Nutrition Meets Food Science

What’s in Soya?

What’s in Soya?

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We have all heard of soya due to the increased attention it has been receiving in recent years among consumers, researchers, and the media. Talking more on its origin, Soya comes from the soya bean pods that are located in the soya plant. The beans may be green, black, yellow, or white. Its scientific name is Glycine Max and it is from the Pea family (Fabaceae). Soybeans are a type of legumes   that are naturally high in protein while remaining relatively low in fat. Today, soy is widely consumed, not only as a source of plant-based protein but also as an ingredient in many processed foods. Soy protein refers to the protein that is found in soybeans and is often used to replace animal proteins in an individual’s diet.


Soy is a complete protein, which means that it contains all nine essential amino acids. It is an important protein source for many people, especially vegans and vegetarians.

According to USDA 100 grams of raw soybeans supply:

  • 446 calories

  • 36% protein

  • 30% carbohydrates

  • 20% total fat

Soybeans are low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin C, and folate. They are also a good source of fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and thiamine. The nutritional content of other soy products differs based on how they have been processed and what other ingredients have been added.

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Beneficial effects:

The reason soya, soya products and soya protein has gained so much importance over the last few years is due to their array of beneficial effects on an individual’s health.

Cardiac Health

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Several studies suggest that soy may improve cholesterol levels, especially “bad” LDL cholesterol. In an extensive review of 35 studies, researchers found that eating soy products reduced LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol while raising “good” HDL cholesterol. These improvements were greater in people with high cholesterol levels. Fiber seems to play an important role in cholesterol-lowering effects of soy.

Also, soy foods contain essential polyunsaturated omega-3 fats that are linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Another theory claims that phytoestrogens (plant compounds that have hormone-like effects; isoflavones in soy products) bind to estrogen receptors and produce similar effects including lowering LDLs and increasing high-density lipoproteins. https://www.ncb

Menopausal Symptoms

The increased level of research intensity over the past years has also resulted that soy consumption might also improve several aspects of postmenopausal health and cardiovascular health. In a study to examine the change in menopausal symptoms and cardiovascular risk factors in postmenopausal women in response to 4 months of daily 100-mg soy isoflavone, it was observed that isoflavones present in soy foods are safe and effective for decreasing menopausal symptoms and may offer a benefit to the cardiovascular system.

Breast cancer

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Several large, human studies—in which thousands of women have been followed for many years, consistently show that compared with women who do not eat soy, women who regularly eat soy have lower breast cancer risk. Some of these studies also suggest that breast cancer survivors who consume soy foods have a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence compared with survivors who avoid soy. Therefore it could be said that among women with breast cancer, soy food consumption was significantly associated with decreased risk of death and recurrence.

Some data showed that during the digestion of soy in the gut, the release of biologically active soy peptides, such as conglycinin, takes place. These compounds may have a preventive role in cancer, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, obesity and oxidative stress.


Thyroid Function.

Some studies of soy isoflavones in experimental animals suggest possible adverse effects (e.g. enhancement of reproductive organ cancer, modulation of endocrine function, anti-thyroid effects).

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While in a review of 14 trials, soy had little to no effect on thyroid function, and the authors concluded that people with hypothyroid disease do not need to avoid soy as long as their iodine intake is adequate.

Allergen for Some

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Sometimes, infants are found to be allergic to Soya. Typically, allergic reactions first appear in infants and young children under 3years of age, and many outgrow the allergy by during childhood. Even though studies with clinically confirmed investigation are scarce, prevalence of soy allergy appears to be low with rare anaphylaxis reactions to soy containing foods.

Genetically Modified?

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”

There are concerns among people regarding consumption of genetically modified crops and related health impacts. According to the USDA, 94 percent of soybean farmland in the U.S. was used to grow genetically engineered soybeans in 2014. In one review, researchers report that eating genetically modified foods could lead to illnesses that are resistant to antibiotics.

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The amount of potentially beneficial isoflavones may be lower in genetically engineered soybeans. The transfer of allergens and the formation of new allergens are additional concerns with GMOs. Although many have expressed concerns regarding the safety of GMO crops, WHO also state that “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.” However, more research needs to be done to understand the real impact GM crops have on health.

Although, soy having numerous health benefits its market will have to go a long way for its ready acceptance by all. With the growing adoption of vegetarian diets and with the choice of soy formulas by some vegetarian parents, a broader characterization of the role of soy foods in nutrition could help the acceptance of plant-based new generation foods.


Manager - Food & Nutrition, PFNDAI


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