Soya beans, also known as soybeans in American English, are an ancient foodstuff which have been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. Over the last century they have mainly been processed for animal feed, as well as being used for their oils or to provide substance for a number of processed foods. Recently, there has been a growing interest in soya beans in their natural form or prepared in more traditional ways. These are associated with a variety of positive health effects.
One of the greatest health benefits of soya beans is the fact that they provide a “complete protein”. This is a protein which includes all of those amino acids which are essential in a human diet. This is part of the reason that soya is used as the basis for meat substitute products, and why they should be part of a vegetarian diet in particular (although by no means as an exclusive source of protein).
Outside of processed food and extracted oils, there are a number of other ways to consume soya, which each having different health implications, and some of which are great for weight loss diets.
Wok-friend edamame – Photograph by joyosity
These are soya beans in their pods, which are picked when the pods are still green. They can usually be found in fresh or frozen form. The ordinary method for cooking them as they are is to boil them. Adding a large amount of salt is the traditional method, but of course this ultimately comes down to your personal preference and whether you think using lots of salt is a good thing!
If you choose to try a different method of preparation, then bear in mind that you must only use ‘wet’ cooking methods such as steaming or poaching. These methods destroy most of the trypsin inhibitors which are found in raw soya, which are toxic to humans in the quantities found in the uncooked beans, so take care to cook and prepare your soya beans properly to ensure they are safe.
These beans provide you with vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B6 and vitamin K, along with a number of minerals such as iron and calcium. They are also low in saturated fat, have no cholesterol and are high in antioxidants. On top of this, the “complete protein” has an even greater nutritional value in whole beans than in extracted soya protein.
Of course, soya beans aren’t perfect and there are a number of negative health effects which are associated with their consumption. As with every food, they should be consumed as part of a varied diet. This is unusually difficult with soya, however, as it is used to provide bulk or fortification to many other foods. The oil from soya is also used for cooking and is an ingredient in many brands of margarine. Thankfully, there is a healthier way to enjoy your soy.
Natto – Photograph by preetamrai
The healthiest way to consume your soya beans is in a fermented form. Fermented soya products contain lower levels of phytic acid than their non-fermented counterparts. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient, which binds to important minerals in your digestive tract and prevents them from being absorbed by your body. So, as you can imagine, having less of it in your body is considered to be a good thing.
Historically, these foods were developed in south-east Asia, with the fermentation process taking anywhere from between a few months to years. A number of popular dishes and condiments from the region contain fermented soya beans, such as sweet bean sauce, natto, soy sauce, and the majority of misos. Tempeh is also a popular fermented soya product. Miso in particular is a very versatile food, which is useful for flavouring, as a basis for soup, or with sushi, to name but a few uses.
It is important to know, however, that these methods still do not remove all toxins, but they do destroy or deactivate the majority.
Please be careful when preparing soya beans from their raw state, due to these natural toxins. Pregnant women should also be careful not to excessively consume soya products, due to the high levels of isoflavones. These are similar in structure to estrogen and their effect on pregnant women is unknown as yet, with some claims that they may hinder development in children.
That being said, using soya beans as part of your cooking can be fun, interesting and an effective substitute for fattier ingredients when used as part of a weight loss diet. Enjoy!