Soybeans have been the center of attention on American menus. The Soy industry has erupted interest in the Americas due to the benefits this food has portrayed in Asian cultures. However, some researchers question the benefits because of some hidden dangers. Research is continuous with soy foods and debates have halted in giving a definite answer over the quality of soy. The legume bean has been proven to be a nutrient dense food and contain all the healthful macronutrients and some micronutrients. This paper will reveal the nutrients and chemicals this miracle food contains and determine what the best outcome is for Americans to choose when consuming soy products.
The soybean is composed respectively of about 38% protein, 30% carbohydrates, 20% oil, and 12% moisture and other; according to the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH, ). The nutrients offered from the soybean are essential and can be compared to animal and plant products, unlike other legumes. The legume contains essential proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
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The most prevalent among the macronutrients is the protein content. About 90% of the proteins are Isolates, a high quality protein that is low in saturated fats and cholesterol (Zachery, 2011). Soy protein is a complete protein, which means it contains all the amino acids the body needs to breakdown, develop and repair tissues. Nutritional scientists have discovered that the protein lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases, lowers blood cholesterol, and can help with the elasticity of blood vessels; if used with proper moderation.
Oils and fats are the second rich nutrient composing soybeans. The soybean is primarily composed of unsaturated oils such as linoleic acid, Omega-3 fatty acids, oleic acid, and palmitic acid (Zachery, 2011). The primary polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are the key ingredients that scientific researchers have discovered to improve the cardiovascular health and reduce the risks of certain cancers. The oil that is obtained from the soybean during processing is the most common cooking oil Americans use, "Vegetable Oil".
Soybean carbohydrates are derived mostly from fiber. Fiber content in the soybean is high; however, through processing and fermentation the fiber is reduced significantly. Different soy foods are processed for different lengths and in various methods leaving the soy food products at different fiber contents than the next. The richest of the soy foods are the foods which use the whole soybean in the processing method and are not processed extensively. Good sources of fiber in soy foods are temph, soy flour, and soy protein powders. Tofu, soy dairy, and miso are highly processed and as a result do not yield much fiber. The Recommended Daily Values (RDV) recommends 25 grams of fiber a day in a diet of 2,000 calories. Most products consumed by Americans have labels stating "the soy product is not a significant source of dietary fiber".
Soybeans also contain numerous amounts of micronutrients as it does macronutrients. The micronutrients of higher concentration that the soybean offers are: Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Iron, Potassium, Zinc, Sodium, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Niacin, Thiamin, and Riboflavin (soya 2008). Each vitamin and mineral is needed for a healthy and functioning mind and body. Other nutrients are in the soybean but, do not have significant amounts to be counted for. The soybean is the most nutrient rich legume and also outdoes most fruits and vegetables when it comes to nutrient variety. It also contains large amounts of major minerals that the body needs to function. The Soya Corporation has stated on their website that per 100 grams of raw soybeans contains 1,797 mg Potassium, 704 mg Phosphorus, 280 mg Magnesium, and 277 mg of Calcium; all of which are major minerals (soya 2008).
Within all the good the soybean gives, does come some scary facts that scientists are worried about. A soybean in nature is highly toxic to the human if consumed in its natural state. Therefore, the soybean must be fermented and put under extreme detoxifications to be used for consumption. The soybean contains high levels of phytoestrogens, anti-nutrients and Trypsin Inhibitors affect the development and health of the mind and body. Over used amounts of soy products can cause cancers due to the phytoestrogens.
Phytoestrogens naturally occur in the protein of the soybean. It is simply a type of estrogen hormone and if consumed in large quantities can cause hormonal imbalances. Extra estrogen causes tumors and cancers to grow more rapidly. Phytoestrogens however, are helpful too in the premenopausal stages (Messina 2009). Only in cases where estrogen levels are normal and soy products are consumed every day, for the majority of a food source, does the person become subject to imbalances. As any nutritionist would say "too much of one source of food is not good and we need variety of foods to balance our nutrition". The main issue with phytoestrogens is the concern for infants and children. Infant soy based formulas have very high levels of phytoestrogens because it uses the whole soybean during processing. The phytoestrogen in the formula is stated to be the equivalent of five birth control pills (MayoClinic 2010). An infant and small child does not need any extra estrogens which can cause physical defects, mental impairments and early onset of puberty.
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The most concerning is the phytic-acid, an anti-nutrient, that soybeans contain. Phytic-acid is not digestible to humans and prevents the absorption of certain macronutrients and micronutrients, especially Zinc (Anderson, Wolf, & USDA, 1995). The phytic acid makes the nutrients insoluble causing deficiencies in humans. The levels of phytic acid can be reduced with fermentation, processing, and cooking. However, there are still amounts of phytic acid in the soy foods people consume. The USDA has posted to its website the case study that found the levels of phytic acid in products Americans commonly use. Products are measured per 100 g of dry matter in the case study; soymilk contains 1.7-1.8 g of phytic acid, tofu has 1.5-2.9 g of phytic acid, and temph has 0.7-1.0 g of phytic acid (Anderson, Wolf, & USDA, 1995). With these levels of phytic acid being consumed on a regular basis does cause deficiencies. It is said that in the Asian countries where soy is most commonly consumed people have showed signs of these nutrient deficiencies (MayoClinic 2010).
Soy also contains another hidden danger that inhibits the process of Trypsin. Trypsin breaks down proteins to smaller amino acids so the body can absorb them in the intestines. If the body cannot absorb the proteins then the person could become very ill and die. During the denaturing process of soybeans the Trypsin inhibitor becomes less and less effective. However, Trypsin inhibitors cannot be fully deactivated without damaging the proteins. So processors leave just enough to have the protein intact. Trypsin inhibitors are highest in whole soy based powders such as infant formulas, soy flour, dehydrated soy milk, and miso. The levels are most shocking in infant formulas with a content of 2-16 mg of Trypsin inhibitors per gram of protein. An infant is much smaller than an adult and these amounts of Trypsin inhibitors can really cause muscular, mental, and functioning disabilities in the developing child. The only way soy industries are able to get past this issue on soy based formulas is that the product is enriched with Trypsin antagonists, creating a very low percentage of Trypsin inhibitors to become active.
The amounts of phytic chemicals and antinutrients are only harmful when consumed in large amounts for consistent periods of time, without the proper nutritional balanced diet. Americans have been tricked into believing that Asian cultures consume large amounts of soy every day. This is not true. According to the MayoClinic, Asian cultures do not consume more than 106 grams of soy per day. It is suggested to consume some soy in your diet for the benefits it offers. However, it is recommended to only consume 106 grams per day to receive enough nutrients from the food to be beneficial (MayoClinic 2010). Large amounts of soy, as in soy diets, are not recommended due to the harmful anti-nutrients, phytic acids, and Trypsin inhibitors. The USDA recommends women with breast cancer and infants already with deficiencies should not use or should lower the amount of soy products consumed. Infants should not be fed a strictly soy diet. Soy foods in general are safe to consume in limited amounts. The soy products have a lot of nutrients and are a good source of protein without cholesterols and high saturated fats.
Soy can be used in many ways and can be very tasteful. A suggestion for soy is to include tofu in a stir fry, salad, salsa, or pasta. Miso soup every so often is a great source of soy. My favorite, Silk Very Vanilla soy milk is delicious and contains all the benefits from soy and lasts a long time in the fridge compared to dairy milk. Soy is a wonderful source of protein, vitamins and minerals and can promote good health if used with moderation and incorporated with healthy balanced diets.