Soy is a popular ingredient in the vegan and vegetarian diet. It serves as a great alternative to animal protein like dairy, meat, or fish. Soy is a complete protein, deriving from the soybean legumes and is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Although it’s a healthy food, not all soy products on the supermarket shelf are produced in the same way. This is why I’d like to guide you in making the best choices when buying soy products.
The more traditionally healthy soy foods are miso, tempeh, and tofu. The most highly processed ones are soy cheese, soy yogurt, and imitation meats. The aim is to eliminate or limit the highly processed ones as they are rich in salt, sugar, and other chemicals, as well as being addictive.
I am a big fan of tofu, it’s my absolute favourite as it can be a very versatile ingredient; its taste is neutral, therefore it absorbs the flavours of both savory and sweet dishes. Tofu is high in protein, calcium, and can act as a great substitute for meat, fish, and cheese.
Tofu is made by coagulating hot soy milk and pressing the curds together to form a block.
The two main categories of tofu are fresh and processed. Fresh tofu is either soft, firm, or extra firm. The processed tofu (the bad ones that you should avoid) can be fermented, flavoured, fried, or frozen variations.
Tempeh, compared to tofu, has a more nutty taste. It’s made from fermented soybeans and sometimes another grain like rice or millet. It’s low fat and very high in protein. I recommend grilling tempeh and then adding it to your soups, stir fry vegetables, or just a simple salad – perfect for a healthy, easy dinner.
Don’t forget, as it’s a fermented food, it’s a great ally for your gut too. Try experimenting with this simple recipe and see if you like it:
How many of us have ordered miso soup in an asian restaurant? What makes the soup so delicious? Good question!
To make miso, soybeans, salt, mild culture, and a grain like rice or barley are mixed together. This soup can be used as a dressing for vegetable dishes or even over a salad. You can use it to flavour other soups or dishes but be careful with the salt here, as miso is naturally very salty, so you won’t want to over season the other dishes… balance is key.
Soy milk is made with soybeans, which is soaked and strained to produce milk. It’s a perfect substitute to cow’s milk for vegetarians and vegans and also for dairy intolerant people.
Just make sure to check the label carefully when you buy soy milk, as many options in the supermarket are rich in sugar and additives. My recommendation if you use soy milk, is to always vary with other dairy free milk (like cashews, oat, almond, or coconut) so you can always have a healthy balance and variety.
I love Edamame! It’s a classic starter in many asian restaurants and is often served with salt or even chili flakes. Which ones are your favourite? I love both!
They are so healthy and it’s a great variation to any other legumes, like beans, lentils, chickpeas, or peas.
Essentially, edamame are large soybeans that are harvested at the peak of ripening, when the beans are immature and still green. If you want to cook them at home, boil the beans for 15-20 minutes and they make for a healthy snack, an appetiser, or as a form of protein with your vegetables and grains. Here’s a tip: add a bit of lemon, a pinch of salt and a spoon of extra virgin olive oil. This will make them even tastier!
Soy nuts look like peanuts. You can find them flavoured, salted, and unsalted. They’re great for snacking (just a handful), or to mix it with your salad or grain dishes, like quinoa, amaranth, or millet.
Be mindful that they can be addictive, so I recommend opting for the unsalted ones and then add a pinch of salt if needed. It’s better to pair them with other foods, rather than eating them alone, as this will give you added flavour.
The bottom line? Always look for fresh soy products, check the labels, and be sure that you recognise all the ingredients you read. An ideal label should read: 100% soybeans, with a variation of other ingredients, e.g salt. But stay away from anything that contains sugar, or any chemical that you don’t recognise.
I hope this helps and comment below if you have tried or you are happy to try any of the soy products mentioned here.
If you want to discuss one-on-one about your personal journey with food and health, please check my nutrition programme here. I will be honoured to connect with you and help you find the path of sustainable long-term results and healthy lifestyle.