(Glycine Max)

Supplement: soy isoflavones

Potency: 750mg

Quantity: 120 capsules

Other ingredients: gelatin, cellulose, magnesium stearate, silica.

Price: £7.95

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Contraindications: soy isoflavones are not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Further information on Soy

Habitat:The soybean is native to eastern Asia and is believed to have been first cultivated in north eastern China around the 11th century BC, with the earliest archeological evidence of soybean cultivation being from Korea and dating to the 10th century BC. From about the 1st century AD, the soybean spread rapidly to other parts of Asia and became established in Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and India. In the 17th century soy sauce became commonly traded from east to west and the soybean itself reached Europe early in the 18th century and America soon after, although not until the 20th century did the soybean become widely grown outside of Asia. Today Asia remains an important source of soy, especially the big growers of China and India, but 55% of the world's soybean production is now in the USA, with Brazil and Argentina also becoming significant producers.

Characteristics and properties: The soybean is renowned all over the world as a nutritional powerhouse and for the fact that it contains the full range of essential amino acids, making it quite unique in the vegetable world and a very important protein food for vegetarians. Remarkably the soybean is as much as 44% protein. Of all the other nutritional substances it contains, the most well known is lecithin, a natural emulsifier which keeps cholesterol in the blood in suspension and therefore prevents it from sticking to the arteries. Since cholesterol deposits in the arteries are the main cause of cardiovascular illnesses, soy lecithin is indeed a precious substance for promoting a healthy heart and a good circulation and for lowering cholesterol levels.

Other substances in soy have also become renowned for their health giving properties, notably its isoflavones, which are a group of phytoestrogens. Many potential health benefits have been attributed to isoflavones, although some researchers dispute the various claims made for them, which has led to a great deal of debate in recent years, as the opposing groups argue over exactly what effects they have on the body. There are now almost 2000 scientific publications on the subject of isoflavones and most of these are favourable to the view that isoflavones are beneficial to health. One of the most discussed ideas is that isoflavones promote bone health in that they help in the preservation of the bone material and fight against osteoporosis. Consumption of isoflavones is said to be the reason why people in China and Japan very rarely have osteoporosis, despite their low consumption of dairy products.

Another great area of study on isoflavones is their impact on the symptoms of the menopause, and it is argued not only that isoflavones may mitigate menopausal symptoms, but that many menopausal and post-menopausal health problems may occur in the first place because of a lack of isoflavones in the typical Western diet. Isoflavones may be beneficial for men's health too because they are believed to protect against enlargement of the male prostate gland. In addition several studies have indicated that isoflavones slow prostate cancer growth and cause prostate cancer cells to die. In fact isoflavones appear to act against prostate cancer cells in a way similar to many common cancer-treating drugs.

Other cancers are also said to be prevented by isoflavones, although this is an area of some controversy to put it mildly. Most significantly, population-based studies have shown a strong association between consumption of isoflavones and a reduced risk of breast cancer and of endometrial cancer. In one study, women who consumed the most soy products and other foods rich in isoflavones appeared to have reduced their risk of endometrial cancer by 54%. In another study women who consumed soy products 4 times a week or more during adolescence and adulthood were nearly 50% less likely to develop breast cancer than women who ate soy less than once a month. This is a very active and much debated area of research and more studies are likely to be carried out in the next few years and may shed further light on how reliable the claims are that soy is a cancer preventative.

Isoflavones also appear to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease through two significant actions. Firstly, they inhibit the growth of the cells which help form the plaque that can clog the arteries. When the arteries are clogged there is the inevitable risk of blood clots which can lead to a heart attack. Secondly, they help to improve levels of cholesterol, which also reduces the risk of the arteries becoming clogged. A review of 38 controlled studies on soy and heart disease concluded that soy is definitely effective for improving cholesterol profile, although some researchers say that the degree of improvement shown in these studies is not that significant and that soy's ability to prevent heart disease tends to be overestimated.

Because isoflavones are phytoestrogens and soy is particularly rich in them, many soy products and supplements have become popular in recent times for use in natural breast enhancement. Infant formulas based on soy are another growth area and are used for lactose intolerant babies and those who are allergic to milk proteins.

Culinary uses: Although soy has the appearance of a simple bean, this is deceiving as it's actually the most versatile foodstuff on Earth and many different foods can be made from it, from sauces to sausages. Tofu is probably the best known soy food and itself comes in many different forms, such as tofu cheese, various tofu meats, soy dogs, sausages, bacon and ice cream. Tofu comes in firm, extra-firm, soft, and low-fat varieties, the extra-firm being probably the most popular as it is excellent cubed in stir fry, crumbled in salads or in chili, marinaded in sandwiches, and in general highly useful in many recipes as an alternative to meat. The soft or silken tofu makes an excellent creamy base for soups, sauces, salad dressings, mock cheesecake, and mock egg dishes such as scrambled tofu or egg salad.

The remarkable tofu is made from soy milk by adding a coagulating agent to separate the curds and whey, similar to making cheese. The soy milk required is made by grinding and pressing soaked, cooked soybeans and is a useful and popular soy product itself. Whilst valuable as a milk product to people who are allergic to dairy products, soy milk is also perhaps the most convenient way to include soy in your diet. It can be substituted for dairy milk in cereals, shakes, soups, sauces, puddings and souffles, and is available in plain, whole, low and non-fat kinds as well as in various flavours. Recently soy milk has developed a cachet in premium coffee blends from Western restaurant chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts.

Another common soy product is tempeh, a meat alternative with a chewy texture and a hardy taste, qualities which make it popular as a meat substitute. Originating in Indonesia almost 2000 years ago, tempeh is made from whole cooked soybeans which are fermented, a process which binds the bean material into a cake and sometimes the finished product is called soybean cake. It's sold in sweet and sour, vegetable, marinaded and teriyaki forms as well as various others, and can be grilled, fried or steamed, grated into salads or used in chili, and is an excellent replacement for ground beef in sauces, enchiladas and burgers. Grilled tempeh burgers in particular have spread rapidly across the world as a tasty alternative to meat dishes.

Miso is familiar to many people as the miso soup served before eating sushi, but miso is actually a fermented soybean paste widely used in Japan and not just for soups. It is used to flavour salad dressings, marinades and sauces, and is available in several varieties that vary in colour, taste and saltiness. Light or yellow miso is sweet and much less salty than darker miso which is better for soups. This bean curd paste is now not only commonly found in Japan, but is becoming increasingly popular in Western countries as a versatile condiment for a host of different recipes. Once only found in specialty stores, miso is now available in many supermarkets and is often used in preference to plain old salt.

The first soy product to be introduced into Western countries was soy sauce, which was immediately popular wherever it went and today is more popular than ever. In Chinese cookery the two basic types of soy sauce are light and dark. Dark soy is aged much longer than light soy, giving it a brownish-black color and much thicker texture. As its name suggests, light soy has a lighter color, plus a saltier flavor. It is used more in cooking, as the rather pungent oduor and darker color of dark soy sauce can ruin the taste or appearance of a dish, but dark soy is used in red-cooked dishes and is good for marinating meat. There are also mushroom and shrimp soy sauces, thick soy sauce made by mixing soy with molasses, and kecap manis is a sweetish, thick soy sauce made with palm sugar and seasoned with star anise and garlic. 

There are many other soy foods such as natto, yuba, and okara, but the whole soybean itself shouldn't be forgotten or overlooked as they are excellent in sauces, stews and soups and many other dishes, and when soaked can easily be roasted to make snacks. A particular delicacy is the edamame soybean, a special variety which is harvested at the very peak of ripening, just before they reach the hardening time. They are available in the pod or as shelled green beans and are well known for their soft texture and sweet taste, even being used to make confectionery, though they are best used as a succulent vegetable which adds colour to almost any dish.

History and Curiosities: The enthusiasm of early Chinese farmers for the soybean was shown in the names they gave it: Great Treasure, Brings Happiness, Yellow Jewel, Heaven's Bird. In fact for the Chinese and other Asians who did not drink animal milk, the soybean quickly became indispensable. The beans were soaked in water to yield a milk-like white liquid and later became referred to as "the Cow of China". In 206 BC soybeans were first fermented to make douchi, the predecessor of soy sauce and miso. Following these came many other soy foods, such as doufu (soy curd) and natto (soy cheese), whilst in Indonesia came tempeh (soy cake). Steamed green soybeans, roasted soy nuts and soy sprouts were also favoured at this time.

When the soybean reached Japan it was adopted with relish and doufu was particularly popular, becoming known there as tofu. A sixth century monk poetically praised tofu's "dazzling white robes", showing the impact that tofu had made in Japan by that time. Around the seventh century, Japan's miso tradition emerged. Miso seems to have evolved from both chiang, a soybean paste that Buddhist monks brought from China, and jang, a similar soybean product that Korean farmers had introduced to Japan. Miso was made almost exclusively by monks until the tenth century and eaten only by the privileged classes, but eventually soybeans became more widely available, and the methods of fermenting soybean paste to produce miso became as diverse as the households that prepared it. By the eighteenth century, samurai families had established the miso-making industry. Today, whilst miso is served in households throughout Japan nearly every day as a broth for soup, or a dressing or sauce for grilling fish and other meats, its production has been largely relegated to giant miso factories.

Soy foods such as soy sauce, miso, tofu and tempeh are fairly refined and bear little resemblance to the soybean itself. For this reason, the earliest references among western visitors to China or Japan rarely mentioned the soybean itself, but instead referred to "milk from vegetables" and "cakes like cheese". The main western interest in soy at that time was in soy sauce, and during the seventeenth century this became widely traded. Soy's cultivation and use as a food plant were not well understood in the west until Engelbert Kaempfer (a medical officer with the Dutch East India Company who had served on a junket in Japan) described them in his botanical work, Amoenitatum Eroficum. It is known that soybeans were grown in the United States in 1767, although cotton and peanuts remained much more interesting to American farmers, with the result that the soybean languished in obscurity in the West for another century and a half.

One of the most zealous advocates of the soybean in western countries was Henry Ford. Although known for making cars, Ford also spent vast economic resources developing industrial and culinary uses for the soybean and became more preoccupied with the industrial possibilities of vegetable protein than with the V-8 engine. Studies funded by Ford in the 1930s found that oil could be extracted from the soybean and used for making foods such as margarine and salad cream and also for various industrial purposes, whilst the remainder of the bean could be fed to cattle, poultry and pigs. Research exploded and every part of the soybean suddenly found a multitude of uses. By the late 1950s, the first edible soy flour and grits had been perfected and soy bakery took off. Then came soy concentrates and soy protein extracts and by 1970 came soy protein with the texture of meat. Today we have enzyme-active soy flour, defatted soy flakes and soy protein isolates, not to mention soy bacon and soy ice cream and even soy chocolate. Industrial uses of soy have similarly multiplied and the soybean is now used in the making of a wide range of products such as inks, crayons, solvents, adhesives, resins, plastics, soaps, cosmetics, candles, textiles and clothing, carpets, building materials and biodiesel.

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