soy’s health benefits—although soy consumption for health is not without controversy. While not all findings have been consistent, a fairly strong body of research suggests people who regularly eat soy may have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer. And while some studies support eating soy to reduce symptoms associated with menopause in women, the results are mixed and most of the research is centered on isoflavone supplements, not soy consumption.
There also is concern that the potency of soy isoflavonesmay be a double-edge sword, preventing disease in some people but possibly increasing risks in others. One theory is that soy consumption can elevate estrogen levels. Isoflavones in soy have some estrogen-like properties, but they do not affect estrogen levels in women. Some animal studies question whether women with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer should consume soy, although clinical studies indicate that neither isoflavones nor soy increase breast tissue density or stimulate breast cell proliferation—two important markers of breast cancer risk. Other animal studies find high levels of isoflavones may cause reproductive problems such as infertility. A third offshoot of the estrogen theory is that boys should not eat soy as it could affect their hormonal development, although there is no clinical evidence of this.
Research on the effects of soy consumption encompass the many forms in which soy is available, including tofu (soybean curd), tempeh (slightly cooked and fermented soybeans molded into a patty), soy milk (ground soybeans and water strained of solids) and whole soybeans. The nutrients and compounds exist in all soy forms, but the prevalence of isoflavones is highest in edamame, or green soybeans.
Cooking With Soybeans
By Jackie Newgent, RD
Soybeans may have been discovered in China more than 5,000 years ago, but they play a nutrient-rich role in today’s modern kitchen. The pea-sized bean is a versatile food with economical value and endless ways to enjoy.
- Use canned soybeans like any canned bean. Go for a spicy soybean burrito, mix with red beans in chili or whip up a tasty twist on hummus by using soybeans instead of chickpeas.
- Edamame––little green veggies with a mellow, buttery flavor—can be served in their fuzzy pods with a pinch of sea salt (eat straight from their pods by removing the beans with a scrape of your teeth). Sprinkle shelled edamame into chicken or tuna salad, or puree them to make a lovely dip.
- Try soynuts (roasted soybeans) in place of other nuts for an occasional change of taste. Sprinkle them onto salads, casseroles and even ice cream. Mix with dried fruits and dark chocolate chips in trail mix. Finely chop and create a crispy crust on poultry. Puree into a fresh soynut butter or whirl with fresh basil into a perky pesto.
Using Soybeans in Food Service
By Lynnette Jones, MBA, MS, RD
While tofu, textured soy protein and soy milk are no strangers to foodservice operations, whole soybeans have begun popping up on menus more recently. As with many soy foods, soybeans are an approved source of protein in school foodservice settings and may be used in long-term care and hospitals as a high-quality protein alternative. Commercial kitchens will find whole soybeans in several forms. Yellow or black soybeans are mature beans that are harvested ripe and available either dried (which require soaking to rehydrate) or canned (which offer the greatest convenience). Roasted soybeans may be oil- or dryroasted and can come plain, salted or seasoned. Edamame, the type of soybean most commonly used in foodservice, is harvested at a fresh green immature stage at 80-percent ripeness and is available frozen shelled or unshelled.
While fresh edamame in the pod is sometimes available to quantity kitchens in late summer, its shelf life is short. Both conventional and organic soybeans are typically available from suppliers. Soybeans can be served hot or cold, adding to their versatility. Try substituting edamame in place of lima beans or adding them to vegetable mixes. Toss edamame into stir-fries or broth-based soups. Add roasted soy nuts to the salad bar for a healthy crunch instead of croutons, or add them to muffins in place of other nuts. Use yellow or black soybeans in soups, casseroles and chili, just as you would other types of beans.