Soybeans—the versatile protein source that comes from the type of legume known as soybeans—has become a popular alternative to meat and dairy, and for good reason. Whether you’re trying to eat healthier, eat more sustainably, or both, Yangchao Luo, a researcher in the School of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources in Nutritional Sciences, and his research group recently published an article in Journal of Agriculture and Food Research Explore the qualities that make soybeans a nutritious and versatile choice.
What makes soybeans a popular source of plant-based (and dairy) meat alternatives?
Compared to other plant proteins, soy protein provides the most complete nutrients in terms of amino acids, compared to animal sources. Soy contains nearly every amino acid, with just one minor exception, methionine, which is an essential amino acid, and what we call a limited amino acid. Other plant proteins may be missing two, three, or even four different essential amino acids. You can easily get all the essential amino acids in a meal by mixing plant-based proteins or by pairing soy proteins with grains.
Upon extrusion, soybean-based proteins undergo a series of physical and chemical changes to form a fibrous anisotropic structure, the texture of which becomes very similar to meat products. When soy protein is chemically or enzymatically modified, it can develop sensory properties that can mimic real meat. It is very easy to do for soy protein, but much more difficult for many other plant proteins. A lot of food companies nowadays are trying to develop alternatives to meat, and soy based protein is the best choice for food industries.
The environmental impacts of the meat and dairy industries are often cited as one reason to switch to vegetarian alternatives or to reduce meat and dairy intake. Can you talk about how plant-based products have fewer negative environmental impacts?
The main concern today is carbon emissions. Livestock farming generates a lot of carbon dioxide2 And many non-CO2 Greenhouse gases during the whole process of land use, transportation, intestinal fermentation, meat processing, etc., produce a lot of waste but crop cultivation is different. Crops not only emit much less greenhouse gases, but also help remove carbon dioxide2and reduce the potential for global warming.
In our lab, one of our most recent research projects is developing urban farming methods so that we can grow plants that can serve the local community. Urban farming is also known as controlled ecological farming, and indoor vertical farming is one of the important methods. Soybeans are one of the crops that can be grown in this way and we can provide enough production locally instead of sourcing resources from far away.
Can you talk about the health benefits of diets with more products that contain soy?
For animal products, the main concern is fat, and most fats in animal meat products are saturated or trans fats, which can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. This is not the case with plant products. Other health benefits include reducing various types of cancers, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, and stomach cancer in the long term from consuming soy-based products such as tofu and soy milk.
A significant contribution of plant proteins is not protein per se, but plants contain a lot of dietary fiber, phytochemicals, micronutrients, minerals and various vitamins that animal products lack. Phytochemicals are highly effective antioxidants that scavenge free radicals in cells, and this is very beneficial in fighting many types of cancer.
What types of processing do food soybean products undergo? Does this processing affect the nutritional value of the product?
It depends. One method of processing soy products is through fermentation, to make things like soy sauce and teriyaki sauce. Fermentation processes improve flavor and shelf life, and the fermentation process usually adds a lot of probiotics, in this case, processing can enhance the nutritional value.
Heating or sterilization is also used to process some soy products, but heat destroys some proteins, amino acids, and other nutrients.
Soy milk is another popular soy product. The grains are ground and filtered to make milk. Calcium in soy proteins and soy products is in very high amounts. In terms of micronutrients, one of the phytochemicals that is a very powerful antioxidant is isoflavones and when combined with calcium they help each other with absorption, digestion and metabolism. In this aspect, you can have higher health benefits from animal products that do not contain these phytochemicals.
How healthy and safe are alternatives to processed plant-based meats?
Pingxu Qin et al, A review of plant proteins from soybeans: health benefits and soy product development, Journal of Agriculture and Food Research (2022). DOI: 10.1016 / j.jafr.2021.100265
Presented by the University of Connecticut
the quote: For Plant Proteins Soy is a Smart Choice (2022, May 18) Retrieved May 18, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-plant-based-proteins-soy-smart-choice.html
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