WISHH Perspectives

Tradition Meets Trend: Soyfoods are a Mindful Choice

By: Linda Funk, Flavorful Insight •Apr 11, 2022

In the United States, April is National Soyfoods Month—an ideal time to share news about the advantages that versatile soyfoods made with U.S.-grown soy offer to global consumers. Soyfoods have what it takes to satisfy today’s range of current food attitudes. Some consumers see food as medicine, some are concerned with the health of the planet and sustainability, and others simply want to experiment and try something new.

Soyfoods are a mindful decision, says private dining chef Ashok Nageshwaran of Food Raconteur. Nagseshwaran creates unique menus that tell the food stories of ingredients. In addition to the approachability and affordability of soy, he addresses its performance on the plate, “Soy is a single ingredient that cuts across many cuisines in multiple formats,” he shared during a recent cooking demonstration, hosted by the United Soybean Board. “It can share the plate, like an appetizer or an entree.  It complements and gives space, yet has its own individuality and character.”

The food, health and nutrition connection

Soyfoods can support traditional and healthy cultural cuisines. In Asia, traditional soyfoods such as tempeh and natto are culturally significant, and soyfoods have become convenient ingredients for contemporary cooks as well. They also hold appeal for U.S. consumers who are increasingly addressing their health and wellness goals by seeking whole body health rather than following formal diet plans.[1] Similarly, since the onset of the pandemic, Europeans have been consuming more products to support their immune health, including 50% of Polish consumers, 42% of Italian consumers, 41% of Spanish consumers and 32% of German consumers.[2] In 2021, 70% of Chinese consumers regularly included immune boosting food in their diets.[3]

The potential health benefits of nutrients found in soyfoods, such as isoflavones, have been extensively researched for more than a quarter century and investigated for their role in preventing and treating chronic diseases. There’s evidence that soy protein and other components found in soy may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer; alleviate symptoms of depression and hot flashes; and improve skin health.[4]

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also has approved the use of a qualified health claim for soybean oil, based on its ability to lower cholesterol.[5] That claim states, “Supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1½ tablespoons (20.5 grams) daily of soybean oil, which contains unsaturated fat, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. To achieve this possible benefit, soybean oil is to replace saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.” Soybean oil is an all-purpose cooking oil used for baked goods, dressings, sauces and frying.

The idea of culinary medicine is a relatively new take on the trend linking food and health, a concept that has been gathering momentum for several years. This evidence-based medical field blends the science of medicine with the art of food and cooking with the goal of helping people make good personal decisions about accessing and eating high-quality meals that help prevent and treat disease.[6]

For example, some American medical schools offer nutrition courses such as “Understanding Plant-Based Diets in Health and Disease.”[7] Given today’s growing interest in plant-based foods, such courses are not surprising. For example, from August 2020 to August 2021, global plant-based product introductions increased by 59%,[8] including new soy-based snacks, meat alternatives and dairy alternatives.

Mindful eating brings soy’s sustainability picture into focus

As part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the U.N. Food Systems Summit in 2021 focused on transforming the way the world thinks about, produces and consumes food.[9] With their nutritional profile and sustainable attributes, soyfoods complement the SDGs. The U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP), launched in 2014, verifies the sustainable production of U.S.-grown soy and U.S. Soy products for export and helps meet growing global demand. Currently, sustainability and personal health remain among the top considerations driving consumer food choices, with concerns for the health of the planet now taking precedence over personal health concerns.[10]

Soy protein plays a role in helping to feed the world

As the global population continues to rise, U.S.-grown soy can fulfill an essential role in global food security by providing a reliable supply of high-quality protein and essential fats. U.S Soy supports animal agriculture as well as the soyfoods industry, a noteworthy distinction in this era of flexitarian eating patterns.

The story of soy also extends to its role as a quality protein for animal feed, according to Chef Nageshwaran. He describes soy as a “protein’s protein” that translates onto the plate. Worldwide, the plant-based trend is driven by consumers who restrict certain animal-based foods, but don’t follow strict vegetarian or vegan diets.

According to recent research, nearly 50% of global consumers may fit into this category.[11] A majority of consumers eat both meat and plant protein. A recent European survey found that 90% of plant-based food consumers are neither vegan nor vegetarian.[12] In another survey, among American consumers who said they would eat plant-based meat because of healthfulness, their top reasons for doing so were high quality/complete protein, heart health and protein content.[13]

Versatile soy remains a vehicle for innovators

Research and development for plant protein products is branching out to create options beyond plant-based meats. In a market where consumer choices are strongly influenced by personal health and global sustainability,[14] soyfoods have an attractive profile in which tradition meets trend.

As Chef Nageshwaran puts it, “Soyfoods have their own natural personality that easily adapts to other cuisines.”  Ingredients such as tofu lend themselves to the global flavors that appeal to adventurous consumers. Examples of soy-based options include tofu products flavored with Mediterranean spices, yuzu or North African chermoula herbs and spices, as well as beverages like black tea soymilk, and curry-flavored tofu snacks.

This article was (partially) funded by the United Soybean Board.

[1] NPD, “U.S. Consumers are Moving Away from Formal Diet Plans and into Whole Body Health and Lifestyle Changes,” Press release, Feb. 16, 2022.

[2] Mintel, “Health Ingredients to Watch in 2022,”  March 2021.

[3] Mintel, Future of Nutrition, Health & Wellness Report, 2021.

[4] Messina, Mark. “Soy and Health Update: Evaluation of the Clinical and Epidemiologic Literature,” Nutrients,

2016 Dec; 8(12): 754.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5188409/

[5] Qualified Health Claim Petition – Soybean Oil and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease (Docket No. FDA-2016-Q-0995).

[6] La Puma, John. “What is Culinary Medicine and What Does it Do,” Population Health Management. 2016 Feb 1; 19(1): 1–3.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4739343/

[7] Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine/Nutrition, 2022 Spring Catalog

https://case.edu/medicine/nutrition/students/spring-2022-select-course-offerings

[8] Innova Market Insights, “Top Trends for 2022,” PR Newswire Press Release, October 13, 2021.

https://www.innovamarketinsights.com/press-release/shared-planet-leads-innova-market-insights-top-ten-trends-for-2022

[9] United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021.

https://www.un.org/en/food-systems-summit/about

[10] Innova Market Insights, “Top Trends for 2022,” PR Newswire Press Release, October 13, 2021.

[11] Euromonitor International, Lifestyle Survey.

https://blog.euromonitor.com/the-unstoppable-rise-of-plant-based-alternatives

[12] Innova, Smart Protein Project.

https://smartproteinproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/Final-webinar-slides_Smart-Protein-European-Consumer-Survey.pdf

[13] International Food Information Council, “Consumption Trends, Preferred Names and Perceptions of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives,” November 2021.

https://foodinsight.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/IFIC-Plant-Based-Meat-Survey.November-2021.pdf

[14] Innova Market Insights Top Trends for 2022, Press Release, October 13, 2021.

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/shared-planet-leads-innova-market-insights-top-ten-trends-for-2022-301399034.html

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