Soybeans: Natural Weight-Loss Foods

The soybean is the great impostor. When used as a substitute for meat, which it does well because of its protein profile, a serving of soybeans can save you fat, especially saturated fat. You also get a fantastic fiber boost, both soluble and insoluble.

Though the United States is the world's largest grower of soybeans, more than half of the crop is exported. Soybeans are one of the best plant sources of protein, nearly mimicking the perfect protein profile of milk.


Health Benefits

For fighting fat, you just can't beat soybeans for their versatility. Though surprisingly high in fat for a bean, it's mostly the healthy unsaturated kind. By lowering your blood level of LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol), soybeans' unsaturated fat is thought to reduce the risk of heart disease. Soybeans also happen to be one of the few plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which may aid in the battle against heart disease and cancer as well as arthritis.

Soybeans are loaded with a phytochemical called isoflavone, which may help combat breast tumors by dampening the ill effects of estrogen-like compounds. This fact may partly explain why Asian women, whose diets are typically rich in soybeans, are less likely to develop breast cancer than American women (soybeans are often poorly represented in American diets).

Isoflavones in soy products (not in isolate supplements) appear to help reduce cholesterol levels and offer other protection for your heart. One of the isoflavones in soybeans, called genistein, may affect the body's fat cells, reducing production of them and making them smaller. It showed promise in studies done in mice. Genistein's possible ability to help you stay lean is being studied further.

Most soy products contribute some calcium; tofu with calcium sulfate or calcium chloride is an even better source of the bone-building mineral.


Selection and Storage

When you buy soybeans, check for pinholes; these indicate insects have infested them. Soybeans take an extremely long time to cook, so you may prefer buying them canned; just rinse them to reduce the sodium. However, most of the soybeans you buy will probably be processed in some way, made into foods such as tofu or soymilk. Many people benefit from soy without ever seeing a bean. They simply rely on it in one of its many other forms.

Texturized vegetable protein (or TVP, which is a meat extender) is used in many soy-based products. Protein powders are often derived from soybeans. Soymilk holds a place in the dairy cooler next to cow's milk, but choose a plain soymilk to avoid added sugar. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans formed into rectangular patties. Use them soon after purchasing or else store them in the freezer. Miso is a combination of soybeans and barley or rice that is made into a strongly flavored, salty paste to use like a bouillon. Roasted soybeans, called soy nuts, are sold as a snack food. To keep the calories down, choose soybeans that are not coated in chocolate .


Because of their high fat content, keep soy nuts refrigerated so they won't turn rancid so quickly. If they smell or taste "off" they are probably rancid, and you should throw them away. (Rancid foods are sources of free radicals.)

Edamame (fresh soybeans) may be found in the produce department of your grocery store or an Asian market, but you're more likely to find them in the freezer section. If you buy fresh edamame, store them in the refrigerator and eat within two or three days.

Tofu can be purchased in bulk, water-packed, or aseptically packaged. If you buy in bulk, follow safety precautions. Because it can harbor bacteria, tofu must be refrigerated, unless it has been aseptically packaged. So don't buy it if it's displayed unrefrigerated and hasn't been aseptically packaged. At home, refrigerate unwrapped tofu immediately. Put in water and change the water daily. For packaged tofu, check the "sell-by" date. Aseptically packaged tofu keeps without refrigeration for up to 10 months, but refrigerate it once opened.


Preparation and Serving Tips

The flavor of soybeans is bland, but that's their secret. The versatility of this culinary chameleon lies in its ability to take on the flavors of foods it's prepared with: enough so you forget you're not eating meat.

Tofu can masquerade as ground beef in chili, spaghetti sauce, or Mexican dishes, taking on the surrounding flavors. For adding to a stir-fry, cube the tofu, then pan-fry in a little sesame oil. Add to your stir-fry dish in place of meat. Tempeh has the "meatiest" quality and works well as a meat substitute in stir-fry dishes. Miso works best as a taste enhancer, but go easy on it if you're watching your salt intake.


So don't give up the tastes you love. Soybeans will allow you to enjoy the dishes you usually have without sacrificing your healthy weight-loss regimen.

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