Soy is gaining popularity in the US and the rest of the Western world for various reasons. First, soy is among the handful of plant-based proteins containing all nine essential amino acids in ideal quantities, making it a complete protein. Plant-based complete proteins are crucial for individuals on diets excluding animal protein.
Second, besides its nutritional benefits, soy production is sustainable compared to animal rearing; one report shows its accounts for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, fermented and unfermented soy products, including tempeh, miso, tofu, soy milk, textured soy protein, and natto, have numerous health benefits, as highlighted below.
1. Soy Offers High Nutrient Density With a Modest Calorie Intake
Food items have varying nutritional profiles, featuring various macronutrients, minerals, and calories (for energy) content. Nutrient-dense foods have a high nutrient-to-energy profile, meaning they offer more nutrients from a lower calorie intake. Soy foods top the list of nutrient-dense foods to include in a healthy diet.
As stated earlier, soy foods are popular for their exceptional protein content, given their plant-based nature. However, soy’s high nutrient density means it has a high content of other essential nutrients and minerals.
First, soy contains B complex vitamins, including vitamins B1 (thiamin), B3 (Niacin), and B9 (Folate). B complex vitamins facilitate diverse enzyme activities (including energy production), prevent infections, and accelerate healing.
Second, soy foods are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6). The fatty acids promote brain function and heart health via their anti-inflammatory properties.
Other nutrients rich in soy include minerals like zinc, potassium, iron, magnesium, and calcium. The legume also contains a healthy dose of vitamins D, E, and K.
Sustainable soy has high nutrient density, which means consumers benefit from a high nutrient intake while taking low-calorie soy meals. One study credits modest calorie intake with reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes in healthy adults.
2. Soy Foods Promote Gut Health
The human digestive tract contains symbiotic bacteria or microbiota that modulate appetite, immunity, mood, and metabolic functions, ensuring optimum body performance. Human diet composition positively or negatively affects gut microbiota and its symbiotic activities.
For starters, one study established that long-term consumption of a diet rich in animal protein negatively alters gut microbiota composition. Protein digestion entails fermentation, and some fermentation byproducts from animal protein are toxic to microbiota. However, the study established that plant compounds like the phenolic acids in soy foods benefit microbiota composition and overall gut health.
Besides protein intake, a second study established that dietary fiber benefits healthy microbiota composition. According to the study, dietary fiber undergoes fermentation to produce metabolites beneficial to symbiotic gut bacteria.
Also, fermented foods enhance gut microbiota diversity, helping to restore and maintain balance in the digestive tract. Therefore, fermented soy foods like miso, natto, gochujang, soy yogurt, and soy cheeses improve gut health.
3. Soy Food Support Healthy, Glowing Skin
Skin health is among the most neglected wellness niches, despite the skin being the most vulnerable human organ. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays and other environmental hazards causes the skin to appear dull and increases aging markers’ visibility. However, soy foods have the properties to rejuvenate skin and restore a beautiful, youthful glow.
According to one study conducted among menopausal women, dietary soy isoflavone intake improves the appearance of aging for middle-aged and postmenopausal women. The study entailed administering 100mg of isoflavone-rich soy extract to the participants daily for six months.
Skin cells retrieved via a skin punch at the end of the study showed collagen increase in 86.2% of the women; collagen is the primary structural protein in the skin. Moreover, 75.8% of the participants registered an increase in dermal elastic fiber post-treatment.
Besides stimulating collagen expression, soy foods’ isoflavones also have antioxidant properties that help counter oxidative stress on the skin. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals from the environment damage skin cells, enhancing the appearance of aging. Therefore, adding soy foods to your diet allows you to eat your way to healthy, youthful skin.
4. It Can Help in Blood Sugar Regulation
Blood sugar is the glucose content in the blood at any time, measured using the glycemic index, and is the primary energy source. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is the substance that controls blood sugar levels, helping the body to maintain a healthy glycemic index. Its regulatory role entails enabling the cells to absorb blood sugar and directing the liver to store excess sugar for later use.
However, insulin malfunction causes insulin resistance, whereby the cells fail to absorb the sugar and cannot produce energy. Insulin resistance can cause low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, a common symptom in type 2 diabetes and prediabetes patients.
Even so, dietary alterations, including soy food consumption, can improve blood sugar regulation. One control study featuring a soy-based diet and soy protein supplementation administered to participants concluded that soybean controls blood glucose in diabetic patients.
5. It Supports Heart Health
Cardiovascular diseases affect blood vessels and heart muscles, interfering with the heart’s capacity to pump blood efficiently. Various factors, including obesity, poor lipid profiles, and hypertension, are risk factors for heart disease.
However, one American Heart Association report shows that soy food consumption can help manage cardiovascular disease risk factors, impeding disease pathogenesis. The report highlights that soy food supplementation positively affects cardiovascular disease biomarkers.
Besides facilitating sustainable methods that protect the ozone layer and preserve diversity, soy foods have numerous health benefits. Sustainable soy food products are versatile, hence easy to include in your favorite recipe.