There was a time in recent history when the closest Americans willingly came to soybeans was by driving through farm country. The only milk you could find at the grocery store came from cows, and the word “tofu” conjured images of bell-bottomed hippies. Times have changed however, and what was once a staple only in Asian markets has found its way to mainstream U.S. supermarket shelves. So what exactly is soy, why would you eat it, and how can you incorporate it into your diet?|
Domesticated in China around the 11th century B.C., the soybean--actually a legume--is the mother to many different foods. Edamame, soymilk, tofu, and tempeh top the list in popularity, not to mention all the food products that contain soy protein as an ingredient, like soy burgers and protein powders. In the quest for a healthier lifestyle, Americans have been increasing their consumption of soy foods upon learning that it can be beneficial to their health.
In 1999, in response to decades of studies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave food manufacturers the right to label foods high in soy protein as beneficial to heart health. There have also been studies suggesting that soy may play a role in the reduction of diseases such as osteoporosis, prostate cancer and colon cancer. If that’s not enough, whole soy foods are good sources of protein, fiber, B-vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. And contrary to the widespread belief that all plant-based proteins are incomplete, soybeans are a complete protein. This means that foods made from soy are a great alternative to meat and dairy foods.
But in order for soy to be beneficial to your health, you have to eat it regularly in an appropriate amount and as part of your overall balanced and healthy diet. For people who want to eat soy products, up to one to two servings per day is appropriate. Examples of a single serving include:
These large soybeans are harvested when the beans are still green and in their most natural state. Edamame is most often sold frozen, but some stores may carry fresh edamame in the produce section. These soybeans have a sweet taste and can be served as a snack, appetizer (common in Japanese and sushi restaurants) or a main vegetable dish. You can find them in the pods or shelled (no pod), and which option you choose should depend on how you plan to eat them. (Remember, once cooked, to only eat the inner beans and discard the pod.) To prepare, just steam or boil edamame for about 5-10 minutes. Add a little salt, pop open the pods, and eat the beans by pulling the pod through your teeth. Shelled edamame also makes a great addition to many recipes, such as stir-fry, succotash, or vegetable-based salads.