Ingredients and Uses

The Soy Story: How Are Soybeans Beneficial For You? What Is Special About Them?

Reviewed By Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Ionut Ignat, (RDN, PHD, MD)
by
The Soy Story: How Are Soybeans Beneficial For You? What Is Special About Them? Hyderabd040-395603080 September 9, 2019

Asia is all about tradition, and food is an integral part of it. Following age-old recipes with native ingredients makes Asian cuisine stand out. The vegetables, spices, and cooking techniques make Asian food extremely healthy, tasty, and safe. One of the staple vegetables of this cuisine is soybeans.

Soybeans (or shu, as they are called in Chinese) are one of the five main plant foods in China along with rice, wheat, barley, and millet. With 36.5% protein, 19.9% lipids, 9.3% dietary fiber, and fair amounts of isoflavones, soybeans are a tasty alternative to meat. Want to know what makes them so healthy? Get set to discover all about soybeans in this article. Start scrolling!

Soybeans: In Detail

Soybeans In Detail Pinit

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Soy is a plant of Asian origin, and it belongs to the Fabaceae family. Among legumes, soybeans (Glycine max L.) are unique. They originated in China and have been cultivated for about 5000 years. They were first introduced to Southeast Asia and then to Europe in the 18th century. They then entered America and other Western countries around the 19th century (1).

Soybeans shot to fame as a nutritional solution for vegetarians and vegans. It became their USP in global cuisine.

They are good sources of unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin B, vitamin E, fiber, iron, calcium, zinc, and bioactive compounds like isoflavones. That is why soy has remained a component of traditional Asian diets for a thousand years (2).

These legumes have high protein, low carbohydrate, abundant isoflavone, and dense mineral content. Hence, they have a long list of health benefits. They are good for cardiovascular health, hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, and metabolic hiccups (3).

Scroll down to find out how soybeans benefit your health.

8 Principal Health Benefits Of Soybeans

1. Control Weight Gain And Cholesterol Levels

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Several animal and human studies have proven that consumption of soy protein reduces body weight and fat mass. Soybeans do so by lowering your plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels (4).

In a rat study, obese/fatty rats were fed soy protein or casein isolates with other components for three weeks. It was observed that soy protein-fed rats had lower body weight than those that were on casein. Their plasma and liver triglyceride levels were also reported to be low (4).

Metadata with human studies clearly show the positive effect of soybean supplementation on body weight. Isoflavones are thought to be the active components behind this effect. Eating soybeans can control body weight in not only obese individuals but also normal weight (with BMI <30) individuals (5).

However, you need to be careful about the serving size. Moreover, what you eat apart from soybeans or soy nuts determines the rate of your weight loss (6).

2. Reduce Risk Of Hormone-Dependent Cancer

Soy isoflavones have been studied for their anticancer effects. They are instrumental in preventing several hormone-dependent cancers like breast, prostate, and cervical cancers. This is probably why the incidence of breast cancer is much lower in the Asian population (7).

Isoflavones like daidzein and genistein may exert antiestrogenic effects and reduce the risk of breast carcinoma. They downregulate the enzymes involved in estrogen biosynthesis. Estrogen is one of the hormones linked to cancer growth, especially breast cancer (7), (8).

Soybean ingredients compete with estrogen to exert an anti-estrogenic effect. Both fermented and non-fermented soybean products have this anticancer property.

Women who ate the most soy food (more than 11.83 mg/day of isoflavones), experienced a 27% reduced risk for breast cancer recurrence. This effect has been reported in non-hormone-related cancers as well (8), (9).

However, the downside is that too much soy can trigger cancers. Therefore, moderation is key.

3. Manage Diabetes And Insulin Responses

The complex carbohydrates, protein, dietary fiber, and minerals win soybeans some serious brownie points. Their phytoestrogens and soy peptides also contribute significantly to this effect. They lower the glycemic value of these legumes and benefit individuals with diabetes (10), (11).

The phytochemicals in soybeans are strong antioxidants. Consuming them can protect individuals with diabetes from the oxidative damage, which can worsen diabetes. These beans can relieve conditions like impaired glucose tolerance, hyperlipidemia, and insulin resistance (10).

Interestingly, fermented soybean products (like natto, tempeh, doenjang, and kochujang) fare better as antidiabetic agents. This is probably because fermentation is thought to alter the chemical structures of isoflavonoids and other active biomolecules.

There are not many human trials backing this, but literary evidence proves the efficacy of fermented products over non-fermented ones (11).

4. Strengthen Your Hair

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Your hair needs lots of iron, sulfur, zinc, and similar minerals to grow. A good dose of protein and water also works as a bonus here. Including foods rich in these nutrients helps you achieve luscious and strong hair (12).

Soy proteins and minerals can strengthen the hair shafts and follicles. They prevent splitting and snapping of hair by nourishing its fibers (12).

Other legumes – like kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, and black beans – serve as good alternatives to soybeans. They are all low in calories but high in fiber-building components (13).

5. Promote Heart Health

Soybeans are also associated with cardiovascular benefits. All thanks to their isoflavones, yet again! These phytochemicals have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Soybean isoflavones lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood so that it does not get acted upon by free radicals to form atherosclerotic plaques. If formed, these plaques lead to inflammation of blood vessels, thus triggering atherosclerosis (14).

Consuming these beans eliminates the free radicals that inflict oxidative damage on your circulatory system. Rats that were fed soy protein showed increased activity of the antioxidant enzymes, superoxide dismutase and catalase (15).

These elements act in synergy to protect your heart from inflammation. Consuming 25 g of soy protein can lower blood pressure by widening the blood vessels (vasodilation).

This is supported by an increase in sodium excretion via urine. These phytoestrogens act on estrogen receptors and inhibit the key enzymes system that causes hypertension (16).

6. Prevent Bone Diseases In Women

Prevent Bone Diseases In Women Pinit

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Menopause marks the end of the menstrual cycle. It is also characterized by a drop in estrogen levels. Apart from regulating periods, estrogen is vital in preserving and protecting the bones. Hence, a large section of post-menopausal women face bone loss or are at a high risk of getting bone diseases (17).

Phytoestrogens are plant-derived estrogen-like molecules. They are structurally and functionally analogous to human estrogen. In theory, supplementing your diet with phytoestrogen-rich foods should relieve aching joints and osteoporosis (17), (18).

This is exactly the case with soybeans that are rich in phytoestrogens. Having soybean products, like soy milk, may be beneficial for post-menopausal women. Drinking soy milk can preserve your bone mineral density. A diet rich in soybeans reduces the risk of bone fractures and bone diseases (18).

7. Treat Sleep Disorders And Depression

Insomnia or difficulty in falling asleep is associated with coronary heart disease and increased mortality because of its effect on stress reactions and circadian rhythms. Like other body processes, sleep is also regulated by neurotransmitters and CNS (central nervous system) (19).

Estrogen is one of the hormones that act on your brain and are involved in sleep regulation. Many hormone replacement therapy studies prove the ability of estrogen to alleviate insomnia, restlessness, and depression (19).

In 2015, a survey was conducted in rural Northeast China on 1717 participants above 65 years of age. According to it, individuals who rarely consume soybeans or soybean products are more likely to have depressive symptoms (20).

The isoflavones in soybeans have estrogenic properties. They act on the estrogen receptors and produce estrogen-like effects. In this context, isoflavones may correct your sleep cycle.

Research has also found a correlation between soybean isoflavone supplementation and improvement in mood and depression (19), (21).

8. Lighten And Protect Your Skin

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Soybean contains bioactive ingredients like tannins, isoflavonoids, trypsin inhibitors, and proanthocyanidins. Extracts rich in these components are reportedly beneficial in cosmetology and dermatology.

They possess anti-inflammatory, collagen stimulating, antioxidant, skin lightening, and UV protection effects (22).

Soybean extracts find the most usage in treating hyperpigmentation. Soy phytochemicals inhibit the overproduction of melanin, thus preventing the dark pigmentation patches from growing and spreading (23), (24).

In rat studies, soybean extracts have shown to reduce wrinkles and inflammation caused by UV rays. They also boosted collagen and improved skin elasticity.

Daidzein, one of the soy isoflavones, prevented the cellular mechanisms that lead to atopic dermatitis in these rats (24).

Multiple studies strongly back the anticancer properties of soybeans. Oral and topical administration of genistein demonstrated substantial inhibition of UV-induced skin cancer and aging in mice models (24).

Adding soybeans to your food benefits your skin, heart, sleep, and almost all the vital organ systems of your body.

Here are some numbers to make the case stronger. Find out what is behind all these benefits and how much soybeans you should eat to get the most out of them. Scroll on!

Nutrition Details Of Soybeans

Nutritional value per 1 cup (186 g)
NutrientUnitQuantity
Energykcal830
EnergykJ3471
Proteing67.87
Total lipid (fat)g37.09
Ashg9.06
Carbohydrate, by differenceg56.10
Fiber, total dietaryg17.3
Sugars, totalg13.63
Minerals
Calciummg515
Ironmg29.20
Magnesiummg521
Phosphorusmg1309
Potassiummg3342
Sodiummg4
Zincmg9.10
Coppermg3.084
Manganesemg4.682
Seleniumµg33.1
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg11.2
Thiaminemg1.626
Riboflavinmg1.618
Niacinmg3.019
Pantothenic acidmg1.475
Vitamin B-6mg0.701
Folate, totalµg698
Folate, foodµg698
Folate, DFEµg698
Choline, totalmg215.6
Betainemg3.9
Vitamin A, RAEµg2
Carotene, betaµg24
Vitamin A, IUIU41
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg1.58
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)µg87.4
Lipids
Fatty acids, total saturatedg5.364
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg8.191
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg20.934
Phytosterolsmg299
Amino Acids
Tryptophang1.099
Threonineg3.285
Isoleucineg3.666
Leucineg6.155
Lysineg5.033
Methionineg1.017
Cystineg1.218
Phenylalanineg3.947
Tyrosineg2.863
Valineg3.774
Arginineg5.865
Histidineg2.040
Alanineg3.562
Aspartic acidg9.508
Glutamic acidg14.646
Glycineg3.497
Prolineg4.425
Serineg4.385
Other
Daidzeinmg116.99
Genisteinmg151.31
Glyciteinmg28.42
Total isoflavonesmg289.71
Biochanin Amg0.01
Formononetinmg15.72
Coumestrolmg0.02

(Source: USDA)

That was the nutrient composition of mature and raw soybean seeds. Another variant of soybeans is the roasted seeds.

Roasted soybean seeds are crunchy and delicious. They provide comparable energy, carbs, protein, and fiber. Most of the soybean micronutrients are retained despite roasting.

Coming to the phytochemical composition, soybeans contain active molecules like tocopherols, phospholipids, sphingolipids, carotenoids, lunasin, isoflavones, saponins, and phytates (25).

Phytic acid or phytates fall under the category of anti-nutrients. Phytic acid chelates or binds to ions like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. In your body cells, most of these minerals are bound to proteins. Under changing pH conditions, phytic acid binds to the mineral ions and proteins, making them both less bioavailable (25).

However, when you ingest soy, its phytic acid/phytates react with the enzymes of your gut. It, thus, loses a part of its trapping or chelating power (25).

Therefore, soybeans are safe to eat within limits. They taste excellent when cooked the right way. What better way to consume soy nutrients than by cooking with it!

Below is one of our favorite soybeans recipe. It is simple, traditional, quick, and super tasty! Why don’t you try it out?

How To Cook With Soybeans: Quick-n-Healthy Soybean Recipe

This soybeans and quinoa dish is filling and guilt-free. So let’s get to work!

Quinoa And Soybean Clean Salad

Quinoa And Soybean Clean Salad Pinit

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What You Need
  • Dry red quinoa: 2 cups
  • Water: to cook (4-5 cups)
  • Soybeans: 1 cup
  • Juicy apple: 1 large
  • Orange: 1
  • Broccoli: 1 cup, small florets
  • Tomato: 1/4 cup, chopped
  • Dill: 2 tablespoons, finely chopped
  • Salt: to taste
Let’s Make It!
  1. Boil four cups of water and add two cups of quinoa to it.
  2. Cook until the quinoa is done (15-20 minutes after the water boils).
  3. Set aside and let it cool down.
  4. Chop the apple into small chunks.
  5. Toss in the broccoli florets and chopped tomato. (You can add feta or cottage cheese to this salad too.)
  6. Zest the orange over the cooked and cool quinoa.
  7. Add the soybeans and chopped dill leaves
  8. Mix the contents. Sprinkle some salt to taste.
  9. Let the salad marinate for 5-10 minutes before serving.
  10. Serve it cold with some crunchy nachos or tortilla chips. Tacos can also get a healthy twist with this salad filling. Give it a try!

This cold, refreshing salad will rejuvenate your overworked organs.

If you are not a fan of salads, you can make soybean cutlets, chops, chips, hummus, curries, pancakes, soups… the list goes on! They have been used across the globe in different preparations. These beans are known for their versatility.

A variety of prepared (pre-made) or half-cooked soybean products are available in the market as well. They are all economical and tasty.

The best bet would be to have fermented soybean foods. Edamame, bean sprouts, soymilk, tofu, natto, tempeh, okara, and miso are incredibly healthy. They act as prebiotics and probiotics.

But recently, you might have heard some negative things about the safety of soy products. Soy isoflavones are often linked to metabolic disorders and cancers. So, is it right to eat soybeans every day? How much is safe and recommended?

Check out the next section to find out more.

What Is The Daily Recommended Intake Of Soybeans? How To Avoid Side Effects?

The FDA issued a final dietary regulation in 1999. According to it, a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol with 25-30 g of soy protein a day can reduce the risk of CVDs. The FDA also proposed that soy food should contain about 6.25 g soy protein per serving (1).

One cup (172 g) of cooked, unsalted soybeans contains about 30 g of protein. Therefore, eating one or half a cup of soybeans a day should be safe.

What you need to watch is what else you are eating it with. If there is already too much protein and phytosteroids on your plate, eating soybeans daily might not give expected results.

So, we suggest you consult a dietitian/nutritionist. Discuss the pros and cons of this legume and see if it suits your body or not. Only then can a portion size be fixed for you.

The Bottom Line…

Soybeans are one of the most nutrition-dense foods on this planet. They are the only vegetarian source of all amino acids. Adding them to your diet can improve your overall health and well-being – from your skin to heart to brain. Meet your nutritionist right away and fix a daily intake serving size and stick to it.

Make the most of the magic of isoflavones. Cook up a vegan storm with these beans. We are sure you will not miss the meat on your plate one bit! If you liked our recipe, please let us know. You may write in your feedback, suggestions, queries, and more creative recipes in the comments section below.

Hope you experience the joy of cooking with soy!

References

  1. Consumption of soybean, soy foods, soy isoflavones and breast cancer…” Food Science and Human Wellness, ScienceDirect.
  2. Soy, Soy Foods and Their Role in Vegetarian Diets” Nutrients, US National Library of Medicine.
  3. Soybean and Processed Soy Foods Ingredients, and Their…” Recent Patents on Food, Nutrition & Agriculture, US National Library of Medicine.
  4. Role of Dietary Soy Protein in Obesity” International Journal of Medical Sciences, US National Library of Medicine.
  5. Soy isoflavone supplementation could reduce body weight…” Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
  6. Soybeans – Can they help me lose weight?” New Q&As, Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University.
  7. Soybean products and reduction of breast cancer risk…” British Journal of Cancer, US National Library of Medicine.
  8. Soy foods not a risk for breast cancer survivors” Research News @ Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt University.
  9. Soy intake and cancer risk…” Nutrition and Cancer, US National Library of Medicine.
  10. Effects of soybean supplementation on blood glucose, plasma…” Nutrition Research and Practice, US National Library of Medicine.
  11. Antidiabetic effects of fermented soybean products on type 2 diabetes.” Nutrition research, US National Library of Medicine.
  12. 10 Foods That Promote Healthy Hair” Sylvain Melloul International Hair Academy.
  13. Top 10 Foods To Reduce Hair Loss” New York College of Health Professions.
  14. Soy may help protect against cardiovascular disease” California Agriculture, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
  15. Soy protein supports cardiovascular health by downregulating…” Nutrition research, US National Library of Medicine.
  16. Beyond the Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Soy Protein…” Nutrients, US National Library of Medicine.
  17. Soy foods: are they useful for optimal bone health?” Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease, US National Library of Medicine.
  18. Soy Milk Benefits for Osteoporosis” Videos and Media Reports, Loma Linda School of Public Health.
  19. Relationship between daily isoflavone intake and sleep in…” Nutrition Journal, US National Library of Medicine.
  20. Soybeans or Soybean Products Consumption and Depressive…” The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, US National Library of Medicine.
  21. Evaluation of the Potential Antidepressant Effects of Soybean Isoflavones” Author manuscript, HHS Public Access, US National Library of Medicine.
  22. Dermatological and cosmeceutical benefits of Glycine max…” Acta poloniae pharmaceutica, US National Library of Medicine.
  23. 7 Foods for Better Skin” Ogle School-Hair, Skin & Nails.
  24. Review of Soybean Phytochemicals and Their Bioactive Properties…” Journal of Food and Nutrition Research, Academia.
  25. Minor Constituents and Phytochemicals of Soybeans” Food Science and Human Nutrition, Food Science and Human Nutrition Publications, Iowa State University Digital Repository.
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Swathi Handoo

Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.