So many ways to enjoy soy

  • Soy crumbles stand in for meat in these saucy Sloppy Joes. A 50-50 mix of soy and ground meat can be used.

    Soy crumbles stand in for meat in these saucy Sloppy Joes. A 50-50 mix of soy and ground meat can be used. Courtesy Family Features

  • Canned black soybeans add protein to these Guilt-free Brownies.

    Canned black soybeans add protein to these Guilt-free Brownies. Courtesy of The SoyFoods Council

  • Three forms of soy -- edamame, tofu and oil -- come together in this healthful, one-pot meal.

    Three forms of soy -- edamame, tofu and oil -- come together in this healthful, one-pot meal. Courtesy Soyconnection.com

 
 
Updated 4/12/2011 3:59 PM

You hear the call to get more protein and fiber in your diet -- protein to fight disease, repair body tissues, provide you with energy and help you feel full (a good thing when you're looking to cut calories), and fiber to lower and maintain cholesterol and sugar levels and clear out your digestive system.

"Soy is the richest source of protein of any bean," says David Grotto, an Elmhurst registered dietitian and author of "101 Foods That Could Save Your Life!"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A serving of soy, one-fourth cup of edamame, for instance, contains 14 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber and fits into the USDA guidelines to eat more nutrient-dense foods.

Grotto says whole soybeans and soy-based products provide a host of nutrients as well, including calcium, copper, magnesium and an assortment of B-vitamins. "Soybeans are also rich in plant nutrients known as isoflavones which may help prevent certain types of cancer, fight heart disease and improve bone density," he adds.

With the recent explosion of soy-based products on grocers' shelves, you can add all those healthful components to your meals in many delicious ways. And you can do it without a trip to the health food store or specialty market.

"Soy foods are indeed becoming more mainstream," says Linda Funk, director of the SoyFoods Council based in Des Moines, Iowa. "The convenience is there, the flavor is there."

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Soy-based products include cereals and breakfast bars, yogurt, flavored milk and cheese, "chicken" sausages and burgers, oil and pasta, nuts and crackers, ice cream and chocolate-covered beans. Some people seek them out as more healthful alternatives to similar products on the shelves; others are looking for specific health benefits. For example, soy flour replaces grain-based flour in gluten-free baking, soy cheese appeals to those on vegan diets and soy milk gives lactose-intolerant types something to pour on their cereal.

Perhaps none of these products have proved as popular as the soybean in its most natural state.

Edamame, or fresh soybean pods, have become the new face of soy, pushing bland blocks of tofu into the shadows.

"Edamame has become the darling of the soy foods industry because it's not so different from what consumers already know," Funk says. "They don't have a strong flavor and kids like them."

Edamame, available shelled or in the pods, can be tossed into salads or stir-fries, blended into hummus or eaten straight from the pods as hot or cold snacks.

Soy, like all beans, can lead to digestive upsets if they're added suddenly to the diet.

"As with all beans, start off slowly -- like a tablespoon of beans per day and work your way up to one half cup a day as recommended in the dietary guidelines for Americans," Grotto said.