Soy is a popular legume of Asian origin. People who follow a vegetarian diet often use soy to replace meat. However, there is some controversy surrounding the benefits and risks of consuming soy, as some producers now genetically modify the plant.
Soybeans are healthful and rich in protein, giving them numerous nutritional uses. People can eat them, drink them in milk alternatives, and take them in the form of supplements.
Manufacturers may also extract the oil from soy and use it to make ecologically friendly fuel, as well as candles, crayons, and engine lubricants.
In this article, learn more about soy, its potential health benefits and risks, and the best forms of soy to consume.
Types and Uses
Soybeans are a high protein plant food that people can prepare and eat in a variety of ways. They belong to the pea family.
Soybeans come in many colors, including:
Green soybeans: Young green soybeans are also called edamame. People can steam them and eat them out of the pod as an appetizer. Shelled edamame is also available in salads, stir-fries, and soups.
Yellow soybeans: Producers typically use yellow soybeans to make soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and tamari. They also play a role in the production of soy flour for baking.
Black soybeans: Several Asian food cultures use simmered or fermented black soybeans in traditional dishes.
Soy milk and cheese are also options for those looking to replace dairy in the diet.
Soybeans also provide soy oil, which people can use for cooking or as an ingredient. After removing the oil from soybeans, people can use the remaining material to make food for farm animals and pets.
Some manufacturers make protein powder and isoflavone supplements from soy. Isoflavones are plant compounds that have a similar structure to estrogen.
Less processed organic soy is the most healthful option. Some examples include:
- cooked soybeans
- soy milk
- soy nuts
Soy is a complete protein. This means that it contains all nine essential amino acids. It is an important source of protein for many people, especially those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 100 grams (g) of cooked green soybeans without salt containsTrusted Source:
- 141 kilocalories
- 12.35 g of protein
- 6.4 g of fat
- 11.05 g of carbohydrate
- 4.2 g of fiber
Soybeans are low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin C, and folate. They are also a good source of:
The nutritional content of other soy products may vary based on how manufacturers have processed them and which ingredients they have added.
Some research suggests that including soy in the diet could have several potential health benefits.
We cover these in more detail below.
Soy has links to more healthful cholesterol levels, which can help lower the risk of heart disease.
In 2015, researchers conducted an analysis of studies to look at the effect of soy on people’s cholesterol levels. They found that consuming soy significantly reduced levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the arteries.
LDL cholesterol is also known as “bad cholesterol,” as it can lead to clogging in the arteries.
The review authors also found that soy intake significantly increased high density lipoprotein cholesterol. This type is also known as “good cholesterol” because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries.
People with high cholesterol levels had more significant decreases in their LDL cholesterol than people with optimum cholesterol levels.
Also, less processed soy foods — including soy milk, soybeans, and soy nuts — were more effective than soy protein extracts or supplements.
One 2019 studyTrusted Source in the journal Molecules looked at the effect of soy isoflavone supplements on body weight in rats.
In the study paper, the authors report that certain compounds in soy isoflavones prevented the buildup of fat around the rodents’ organs.
The researchers conclude that soy isoflavone supplementation has potential for managing obesity.
Reducing breast cancer risk
A 2019 review of studiesTrusted Source indicates that the isoflavones in soy can help reduce the risk of hormone associated cancers, including prostate cancer and some breast cancers.
Some studies in the review found that Asian women who consumed soy isoflavones had a reduced risk of cancer both before and after menopause. Soy isoflavones may help reduce the growth and spread of hormone associated cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, however, it is not clear if more processed soy products — such as soy protein isolates or textured vegetable protein — offer the same benefitsTrusted Source for cancer prevention as whole soy foods.
Soy protein isolates are proteins from which manufacturers have removed the rest of the bean. Textured vegetable protein is a soybean product with the fat removed.