Heather Russell from The Vegan Society checks if this pulse is strong for vegans.
You hear a lot of scare stories about soya, which is a shame because it’s a valuable source of nutrition, particularly if you avoid animal products. Soya-based foods can be enjoyed by people of all ages, and may even provide some health benefits.
1. The soya bean has a special nutritional profile
Soya beans contain protein that is of a similar quality to the protein in meat and dairy. They have a higher fat content than other beans – mainly heart-friendly unsaturated fat.
2. Soya is great for people with higher protein needs
Unlike other varieties of plant milk, the quantity and quality of protein in soya milk is similar to cows’ milk. Young children, athletic individuals and people over 65 have higher protein needs, so it’s important that all their meals contain good sources. Including soya beans, soya milk and yoghurt, tofu and soya mince helps to ensure that a vegan diet is rich in high quality plant protein.
3. Some soya foods are rich sources of calcium
Did you know that calcium-set tofu is one of the richest plant-based sources of calcium? You can work out whether or not it’s the calcium-set variety by looking for calcium in the list of ingredients. Just 70g (2½oz) (uncooked weight) provides about a third of the daily calcium target set for adults in the UK – that might equate to less than a quarter of a block! Soya and linseed bread fortified with extra calcium and fortified soya milk and yoghurt are also really rich in calcium.
4. Eating soya protein may be positive for heart health
Some dietary approaches to lowering cholesterol promote the consumption of soya protein, because research suggests soya-based foods can help with cholesterol management as part of a balanced diet low in saturated fat.
5. A balanced diet containing soya is safe for reproductive health
You may have heard people say that soya is a danger to reproductive health. The reality is that phytoestrogens in soya-based foods and others do not affect our bodies in the same way as the sex hormone oestrogen. For anyone experiencing menopausal symptoms, research suggests that eating soya may help reduce the severity of hot flushes.
6. Soya can be sustainable
Vegans use soya and other crops in an efficient way by consuming them directly and avoiding animal products. As with every crop, there are different approaches to growing soya, and it can be done with respect for people and the environment. Many products on UK shelves contain soya grown in Europe.
Here are tasty ways to include soya-based foods in your diet:
Nutritious breakfast: Top a serving of plain fortified soya yoghurt with your favourite cereal, a mixture of chopped fresh fruit, and ground flaxseed (linseed).
Protein-rich packed lunch: Cook some couscous or quinoa and soya beans, roast some cubes of butternut squash with paprika and olive oil, cool, and combine with diced pepper and salad leaves.
Vegan twist on a classic pasta dish: Lightly fry onion, garlic and soya mince in vegetable oil, add plum tomatoes and tomato purée to make a rich sauce, stir in some grated carrot, and serve with wholewheat spaghetti.
Extra tip: Soya beans can be found in supermarket freezers. The dry variety of soya mince is available in supermarkets and health food retailers, and is an economical protein source.
- Eating a well-planned vegan diet containing soya can be a nutritious and sustainable option for people of all ages.
- The quality of soya protein is similar to that of the protein in meat and dairy.
- Soya-based foods are particularly valuable sources of nutrition for people with higher protein needs, including young children, athletic individuals and older adults.
- Calcium-set tofu, soya and linseed bread fortified with extra calcium and fortified soya milk and yoghurt are really rich sources of calcium.
- Eating two servings of soya-based foods daily may help with the management of cholesterol and menopausal symptoms.
If you’re keen to find out more about vegan nutrition, check out the resources at vegansociety.com/nutrition, including the free VNutrition app.
About the author
Heather Russell is passionate about eating well and keeping fit. She trained to be a dietitian to combine her love of science with a desire to help people, and she loves food! She worked in the NHS from 2010-16, and is now using her dietetic skills to support the work of The Vegan Society.