All About Soy



Edamame, soy flour, soy milk, soy nuts; all of these soy products are made from soybeans. A soybean is a legume like any other pea or bean. While soy is widely consumed in Asian countries, the United States is the largest producer of soybeans in the world and produces about 75% of the world's needs. Most of the soybeans grown in the U.S. are exported or used to produce soy oil. The soybean pods are green and 'fuzzy' on the outside. The Japanese boil and salt the pods and serve them as an appetizer. To eat them you open the pod, pop the beans in your mouth and discard the pod.

Soybean History

Soybeans have been grown in China for over 5000 years.  The plants were used as a nitrogen producing cover crop a way of naturally adding nutrients back to the soil once a food crop has been harvested.

In addition to use as a cover crop the Chinese fermented the beans and made soy sauce, miso and meat substitute similar to tempeh.  The soybean as well as these products were soon adopted by other Asian cultures.

Soybeans were introduced in the U.S. by Samuel Bowen in 1765.  Bowen had visited China and brought the beans back where he cultivated them in a area close to Savannah Georgia. Bowen even produced soy sauce and shipped it to the enthusiastic gourmets in England.

Health Benefits Of Soy

Unlike other legumes, soy is very high in protein and lower in carbohydrates. This makes soy a natural dietary replacement for animal protein.

Soy Protein Suppresses Breast Cancer Hormones

Article from NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Antioxidant compounds found in soy foods have been shown to reduce levels of hormones associated with breast cancer risk in women. Now, the results of a small study suggest that other factors associated with soy may also play a role in lowering cancer risk

Reasons To Add Soy To Your Diet?

  • According to Dr. Andrew Weil (graduate of Harvard Medical School and Harvard College) in his book 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, "soy contains isoflavones, unusual compounds that may offer significant protection against cancer". Additionally, women particularly can benefit from lowering intake of hormone residue from animal food sources. These hormones are responsible in part for increase in fibrocystic changes in breasts as well as breast and uterine cancer. In order to make an impact on your health you should have at least 47 to 60 milligrams of isoflavones a day.
  • Reduce cholesterol in your diet. There is a strong correlation between high cholesterol and heart disease. Cholesterol only occurs in animal products. Soy therefore contains no cholesterol. Soy does however contain fat so it is important to purchase lower fat soy products to reduce the overall fat intake in your diet.
  • Soy is a natural source of dietary fiber which decreases the risk for colon cancer. 
  • Soy is a less expensive protein source than animal protein. 


 Not all soy products are healthful and readily digestible. Fermented soy products such as miso, tofu, and soy sauce are more healthful than products like soy flour.

The Other Side Of The Soy Story

There is increasing evidence that too much soy can increase cancer growth in cancer patience and it may increase the incidence of thyroid problems among other health problems.

A Little Is Good, A Lot is NOT Better

It is one one thing to add a few servings of fermented (and some fresh) soy products to your diet.  As with many Asian diets, small amounts of tofu or even green soy beans, miso or soy sauce added to your diet can be quite healthful.  Unfortunately soy in many other forms is being added to prepared foods in everything from hamburger buns to soups, sauces and frozen entrees.  

Eat Fresh

Once again we have to say "READ LABELS".  The best defense is to simply eat fresh and avoid packaged or prepared foods.  If that does not fit into your lifestyle then you need to really pay attention to the ingredient labels.  Avoid soy fillers, soy oils, and hydrolyzed soy protein.

Basic Soy Milk Recipe

  • 1 lb. uncooked soy beans, washed and cleaned of stones
  • Fresh water
  • Brown or white sugar
  • A small piece of fresh ginger or fresh orange peel
  • 1 large pot
  • Muslin cloth (cheese cloth doesn't’ work very well)
  • Containers to store the soy milk in
  • A food processor 
  • Big bowls or containers
  1. Soak the beans in a large bowl overnight.
  2. The next day, dump out the water that the beans have been soaking in.
  3. Place some beans and fresh water in a food processor in a ratio of 1 part bean to 2 parts water, and grind the beans.
  4. Spoon out the ground soy beans into another bowl and repeat the previous step until all the soy beans are ground up.
  5. Place a handful of the ground beans in the middle of a piece of muslin cloth. Gather the four corners together and squeeze the soy milk into a pot. Repeat this step till all of the beans are squeezed dry.
  6. Place the pot of freshly squeezed soy milk on the stove. Wash and cut a small piece of fresh ginger and place that into the pot of milk. You can substitute the ginger with fresh or dried orange peel. The ginger or orange peel will take away the beany smell of the milk.
  7. Bring the milk to a rolling boil and add the sugar of your choice. The amount of sugar is up to you. Stirring the milk occasionally will prevent a film from forming.
  8. Remove the ginger or peel, cover the pot and let the milk cool down. Then pour into containers and refrigerate the milk immediately.
  9. The left over ground soy can be used to make soy burgers or as a filler in your favorite chili.  

Nutrition Information For All About Soy

Serving Size
1 cup
Calories from Fat
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g
Saturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 38mg
Total Carbohydrate 28g
Dietary Fiber 11g
Sugars 0g
Protein 33g
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Soy Products

 picture of several soy based products

Pictured products from left to right are soy flour bread, soy milk, soybeans and tofu.

Typical Soy Products

  •  Edamame- The Japanese name for fresh soybeans. The soybeans (either fresh or frozen) are boiled in their pods with salt then chilled and served as an appetizer. 
  • Soy Flour - Dried and ground soybeans. This product can be difficult to digest. 
  • Soy Milk - Soy milk is made simply from dried soybeans and water. It is an excellent replacement for milk. Use it fresh to drink, or pour over cereal, or in most recipes that require milk. This is a great, easily digestible way to increase your soy intake. 
  • Miso - Is a fermented soybean paste the consistency of peanut butter. Use it as a seasoning or as a broth or soup (common in Japanese restaurants) as well as for sauces, dips or marinades. 
  • Tofu - Tofu is soybean curd. It has a naturally bland flavor but has the ability to easily take on the flavor of other ingredients cooked with the tofu. 
  • Soy Sauce - Soy sauce and Tamari are made of soybeans, salt and water. Soy sauce contains a wheat product called koji. Tamari contains no wheat. Soy sauce is used as a flavor enhancer. For the best flavor purchase a high quality soy sauce or Tamari product which has been well aged. Some of the very inexpensive brands may have a very harsh flavor. 
  • Dried & Roasted Soybeans - Soybeans can be dried and roasted and used as a snack food. These can be very difficult to digest.

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.