Adding Soy Protein to the Diet
For consumers interested in increasing soy protein consumption to help reduce their risk of heart disease, health experts say they need not completely eliminate animal-based products such as meat, poultry, and dairy foods to reap soy’s benefits.
While soy protein’s direct effects on cholesterol levels are well documented, replacing some animal protein with soy protein is a valuable way to lower fat intake. “If individuals begin to substitute soy products, for example, soy burgers, for foods high in saturated fat, such as hamburgers, there would be the added advantage of replacing saturated fat and cholesterol [in] the diet,” says Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., professor of nutrition at Tufts University. Whole soy foods also are a good source of fiber, B vitamins, calcium, and omega-3 essential fatty acids, all important food components.
The American Heart Association recommends that soy products be used in a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and lean meats.
The AHA also emphasizes that a diet to effectively lower cholesterol should consist of no more than 30 percent of total daily calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat.
Nowadays, a huge variety of soy foods is on shelves not only in health food stores, but increasingly in mainstream grocery stores. As the number of soy-based products grows, it becomes increasingly easy for consumers to add enough soy to their daily diets to meet the 25-gram amount that FDA says is beneficial to heart health.
According to soybean industry figures, the numbers add up quickly when you look at the protein contained in typical soy foods. For example:
– Four ounces of firm tofu contains 13 grams of soy protein.
– One soy “sausage” link provides 6 grams of protein.
– One soy “burger” includes 10 to 12 grams of protein.
– An 8-ounce glass of plain soymilk contains 10 grams of protein.
– One soy protein bar delivers 14 grams of protein.
– One-half cup of tempeh provides 19.5 grams of protein.
– And a quarter cup of roasted soy nuts contains 19 grams of soy protein.
Though some consumers may try soy products here and there, it takes a sustained effort to eat enough to reach the beneficial daily intake. This is especially true for those who have elevated cholesterol levels.
“Dietary interventions that can lower cholesterol are important tools for physicians,” says Antonio Gotto, M.D., professor of medicine at Cornell University, “particularly since diet is usually prescribed before medication and is continued after medical therapy is begun.” He emphasizes that in order to succeed, such diets must have enough variety that patients don’t get bored and lapse back into old eating habits.
He says his experience with patients suggests that it’s important to learn how to “sneak” soy into the diet painlessly. “People think it’s challenging to get a high concentration of soy into your diet,” says chef and cookbook author Dana Jacobi. “But it’s actually easy to consume 25 grams [of soy protein], once you realize what a wide range of soy products is available.” For those new to soy, she recommends what she calls “good-tasting” soy foods such as smoothies, muffins made with soy flour, protein bars, and soy nuts.
The American Diabetic Association recommends introducing soy slowly by adding small amounts to the daily diet or mixing into existing foods. Then, once the taste and texture have become familiar, add more. Because some soy products have a mild or even neutral flavor, it’s possible to add soy to dishes and barely know it’s there. Soy flour can be used to thicken sauces and gravies.
Soymilk can be added to baked goods and desserts. And tofu takes on the flavor of whatever it is cooked in, making it suitable for stews and stir-fries. “Cook it with strong flavors such as garlic, crushed red pepper, or ginger,” says Amy Lanou, a New York-based nutritionist. “One of my favorites is tofu sautéed with a spicy barbecue sauce.” She also suggests commercial forms of baked tofu, which she says has a “cheese-like texture an