You don't have to be a vegetarian or body-builder to enjoy soy protein in your diet. These days, you can choose among a variety of soy protein products. The choices seem endless and they taste great. If you're a hamburger fan and love a good barbecue, you can also enjoy an occasional soy burger or delicious chunks of tofu teriyaki on a skewer.
Other reasons to enjoy soy protein as part of your diet have more to do with maintaining your good health. The next time you reach for a handful of soy chips instead of onion rings, or slather mustard onto a soy dog, you will not only be enjoying your food but taking in the benefits of soy protein as part of your diet. Here are three key benefits:
1. Nutrition Powerhouse
Soy products carry a powerhouse of nutrients that range from protein, vitamins, calcium and minerals to folic acid and iron. Tempeh, for example, which is one form of soy protein, is soybeans especially prepared in the shape of a chewy cake. Tempeh carries fiber protein, polyunsaturated fats and lecithin, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins. Read the labels of various soy protein products such as "meatless" meats, flavored tofu, soy milk and tempeh. While you're looking into soy protein sources, don't forget to check out soybean oil. This oil is recognized as healthful because of its fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acids. These two acids help the body to absorb nutrients. Soybean oil is about 50 percent linoleic acid and 8 percent linolenic.
2. Protein Is "Complete"
You may hear nutrition experts talk about the importance of choosing "complete" proteins, having all the essential amino acids. If you do not eat enough protein, your metabolism is slow. Your best strategy is to aim for complete proteins. Soy is a complete protein, just as meat is a complete protein. If you follow a vegetarian diet that limits fish, eggs and dairy products, then you can compensate with soy protein for your protein needs.
3. Calcium Boost
Soy is generally high in calcium. If you are mindful about preventing or treating osteoporosis, you can enjoy yet another source of calcium than just milk and yogurt. For example, one cup of soy milk has 35 to 50 percent of your daily needs for calcium and is about 110 to 150 calories. Just a half cup of firm tofu, with calcium sulfate, carries 20 percent.
What's more, researchers suggest there is a connection between soy and bone health. According to the National Institutes of Health, soy protein may have a beneficial effect regarding osteoarthritis, which is the breakdown of cartilage. Using soy protein as part of your diet may result in reduced symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Women who had soy protein in one study showed increased bone mineral density compared to women in the control group. Another study suggested a link between soy and a reduced risk of fracture in older women.
The Magic Number
Doctors warn that the benefits of soy protein are to be carefully weighed against the risks of eating excessive amounts of it. The general recommendation is from two to four servings of soy protein a week. Another safe route is to just use smaller portions of soy as a daily complement to whatever else is on your plate.