Soy protein — a powerful plant-based alternative

Soy, nature's power-house, has more to it than just "plant-energy" to shape good health

Soy beans

Vegetarians and health enthusiasts have known for long that foods rich in soy protein offer a good alternative to meat, poultry, and other animal-based products.

As people are getting interested in pursuing healthier lifestyles, consumption of soy foods has risen steadily, bolstered by scientific studies. With soy available in several forms, you will surely find tasty ways to incorporate it into your diet.

Products such as tofu, tempeh and soy milk are rich in protein. Soy protein products can be good substitutes for animal products, because, unlike other beans, soy offers a “complete” protein profile. Soybeans contain all the amino acids essential to human nutrition, which must be supplied in our diet because they cannot be synthesised in the human body. Soy protein products can replace animal-based foods which also have complete proteins but tend to contain more fat, especially saturated fat.

Soy is a good source of lecithin and vitamin E. These natural anti-oxidants prevent oxidation of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. Soy is rich in magnesium, vital for healthy bones, heart and arteries.

Some common sources of soy protein are:

  • Miso [fermented soybean paste] is used for seasoning and in soup stock
  • Soy flour, made by grinding roasted soybeans into a fine powder, enhances protein content to baked goods. Since it adds moisture, it can be used as an egg substitute. It is available in cereals, pancake mixes, frozen desserts, and other common foods
  • Soymilk is produced by grinding dehulled soybeans mixed with water. It forms a milk-like liquid. Used as a beverage, or substitute for cow’s milk, it is sometimes fortified with calcium. It comes plain, or in vanilla, chocolate and coffee flavours
  • Textured soy protein is made from defatted, compressed, and dehydrated soy flour. It is used as a meat substitute
  • Tempeh, made from whole, cooked soybeans into a chewy cake, can also be used as a meat substitute
  • Tofu is made from cooked pureed soybeans and processed into a custard-like cake. It has a neutral taste.

Soy benefits

There is no denying that soy has many health benefits. These health benefits accrue mainly because of the quality of soy proteins and the presence of isoflavones like genistein and daidzein.

Improves bone health

Soy products, such as soy milk, do not contain a lot of calcium but the isoflavones may help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Several studies have suggested that soy isoflavones may be a factor that helps to prevent bone loss. The isoflavone genistein helps to inhibit bone breakdown and may have oestrogen-like effects in maintaining bone tissue.

Can also indirectly improve bone health. Diets high in animal protein cause more calcium to be excreted in the urine. Replacing animal protein with soy protein may help prevent calcium loss from the bones.

Relieves menopausal symptoms

Epidemiological data show that Asian women suffer less from hot flashes and night sweats compared to their Western counterparts. Symptoms of menopause are caused by low oestrogen levels. Oestrogens play a key role in controlling body temperature. Soy isoflavones can control these menopausal symptoms through their oestrogen-like effects [Also read The HRT of the Matter by Richard Firshein].

Reduces risk of heart disease

Research suggests that soy may help prevent heart disease by reducing total cholesterol, LDL [bad] cholesterol and/or preventing plaque build-up in the arteries, the cause of stroke or heart attack. These health benefits are attributed to soy isoflavones. The soy isoflavone genistein is evidenced to increase the flexibility of blood vessels.

Helps prevent cancer

Several studies have indicated that a regular intake of soy foods may help prevent hormone-related cancers of the breast, prostate and colon.

Like all things that we eat, it is essential to monitor the intake of soybeans. For example, some people are allergic to soy products. In fact, one out of five children with food allergies is allergic to soybeans. Those who are allergic to soy products generally suffer from hives, diarrhoea, and breathing problems after eating soybeans.

Soy Milk

Soy milk [also called soymilk, soya milk, soybean milk] is a milk-like beverage made from soybeans. It is promoted as a healthy alternative to cow’s milk –

  • It contains no antibiotics, hormones, cholesterol, or links to cancer, diabetes, and other diseases
  • Useful in diabetes management thanks to its ability to control blood sugar levels. However, diabetics should be aware that most brands of soymilk – even those labelled “plain” or “organic” – are actually sweetened. Look for the word “unsweetened” on the label
  • Good source of lecithin and vitamin E
  • Safe for people with lactose intolerance or milk allergy
  • Has polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which are good for your heart
  • Contains isoflavones, organic chemicals that are beneficial to health.



  • Soy is the cheapest high quality vegetable protein
  • It is a good source of thiamine, niacin, folic acid and riboflavin
  • Soybeans should be cooked well for digestion and absorption
  • Good for patients having high cholesterol levels
  • Soy milk can be used for individuals having lactose intolerance
  • Soy milk preparations are useful in certain metabolic disorders
  • Soy flour can be added to wheat flour to make chapathis
  • Commercially available products in India are nutria-nuggets, nutrila, meal-maker, crunchies etc.

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