With obesity and all things wellness high on the minds of Americans these days, farmers have good reason to find joy in soy. But expanded marketing campaigns are clearly needed to educate the public about the crop’s many benefits while dispelling some old myths, otherwise all the value won’t amount to a hill of beans.
In terms of macronutrient value alone, the soybean rates highly as a healthy source for protein. Just half a cup of cooked soybeans contains 14.3 grams of protein to 8.5 grams of carbohydrates, and 7.7 grams of fat, of which, 1.1 grams are saturated. Mark Messina, Ph.D. stated at the annual Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in October that soybeans offer benefits by the bushel.
“…at the basic level, from a nutrient perspective it is low in saturated fat, high in polyunsaturated fat and provides really high quality protein. Soybean has more protein than any other bean and the quality of the protein is higher than all the other plant-proteins.”
And as a home-grown staple crop for farmers across the country, it makes perfect sense to develop new usages for the bean. According to the 23rd annual consumer survey undertaken by the United Soybean Board, 83 percent of consumers believe in supporting domestic agriculture by buying foods produced with crops grown by U.S. farmers . And now more than ever, they’re getting their chance.
But despite all this, Euromonitor data indicates that the retail value of soy drinks fell 55 percent between 2015 and 2016, and the consumption of soy protein isolate and soy protein concentrate dropped 0.8 percent and 1.2 percent from 2013 to 2015. Some experts reason this is due to increased competition in the world of food offerings; others suggest soy itself has gotten an undeserved bad rap over the years. If you’re a soybean producer, it only makes sense to support your industry, and knowledge is an important tool in that endeavor.
Health-savvy shoppers have long been familiar with tofu, the spongey blocks of nutritious soy-material that can be pureed into dips, dressings and spreads, as well as grilled with seasonings. And soynuts, a dried and seasoned alternative to other nuts are also popular in some areas. But in addition to these offerings, soynut butter is an alternative to nut spreads and soymilk as an alternative to traditional dairy are also found in supermarket aisles across the country. Soybean oil itself can be used as a base ingredient in salad dressings and canned soybeans go great in chili, hummus or any kind of baked bean recipes.
For farmers interested in sports and athletics, keep in mind the booming market that is soy protein powders that serve as a dairy-free and vegan-friendly alternative to whey and casein protein supplements. A simple Google search for “soy protein powder” can yield up nearly 3.5 million results with a rainbow of flavor options. This can translate into great new markets for farmers as the number of Americans embracing vegetarian diet strategies continues to mushroom. In 2009, just 1 percent of the U.S. reported eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, but that number has since blossomed upwards of 5 percent, with nearly 16 million Americans looking hard at soy-related products for their protein consumption, which has been linked to better weight management, strength gains, and overall health. Meanwhile, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition continues to strongly suggest that soy foods are extremely beneficial in terms of cancer prevention and treatment in both women and men.
The good news here is that industry should be trending more in line with soy-related products given these research results. The question then is whether the public will resume spending in that direction.
With all of the positive news concerning new products, it becomes equally imperative to help dispel some old myths on the subject.
- Eating soy does not increase breast cancer risk: Soybeans and soy in general are the richest source of isoflavones in the human diet. These plant chemicals are phytoestrogens, which are capable, in some instances, of exerting estrogen-like effects. For women with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, this has been a concern as some assume that the isoflavones would worsen the problem. Yet, research continues to dispel this idea and demonstrate that soy in point of fact lowers risk for cancers. In addition to the phytoestrogens, studies indicate that soybeans also contain corresponding anti-estrogen agents which balance this out, along with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents that go further in suppressing the chances of cancer.
- Soy does not feminize men. Along the same lines as the erroneous thinking that has led some to figure soy products as a link to heightened breast cancer, some have believed that it can feminize men as well. These beliefs stem from research which found that high doses of phytoestrogens can impair male rats’ ability to produce offspring. However, these studies involved rats and mice, which process food chemicals much differently than humans, and in human studies, a 2010 review in “Fertility and Sterility” concluded that neither isoflavone supplements nor isoflavone-rich soy affect total or free testosterone levels in human men.
- Soy does not inhibit thyroid function: Another myth busted by clinical research is that the soy phytoestrogens can serve as anti-thyroid agents which cause hypothyroidism. Again, when put to the test, this was determined to be false.
Beans Mean Green
A prosperous market for soybean products means bigger demand and increased customers for farmers. As producers, it’s only smart business to get informed about all of the benefits this crop has to offer. From alternative bio-fuels to the food on your shelves, soybeans have a bright future if the public learns of their value and farmers help dispel nonsensical myths. Get your weightlifting buddies some soy protein to try in their shakes. And if they ponder whether it will feminize them, feel free to ask, “Are you mice or men?”