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Plant-based eating is one of today’s hottest dietary trends, with a variety of plant protein options now available to consumers. Of the many choices, soyfoods in particular have much to offer the more than 100 million Americans over the age of 50. Soyfoods are protein-rich, high-fiber foods, offering health benefits that set them apart from other plant protein choices. Not only is the soybean higher in protein than other beans (~35% vs. ~27%),1 but soy protein is also a complete protein, which means that it contains all the essential amino acids in amounts needed by the body.2
One half-cup serving of canned black soybeans (used in soups, chili and dip recipes), for example, contains 11 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. Soyfoods contain no cholesterol and also are low in saturated fat, high in polyunsaturated fat and provide an essential omega-3 fatty acid.3 Here are more reasons to make soy your plant protein of choice.
Soyfoods promote heart health. A recent statistical analysis published by the Journal of Nutrition emphasizes the benefits of soy protein for heart health. Soy protein was found to lower LDL cholesterol by 3.2%.4 Each 1% reduction is thought to reduce the risk of heart disease by 1% to 2%. Also, in 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration formally recognized the cholesterol-lowering properties of soybean oil when it approved a health claim for soybean oil and reduced risk of heart disease.5 Therefore, when soyfoods replace commonly sources of protein in the American diet, which tend to be high in saturated fat, estimates are that soyfoods, because of the direct effect of the protein and the favorable change in the fatty acid content of the diet, can reduce cholesterol levels by 7 to 8%.6
Soy may contribute to your brain health. New research from the University of Illinois suggests that for people aged 65 to 75, consuming a variety of nutrients is associated with better brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, were associated with general intelligence, while omega-6 fatty acids were associated with skills involving mental control and self-regulation.7 Some of the best sources of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are soybean oil, as well as many soyfoods. Furthermore, a 12-week study found significant improvements in cognitive function among women whose diet was supplemented with soy protein in comparison to whey protein supplementation.8
Soyfoods may help lower the risk of certain types of cancer. Consuming soyfoods may help reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer9—the most common cancer among American men, as well as breast cancer,10,11 the most common cancer among American women, with the exception of skin cancer. Intriguing research suggests one factor contributing to the low prostate cancer rates in Asian counties is the consumption of soyfoods. In Japan, as well as in some urban areas of China, the average soy consumption is around 1½ to 2 servings per day.12 Research suggests that consuming approximately two servings of soyfoods per day is associated with a one-third reduction in the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.10
For survivors of breast cancer, there is good news as well. Both the American Institute for Cancer Research13 and the American Cancer Society14 have concluded that soyfoods can safely be consumed by breast cancer patients. In fact, research involving more than 11,000 women with breast cancer shows that high soy intake after a diagnosis of breast cancer reduces risk of recurrence by 24% and risk of dying from breast cancer by 16%.15 One serving of soy is the equivalent of 1 cup of soymilk, ½ cup tofu, ½ cup shelled edamame or ¼ cup of soynuts.
Soyfoods can benefit those with diabetes. An estimated 30.3 million Americans—nearly 10% of the population—have diabetes. Eating soyfoods has been shown to improve glucose tolerance in people with diabetes, and to decrease blood glucose.16 Also, a large Japanese study found that among women, frequent soyfood consumers were 50% less likely to develop diabetes over a 10-year period.17 Unlike other beans, soybeans are very low in carbohydrates,1 as are the traditional soyfoods such as tofu, so they can help with glycemic control.18
Soyfoods can reduce menopause symptoms. Clinical studies have shown that consuming about 50 milligrams of soybean isoflavones, the amount in about two servings of soyfoods (such as 1 cup of soymilk and ½ cup of tofu) can reduce the number of hot flashes by about 50%.19
Soyfoods promote skin health. Studies suggest that the plant estrogens (isoflavones) in soy can reduce wrinkles in young women and older women alike. For example, a new clinical study from Japan examined the potential benefit of soy for skin health in postmenopausal women who consumed about one cup of soymilk per day for eight weeks. The study found general improvement in skin health based on both subjective (questionnaires) and objective (skin biopsies) measurements of skin health.20 That such a modest amount of soy – one serving per day – led to such pronounced benefits is very exciting. These new results are consistent with previously published research.21
Soyfoods promote muscle health. Older adults have increased protein needs, in order to slow or prevent the muscle loss that naturally occurs with aging. Because soyfoods are affordable and provide high-quality protein, they can help older people meet protein needs. Research shows soy protein leads to gains in strength and muscle mass in individuals engaged in resistance exercise training (weight-lifting) as well as animal protein.22
Soyfoods are budget-friendly. For older adults with a limited income, food budgets matter. According to the Pension Rights Center in Washington, D.C., half of the nearly 50 million Americans who were age 65 and older in 2016 had an annual income of less than $24,000. Soyfoods are economical ingredients, and are simple to prepare. For example, replacing 25% to 50% of the ground meat in recipes with textured soy protein (TSP) or textured vegetable protein (TVP™) can stretch a food budget without sacrificing flavor, texture or convenience. The meat/plant protein blend works in everything from burgers to tacos, chili, or meat sauces.
For more information about soyfoods, and the most recent research about soyfoods and health, visit www.thesoyfoodscouncil.com. You’ll also find recipes and cooking tips from The Soyfoods Council.
About the Soyfoods Council: The Soyfoods Council is a non-profit organization, created and funded by Iowa soybean farmers, providing a complete resource to increase awareness of soyfoods, educate and inform media, healthcare professionals, consumers and the retail and foodservice market about the many benefits of soyfoods. Iowa is the country’s number one grower of soybeans and is the Soyfoods Capital of the world.
About the Role of Soyfoods in a Healthful Diet: Soyfoods have played an important role in Asian cuisines for centuries. In recent years they have become popular in Western countries because of their nutrition and health properties. Soyfoods are excellent sources of high-quality protein and provide a healthy mix of polyunsaturated fat. In addition, independent of their nutrient content, there is very intriguing evidence indicating soyfoods reduce risk of several chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and certain forms of cancer. All individuals are well advised to eat a couple of servings of soyfoods every day.
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2. Hughes GJ, Ryan DJ, Mukherjea R, et al. Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS) for soy protein isolates and concentrate: Criteria for evaluation. J Agric Food Chemistry. 2011;59(23):12707-12.
3. Slavin M, Kenworthy W, Yu LL. Antioxidant properties, phytochemical composition, and antiproliferative activity of Maryland-grown soybeans with colored seed coats. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57(23):11174-85.
4. Blanco Mejia S, Messina M, Li SS, et al. A meta-analysis of 46 studies identified by the FDA demonstrates that soy protein decreases circulating LDL and total cholesterol concentrations in adults. J Nutr. 2019;149(6):968-81.
5. Qualified Health Claim Petition – Soybean Oil and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease (Docket No. FDA-2016-Q-0995). https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/UCM568508.pdf.
6. Jenkins DJ, Mirrahimi A, Srichaikul K, et al. Soy protein reduces serum cholesterol by both intrinsic and food displacement mechanisms. J Nutr. 2010;140(12):2302S-11S.
7. Zwilling CE, Talukdar T, Zamroziewicz MK, et al. Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain. NeuroImage. 2019;188239-51.
8. Zajac IT, Herreen D, Bastiaans K, et al. The effect of whey and soy protein isolates on cognitive function in older Australians with low vitamin B12: A randomised controlled crossover trial. Nutrients. 2018;11(1).
9. Applegate CC, Rowles JL, Ranard KM, et al. Soy consumption and the risk of prostate cancer: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2018;10(1).
10. Xie Q, Chen ML, Qin Y, et al. Isoflavone consumption and risk of breast cancer: a dose-response meta-analysis of observational studies. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition. 2013;22(1):118-27.
11. Zhao TT, Jin F, Li JG, et al. Dietary isoflavones or isoflavone-rich food intake and breast cancer risk: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Clin Nutr. 2019;38(1):136-45.
12. Messina M, Redmond G. Effects of soy protein and soybean isoflavones on thyroid function in healthy adults and hypothyroid patients: a review of the relevant literature. Thyroid. 2006;16(3):249-58.
13. American Institute for Cancer Research. Soy is safe for breast cancer survivors. http://wwwaicrorg/cancer-research-update/november_21_2012/cru-soy-safehtml (accessed Feburary 5, 2013). 2012.
14. Rock CL, Doyle C, Demark-Wahnefried W, et al. Nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012;62(4):242-74.
15. Chi F, Wu R, Zeng YC, et al. Post-diagnosis soy food intake and breast cancer survival: A meta-analysis of cohort studies. Asian Pacific journal of cancer prevention : APJCP. 2013;14(4):2407-12.
16. Glisic M, Kastrati N, Gonzalez-Jaramillo V, et al. Associations between phytoestrogens, glucose homeostasis, and risk of diabetes in women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Adv Nutr. 2018;9(6):726-40.
17. Konishi K, Wada K, Yamakawa M, et al. Dietary soy intake is inversely associated with risk of type 2 diabetes in Japanese women but not in men. J Nutr. 2019.
18. Feinman RD, Pogozelski WK, Astrup A, et al. Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management: critical review and evidence base. Nutrition. 2015;31(1):1-13.
19. Taku K, Melby MK, Kronenberg F, et al. Extracted or synthesized soybean isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flash frequency and severity: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Menopause. 2012;19(7):776-90.
20. Nagino T, Kaga C, Kano M, et al. Effects of fermented soymilk with Lactobacillus casei Shirota on skin condition and the gut microbiota: a randomised clinical pilot trial. Beneficial microbes. 2018;9(2):209-18.
21. Jenkins G, Wainwright LJ, Holland R, et al. Wrinkle reduction in post-menopausal women consuming a novel oral supplement: a double-blind placebo-controlled randomized study. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2014;36(1):22-31.
22. Messina M, Lynch H, Dickinson JM, et al. No difference between the effects of supplementing with soy protein versus animal protein on gains in muscle mass and strength in response to resistance exercise. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 2018;28(6):674-85.
Linda Funk The Soyfoods Council 515-491-8636 firstname.lastname@example.org