Soybeans : nutrition, shocking 7 medical use & 3 adverse effects

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See also Beans, Bean sprouts.

Soybeans Nutritional Profile

• Energy value (calories per serving): Moderate
• Protein: High
• Fat: Moderate
• Saturated fat: Moderate
• Cholesterol: None
• Carbohydrates: Moderate
• Fiber: High
• Sodium: Low
• Major vitamin contribution: B vitamins, folate
• Major mineral contribution: Iron, potassium

How Many Nutrients in This Food

• Like other beans, soybeans are very high in fiber. Unlike other beans, they are also high in fat, and their proteins are high-quality, complete with sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids.

• Soybeans have insoluble dietary fiber (cellulose and lignin) in the bean covering and soluble pectins and gums in the bean. Their highly unsaturated fat (soybean oil) includes omega-3 fatty acids the essential fatty acid linolenic acid, plus eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA], the two most plentiful unsaturated fatty acids in fish oils.

• Soybeans are a good source of B vitamins, including folate and iron. They are the most abundant food source of isoflavones (genistein and daidzein), naturally occurring estrogenic compounds in plants.

• One-half cup boiled mature soybeans has three grams dietary fiber, eight grams total fat (1.1 g saturated fat, 1.7 g monounsaturated fat, 4.4 g polyunsaturated fat), 14 g protein, 46 mcg folate (12 percent of the RDA), and 4.4 mg iron (24 percent of the RDA for a woman, 55 percent of the RDA for a man).

• One-half cup dry roasted soybeans has seven grams dietary fiber, 18.6 g total fat (2.7 g saturated fat, 4.1 g monounsaturated fat, 10.5 g polyunsaturated fat), 34 g protein, 176 mcg folate (44 percent of the RDA), and 3.4 mg iron (19 percent of the RDA for a woman, 43 percent of the RDA for a man).

• Soybeans are a good source of B vitamins, particularly vitamin B6. They are rich in nonheme iron (the inorganic iron found in plant foods) but, like grains, beans contain phytic acid which binds their iron into insoluble compounds your body cannot absorb.

• As a result, nonheme iron is five to six times less available to the body than heme iron, the organic form of iron in meat, fish, and poultry.

• Raw soybeans contain a number of antinutrients, including enzyme inhibitors (chemicals that interfere with the enzymes that make it possible for us to digest proteins); hemagglutinens (chemicals that make red blood cells clump together); and goitrogens (chemicals that make it hard for the thyroid to absorb iodine, which makes the gland swell in an effort to absorb more iodine; we call the swelling goiter). These chemicals are inactivated by cooking the soybeans.

How To Serve Nutritious Soybeans Food

• With meat or a food rich in vitamin C to increase the amount of iron you can absorb from the soybeans. Meat makes your stomach more acid (iron is absorbed more easily in an acid environment); vitamin C may convert the iron in soybeans from ferric iron (which is hard to absorb) to ferrous iron (which is easier to absorb).

Diets That May Restrict or Exclude Soybeans Food

• Low-calcium diet
• Low-fiber diet
• Low-protein diet
• Low-purine (antigout) diet

How To Buying This Food

Look for:

Tightly sealed packages that protect the beans from air and moisture. The beans should be smooth-skinned, uniformly sized, evenly colored, and free of stones and debris. It is easy to check beans sold in plastic bags, but the transparent material lets in light that may destroy pyridoxine and pyridoxal, the natural forms of vitamin B12.

How To Storing This Food

• Store beans in air- and moistureproof containers in a cool, dark cabinet where they are protected from heat, light, and insects.

How To Preparing This Food

• Wash the beans and pick them over carefully, discarding damaged beans, withered beans, or beans that float. (The only beans light enough to float in water are those that have withered away inside.)

• Soak “fresh” dried soybeans as directed on the package and then discard the water. If you use canned beans, discard the liquid in the can and rinse the beans in cool running water. In discarding this liquid you are getting rid of some of the soluble indigestible sugars that may cause intestinal gas when you eat beans.

What Happens When You Cook Soybeans Food

• When soybeans are cooked in liquid, their cells absorb water, swell, and eventually rupture, releasing pectins, gums, and the nutrients inside the cell. In addition, cooking destroys antinutrients in beans, making them safe to eat.

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How Other Kinds of Processing Affect Soybeans Food


Tofu is a bland white cheeselike food made of liquid squeezed from soybeans and stiffened with a firming agent such as gluconolactone, calcium chloride, or calcium sulfate. Heating tofu evaporates moisture and further coagulates proteins, making the tofu firmer and more dense.

• Tofu can be frozen; defrosted tofu is caramel-colored rather than creamy white with a spongy texture that soaks up sauce and flavorings. Tofu is a useful cholesterol-free vegetarian substitute for meat, fish, or poultry.

• One 3-ounce serving of tofu equals one meat serving on the USDA/Health and Human Services Food Guide Pyramid. One four-ounce serving of regular tofu has one gram dietary fiber, six grams fat (0.9 g saturated fat), 10 g protein, 130 mg calcium, and 70 mg isoflavones.

Soy milk.

Soy milk is a blend of soy flour (ground soybeans) and water. It is not a natural source of calcium, but most commercial soy milks are calcium-fortified, a useful alternative for people who cannot eat dairy foods.

• One cup calcium-fortified soy milk may have as much as 300 mg calcium. Soy sauce. Soy sauce is made by adding salt to cooked soybeans and setting the mixture aside to ferment. Soy sauce is high in sodium, and it may interact with monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, antidepressant drugs that inactivate naturally occurring enzymes in your body that metabolize tyramine, a substance found in many fermented foods such as soy sauces.

• Tyramine is a pressor amine; it constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure. If you eat a food containing tyramine while you are taking an MAO inhibitor, you cannot effectively eliminate the tyramine from your body, and the result may be a hypertensive crisis.


Soy flour is a powder made from soybeans. It is high in protein (37–47 percent). It can be used as a substitute for up to 20 percent of the wheat flour in any recipe. Unlike wheat flour, it has no gluten or gliadin, which makes it useful for people who have celiac disease, a metabolic disorder that makes it impossible for them to digest these wheat proteins (see flour).


The heat of canning destroys some of the B vitamins in soybeans. Since the B vitamins are water-soluble, you could save them by using the liquid in the can. But the liquid also contains the indigestible sugars that cause intestinal gas when you eat beans.


Preprocessed dried soybeans have already been soaked. They take less time to cook, but they are lower in B vitamins.


Medical Uses and/or Benefits Of Soybeans

Lower risk of some birth defects.

Up to two of every 1,000 babies born in the United States each year may have cleft palate or a neural tube (spinal cord) defect due to their mothers’ not having gotten adequate amounts of folate during pregnancy.

• The current RDA for folate is 180 mcg for a woman and 200 mcg for a man, but the FDA now recommends 400 mcg for a woman who is or may become pregnant. Taking a folate supplement before becoming pregnant and continuing through the first two months of pregnancy reduces the risk of cleft palate; taking folate through the entire pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects.

Possible lower risk of a heart attack.

In the spring of 1998, an analysis of data from the records for more than 80,000 women enrolled in the long running Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard School of Public Health/Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, demonstrated that a diet providing more than 400 mcg folate and 3 mg vitamin B6 daily, either from food or supplements, might reduce a woman’s risk of heart attack by almost 50 percent.

• Although men were not included in the study, the results were assumed to apply to them as well. However, data from a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in December 2006 called this theory into question. Researchers at Tulane University examined the results of 12 controlled studies in which 16,958 patients with preexisting cardiovascular disease were given either folic acid supplements or placebos (“look-alike” pills with no folic acid) for at least six months.

• The scientists, who found no reduction in the risk of further heart disease or overall death rates among those taking folic acid, concluded that further studies will be required to ascertain whether taking folic acid supplements reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Lower cholesterol levels.

A 1997 meta-analysis of 38 studies with more than 730 volunteers by James Anderson of the Metabolic Research Group at the Veterans Administration Medical Center and the University of Kentucky in Lexington demonstrates that substituting soy protein for animal proteins can lead to an average 9.3 percent decline in total cholesterol, a 12.3 percent decline in levels of low-density lipoproteins (the fat and protein particles that carry cholesterol into your arteries), and a 2.4 percent rise in HDL levels.

• People whose original cholesterol readings are “high” (250–289 mg/dl) are likely to see a greater decrease, as much as 24 percent lower total cholesterol. There are currently two theories to explain how beans reduce cholesterol levels.

• The first theory is that the pectins in the beans may form a gel in your stomach that sops up fats and keeps them from being absorbed by your body. The second is that bacteria in the gut may feed on the bean fiber, producing short-chain fatty acids that inhibit the production of cholesterol in your liver.

• Whether soy’s isoflavones affect cholesterol levels remains unanswered.

Lower levels of homocysteine.

Homocysteine is an amino acid produced during the digestion of proteins. In 1998, the American Heart Association announced that high levels of homocysteine may be an independent risk factor for heart disease because homocysteine may damage smooth muscle cells in the lining of your arteries or make them grow faster (which could lead to arterial blockage) or may cause blood clots. Substituting soybeans for high-protein foods from animals lowers homocysteine production.

Protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3s appear to reduce the risk of heart attack. A 20-year project at the University of Leyden in the Netherlands, comparing the eating habits of more than 800 men at risk of heart disease, found that men who ate more than an ounce of fish a day had a 50 percent lower rate of heart attacks.

• Since then, a lengthening list of studies has shown similar protection among men who eat fish at least two or three times a week. One possible explanation is that omega-3s reduce triglyceride levels. Another is that your body converts omega-3s to a compound similar to prostacyclin, a naturally occurring chemical that inhibits the formation of blood clots.

• Omega-3s also reduce the risk of “sudden death” heart attack. In the United States, about 250,000 people die each year from sudden cardiac failure caused by ventricular fibrillation, an unexpectedly irregular heartbeat.

• A 1995 study from the Australian Common wealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Adelaide), showed that laboratory monkeys fed omega-3 oils from fish had a steady heartbeat when exposed to electrical current twice as powerful as that which caused ventricular fibrillation in animals that did not get the fish oils.

• Omega-3s inhibit the production of leuketrienes, naturally occurring chemicals that trigger inflammation. This may be beneficial to people with rheumatoid arthritis.

• In 1995, the Arthritis Foundation published the results of a study by Piet Geusens at the Catholic University in Pellenberg (Belgium) suggesting that patients who take omega-3 fatty acid supplements along with their regular arthritis medications have improved pain relief. Previous studies had demonstrated the omega-3s ability to reduce inflammation, joint stiffness and swelling.

• Like isoflavones (see below), omega-3s may protect bone density. One 1997 study at Purdue University (Indiana) demonstrated that animals fed increased amounts of the omega- 3 fatty acids formed new bone faster than animals fed a regular diet.

• Potential protective effects of isoflavones. Soybeans are the most prominent source of isoflavones, plant compounds that mimic the effect of estrogen.

• The isoflavones in soybeans, genistein and daidzein, appear to protect bone density, and in the January 2008 issue of Menopause researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston) report that a daidzein supplement may reduce the severity of menopausal hot flashes.

• However, earlier claims that consuming soy isoflavones might protect against breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers have not been proven.

As a source of carbohydrates for people with diabetes.

Beans are digested very slowly, producing only a gradual rise in blood-sugar levels. As a result, the body needs less insulin to control blood sugar after eating beans than after eating some other high carbohydrate foods (bread or potato).

• In studies at the University of Kentucky, a bean, whole-grain, vegetable, and fruit-rich diet developed at the University of Toronto and recommended by the American Diabetes Association enabled patients with type 1 diabetes (who do not produce any insulin themselves) to cut their daily insulin intake by 38 percent.

• For patients with type 2 diabetes the bean diet reduced the need for injected insulin by 98 percent. This diet is in line with the nutritional guidelines of the American Diabetes Association, but people with diabetes should always consult their doctor and/or dietitian before altering their diet.

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As a diet aid.

Although beans are high in calories, they are also high in fiber; even a small serving can make you feel full. And, because they are insulin-sparing, they put off the rise in insulin levels that makes us feel hungry again soon after eating.

• Research at the University of Toronto suggests the insulin-sparing effect may last for several hours after you eat the beans, perhaps until after your next meal.

Adverse Effects Associated with soybeans Food

Allergic reaction.

According to the Merck Manual, legumes, including soybeans, are one of the 12 foods most likely to trigger classic food allergy symptoms: hives, swelling of the lips and eyes, and upset stomach. The others are berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), chocolate, corn, eggs, fish, milk, nuts, peaches, pork, shellfish, and wheat (see wheat cereals).

Intestinal gas.

Soybeans contain raffinose and stachyose, complex sugars that human beings cannot digest. The sugars sit in the gut, where they are fermented by intestinal bacteria, which then produce gas that distends the intestines and makes us uncomfortable.

• You can lessen this effect by covering the beans with boiling water and soaking them for four to six hours before you cook them so that the indigestible sugars leach out into the soaking water, which can be discarded.

• Or you may soak the beans for four hours in nine cups of water for every cup of beans, discard the soaking water, and add new water as your recipe directs. Then cook the beans and drain them before serving.

Production of uric acid.

Purines are the natural metabolic by-products of protein metabolism in the body. They eventually break down into uric acid, which forms sharp crystals that may concentrate in joints, a condition known as gout. If uric acid crystals collect in the urine, the result may be kidney stones.

• Eating dried beans, which are rich in proteins, may raise the concentration of purines in your body. Although controlling the amount of purines in the diet does not significantly affect the course of gout (which is treated with allopurinol, a drug that prevents the formation of uric acid crystals), limiting these foods is still part of many gout regimens.


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