About Soy

The role of soy in nutrition for developing countries

WilnaWilliamCabbagerolls (1)

Wilna Oldewage-Theron PhD RD(SA), Professor of Nutrition, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

It is estimated that one in nine people in the world still has insufficient food for an active and healthy life. Of these undernourished people, the majority live in developing countries1. Undernourishment is characterized by protein-energy malnutrition (stunting, wasting and underweight) as well as micronutrient deficiencies (for eg. vitamins A, D, B6, B12, zinc and iron).  On the other hand, worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 19802. Obesity is often associated with lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and blood pressure. Lifestyle diseases have also become a challenge in developing countries because of the increasing prevalence of obesity and socio-economic difficulties that may result in poor diets, causing the most disadvantaged to be most at risk3. This situation of under- and over nutrition may sometimes occur in the same population or household and is called the double burden of disease.

The benefits associated with the regular consumption of soy, in combination with other healthy foods, have been scientifically proven and are becoming more relevant to prevent or address the negative consequences of the double burden of disease4.

High-quality protein is often missing from the diets of undernourished children in developing countries5. Not only does soy contain all the essential amino acids that children need to grow, but it also provides some of the essential micronutrients such as folic acid, vitamins B1, B2 and E, zinc, iron, magnesium and calcium to the diet4. Furthermore, soy is lactose free and can be used instead of cow’s or goat’s milk when infants or children have a lactose intolerance or are allergic to cow’s milk. Soy is also gluten free and can be included in gluten free diets.

Soy is not only beneficial for the undernourished, but is a heart-healthy food because of the low content of saturated fat and high content of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. Soy further contains no cholesterol and protects against heart disease by assisting with the reduction of both blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure6.  Soy is also a good source of dietary fibre that promotes not only gut health, but also provides a feeling of satiety and fullness that reduces hunger cravings that are beneficial for overweight people or people that are trying to maintain their weight. Soy has a lower glycemic index that keeps blood glucose levels more stable and is thus also recommended as a diabetic food. The anti-cancer properties of soy (isoflavones and phytochemicals) provide protection against various cancers such as breast, prostrate, skin, stomach and colon cancer4.

Besides all the health benefits, soy is an affordable and very versatile food for use in developing countries.  Soy protein is much cheaper compared to other high-quality protein sources such as eggs, chicken and beef respectively7,8. Soy beans are also less economical to farm and can produced by small scale farmers in developing countries. Furthermore, soy is versatile and can be used on its’ own as soy milk, yoghurt or  tofu for example or as in ingredient in high-protein meat replacements, energy bars, protein- enriched cereals and baked goods, and many more9.

To conclude, soy has been identified as an economical and versatile food item that will not only provide essential nutrients for under-nutrition, but also additional and unique health benefits addressing the increasing prevalence of over-nutrition in developing countries.


  1. FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) & World Food Programme (WFP). 2015. The state of food insecurity in the world. Rome: FAO.
  2. World Health Organization (WHO). 2015. Obesity and overweight. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/. Accessed: May 13, 2015.
  3. Ochoa-Avilés A, Verstraeten R, Lachat C, Andrade S, Van Camp J, Donoso S & Kolsteren P. 2014. Dietary intake practices associated with cardiovascular risk in urban and rural Ecuadorian adolescents: a cross-sectional study. BMC public health, 14(1):1.
  4. Duvenage SS, Oldewage-Theron WH & Egal AA. 2016. Cooking joy with soy. Vanderbijlpark, South Africa: Vaal University of Technology.
  5. Hershey J. n.d. Soy plays a role in global nutrition efforts. Available at: www.soyconnection.com/neswletters/soy-connection/health-nutrition/articles/Soy-Plays-Role-In-Global-Efforts. Accessed: April 14, 2017.
  6. United States Food & Drug Administration. 2016. CFR- Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Available at: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=101.82. Accessed: Apr 14, 2017.
  7. 2010. News and Events. Available at: www.worldsoyfoundation.org/news&events/workshops/midwest/aug11/solae.pdf. Accessed: Aug 27, 2014.
  8. 2012. Introduction to Solae, United Soybean Board connections. Available at: www.unitedsoybean.org/wp-content/uploads/meal-human-petro.pdf. Accessed: Aug 27, 2014.
  9. Golbitz P. 2011. Using the power of soy to reduce malnutrition. World Soy Foundation.



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