Soybeans in the Diet

Foods from soybeans are not new. They have been used for thousands of years in other countries. The soybean was introduced into the United States in 1765. It was not until the 1900s that soybeans became the important crop they are today. It was first used as a food for animals. Only in the last few years have people in this country eaten soybeans and foods made from soybeans. You may think you do not eat soybeans, but it would be almost impossible not to eat some products made from soy.

Ingredients made from soybeans are in many foods that we eat every day. Soy products are used in everything from baby food to whipped toppings. One of the most common soy ingredients is soy oil. This is a very popular vegetable oil and is used in many baked products.

Soybeans and soy products can be a healthy addition to our diet.

  • Soybeans are included in the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, nuts, and egg group of the Food Guide Pyramid.
  • A 1/2-cup of cooked dry beans is the equivalent of one ounce of meat.
  • Soy products are a good source of protein and fiber, have no cholesterol, and may be low in fat.
  • Eating soy products may reduce the risks of some cancers, coronary heart disease, and osteoporosis.

Soy Foods

A number of soy foods and ingredients are now in the grocery store. Here are some products you may have seen:

Soy flour - Soybeans are ground into a fine powder. It is usually used with wheat flour.

Soy grits - Soybeans have been roasted and cracked into coarse pieces.

Soymilk - This is made from crushed cooked soybeans. There is also soy cheese made from soymilk. People who are allergic to cow's milk can sometimes use soymilk. Soymilk can be used in many recipes in place of cow's milk.


Textured soy protein (TSP)
- This is made from soy flour that is cooked, formed, and dried. TSP is sold as granules, flakes, or chunks and is often made to resemble meat, seafood, or poultry. It can have a bland taste or be flavored to taste like the product it is made to resemble. It can be used by itself or blended with ground meat.

Tofu - This a soft, cheese-like food made by curdling fresh hot soymilk. The main types of tofu are extra firm, firm, soft, and silken. The differences are determined by firmness, texture, and nutritional value. Tofu is high in protein, low in saturated fat, has no cholesterol, and is lactose-free.

Whole soybeans - This can be bought dry or fresh and cooked in stews, soups, or casseroles. Roasted whole soybeans are available for a snack.

Soybeans and soy foods can be a healthy part of the diet. Food scientists are looking for new ways to include soy into soups, drinks, and baked goods. Read ingredient labels on some of your favorite foods to see if you are already eating soy products.

Written by: Barbara Farner
Nutrition and Wellness Educator
University of Illinois Extension
Matteson Extension Center

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