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Soybean or soyabean is an edible seed that belongs to the pea family. They are produced from the soybean plant which has tiny pods that contain these seeds. These seeds are spherical in shape and their colour varies from green when they are fresh to yellow and brown as they dry. 

Soybeans are believed to have originated in Southeast Asia, specifically in China. It then slowly spread to Japan and the other parts of the world. Currently, soybean is cultivated all over. The United States is the top soybean producing country in the world. This is followed by Brazil, Argentina and China. In India, the largest soybeans producing states are Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.  

Soybeans are used to make various soy-based foods such as soy milk and tofu. It is also used as a substitute for various meat and dairy products. In Asian countries, soy is used as the main constituent of fermented foods such as soy sauce, tempeh, fermented bean paste, and miso. Soybeans can also be used to extract soybean oil. Once, the soybean oil is extracted, the remains called the soybean meal, highly rich in protein can be used either to produce soy protein or can be used as a feed livestock.

Soybeans are highly nutritious in various vitamins, minerals and proteins. They can help control diabetes, reduce weight and maintain heart health. Soybeans can also be used to prevent sleep disorders and improve digestion. Soybeans are toxic when eaten raw. So it must be cooked properly before consuming.

Some basic facts about Soybeans

  • Botanical name: Glycine max
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • Common name: Soybeans, Soya
  • Sanskrit name: सोयामाष (Soyamasah)
  • Parts used: The outer shell of soybeans is not edible, so they are shelled to get the beans from the inside
  • Native region and geographical distribution: Soybean is one of the fastest growing crops in India and is grown as a Kharif crop. Bhopal is the largest producer of soybeans in India
  • Interesting fact: During the Civil war, people used soybeans instead of coffee seeds, since they were scarce
  1. Soybean nutrition facts
  2. Soybean health benefits
  3. Side effects of soybeans
  4. Takeaway

Soybean is highly nutritious. It is rich in proteins, minerals such as calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and vitamins like vitamin A, B1, B2, B3 and B9. Soybean is an ideal source of proteins for vegetarians. It also rich in fibre content.

As per the USDA Nutrient Database, 100 g of green soybeans contain the following values:

Nutrient Value per 100 g
Water 67.50 g
Energy 147 kcal
Protein 12.95 g
Fats 6.80 g
Carbohydrate 11.05 g
Fibre 4.2 g
Minerals  
Calcium 197 mg
Iron 3.55 g
Magnesium 65 mg
Phosphorus 194 mg
Potassium 620 mg
Sodium 15 mg
Zinc 0.99 mg
Vitamins  
Vitamin A 9 µg
Vitamin B1 0.435 mg
Vitamin B2 0.175 mg
Vitamin B3 1.650 mg
Vitamin B6 0.065 mg
Vitamin B9 165 µg
Fats/ Fatty acids  
Saturated 0.786 g
Monounsaturated 1.284 g
Polyunsaturated 3.200 g

Undoubtedly soybean is a nutritious food product, but what are its health benefits? Let's explore.

  • Promotes weight loss: Soybeans are one of the richest sources of proteins, the macronutrient which is known to promote weight loss and improves muscle mass. It is now scientifically proven that soybean consumption leads to reduction in body weight and total fat levels.
  • Strengthens bones: Research evidence suggests that soybeans possess bone preserving activity due to its estrogen-like effects. Regular consumption of soybeans is especially effective in promoting bone strength in pre and postmenopausal women.
  • Improves sleep quality: In clinical studies, soybean consumption is found to improve the quality of sleep along with regulating the sleep-wake cycle. It also helps improve sleep duration.
  • Anti-diabetic: Soybeans have an array of compounds that help in blood sugar management. It has been demonstrated to reduce insulin resistance and postprandial (post-meal) spike in blood glucose levels.
  • Benefits for menopausal women: Soybean consumption has been suggested to improve post and premenopausal symptoms. It is especially evidenced for reducing the severity and frequency of hot flushes during menopause.
  • Prevents anaemia: Soybean consumption is suggested to improve haemoglobin and RBC levels in animal models. This is attributed to the ferritin content of soybeans, a protein that stores and releases iron when needed.
  1. Soybeans for weight loss
  2. Soybeans for diabetes control
  3. Soybeans for anaemia prevention
  4. Soybeans for the heart
  5. Soybeans for bone health
  6. Soybeans for sleep disorders
  7. Soybeans to treat irritable bowel syndrome
  8. Soybeans for cancer prevention
  9. Soybeans for menopausal symptoms

Soybeans for weight loss

Obesty is the main risk factor for chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. Research reveals that soybeans can help control obesity.

It is a well-established fact that foods rich in protein promote the feeling of fullness. This will make you binge lesser on unhealthy foods. Further, a diet rich in proteins will help you in losing fat and gaining muscle tissue. Being a rich source of proteins, soybeans provide you with these benefits.

In a clinical trial on obese subjects, higher intake of protein-rich foods lead to weight loss and loss of body fat.

Researchers showed that when protein intake is more, there was an increase in the hormone peptide YY which is responsible for promoting the feeling of fullness.

Several preclinical studies indicated that a regular consumption of soybeans lead to a decrease in bad cholesterol (LDL) and total cholesterol (TC) levels, in addition to reducing body weight.

Consumption of soy protein also reduced the level of fat accumulation in the body. It led to increased excretion of bile acids and a reduced fat accumulation in the liver.

So, soybeans help you lose weight through multiple mechanisms and will be a healthy weight loss substitute.

Soybeans for diabetes control

Diabetes is a chronic condition marked by high blood sugar levels due to impairment in glucose metabolism. Individuals become diabetic either because their body doesn't produce enough insulin which is responsible for regulating glucose levels or the body does not use the insulin produced by the pancreas effectively. The latter occurs due to insulin resistance, which is caused due to obesity.

Researchers have demonstrated that soybean consumption aids in reducing insulin resistance by combating obesity.

A clinical study indicated that soybean consumption 60 minutes before a meal could help regulate the glucose level after a meal (postprandial glucose level). This is attributable to the presence of an anti-diabetic agent called pinitol in soybeans.

Another study done on 43176 Chinese subjects revealed that the intake of unsweetened soy items helped reduce the risk of the disease. Soy isoflavones and other components such as fibre, polysaccharides, phytosterol and unsaturated fatty acids were responsible for this inverse relationship between the greater consumption of soy foods and reduced risk of diabetes.

Soybeans for anaemia prevention

Anaemia is a condition that occurs when the number of red blood cells (haemoglobin) in the body reduces. There could be various causes for anaemia, but the most common cause is iron deficiency.

Research suggests that soybean can have a positive effect on iron deficiency anaemia. A study done on anaemia induced animal models indicated that soybean supplementation led to an increase in the number of red blood cells and an improvement in the haemoglobin values.

Ferritin is a type of protein that stores and releases iron when it is required. Some amount of ferritin is already present in soybean, which helps in the storage of iron. The process of biofortification with ferritin could further help to improve this value and lead to the prevention of anaemia.

Soybeans for the heart

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs)  affect the functioning of the heart and blood vessels. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are the significant risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Some researchers have argued that soy protein and isoflavones play an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases by lowering the levels of bad cholesterol.

However, another set of research demonstrated that the rich fibre, vitamin, mineral and polyunsaturated fat content of soybeans is responsible for an improvement in cardiac health.

Whatever may be the mechanism, it is established that soybeans are conducive to your heart health.

Soybeans for bone health

Bones are the supporting structures of the body and aid in movement, function and protection of internal organs. They are also responsible for storing essential minerals and releasing them when needed for other body functions. It also protects the other organs from getting injured.

Studies show that soybeans can help in keeping the bones stronger. Soybeans are a great source of the compound isoflavones, a type of chemical compound that has estrogenic activities and is similar in structure to osteoporosis treatment drugs. Oestrogen is protective of bone structure and being rich in oestrogen like compounds, soybeans is the perfect food for preserving bone strength. Soybean isoflavones can increase the bone density in women before and after their menopause. Researches make a strong recommendation for soybean to be included in the diet for improvement in bone health.

Soybeans for sleep disorders

Sleeping disorders involve changes in sleeping patterns, which can have a negative impact on the body. Some common characteristics of sleeping disorders include sleeplessness, fatigue, anxiety and a strong urge to sleep during the day.

According to research, isoflavones present in soybean can help improve the quality of sleep. Isoflavone which is a type of phytoestrogen is similar in structured compared to the oestrogen found in the human body. Oestrogen is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

A clinical study done on 1076 adults indicated that a higher intake of isoflavones can help regulate the duration of sleep while also improving sleep quality.

Another research on 169 postmenopausal women revealed that isoflavones were associated with better sleep quality.

So, indulge in a delicious bowl of soybeans to sleep better.

Soybeans to treat irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the large intestine. It is characterised by digestive symptoms like  stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhoea and bloating along with changes in bowel function. Although the condition is chronic, it can be kept under control by managing your diet and lifestyle.

Research indicates that soybeans supplementation in the diet can help control IBS by improving the quality of life. Although, it did not guarantee an improvement in the symptoms during the study period.

The study stated that isoflavones and their extracts daidzein and genistein improve the functions of the intestinal barrier. Isoflavones also protect the intestines because of its antioxidant properties.

It was further said that soy isoflavones can protect the gut from inflammatory cytokines that lead to the onset of irritable bowel syndrome.

Soybeans for cancer prevention

Cancer is one of the most dreaded diseases. It is caused due to abnormal cell growth and its risk factors include obesity, processed foods, environmental changes, smoking and chronic inflammation.

Research reveals that soy products and soy protein have  antioxidant properties that can aid in the prevention of cancer. This is because of the presence of polyphenolic compounds present in them. These compounds include isoflavones, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and ferulic acid.

A clinical study done on more than 6000 women with breast cancer revealed that consuming soy foods rich in isoflavones reduced the risk of mortality caused due to the disease.

Soybeans for menopausal symptoms

Menopause is when a woman stops getting her periods because of the decline in the reproductive hormones. It usually occurs when the woman is between 40-50 years of age. Some common menopausal symptoms include hot flashes (a feeling of warmth), sleep disturbances, anxiety and mood disorders.

According to research, soybeans can help alleviate symptoms in the beginning and end of the menopause.

In addition, it was indicated that isoflavones present in soy can help to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes in women.

  • Allergic reactions: Soy allergy usually occurs during childhood. Symptoms include itchy inflammation on the skin and inflammation of the intestines and colon (enterocolitis). People who are allergic to cow’s milk are also often allergic to soy.
  • Flatulence: Flatulence is the accumulation of gas in the digestive system. Research suggests that certain trisaccharides, tetrasaccharides and oligosaccharides in soya can cause flatulence. Soaking soya and allowing it to germinate before consuming them can help prevent flatulence caused due to soya.
  • Other than this, an excessive consumption of soybeans can lead to weight gain, diarrhoea and stomach cramping. Excessive use of soybean isoflavonoids leads to endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the endometrial lining of the uterus).

Soybeans are an excellent source of protein, vitamins and other important components required by the body. They are a rich source of isoflavones that has several health benefits. Regular consumption of soybeans can be helpful in the prevention of cancer because of its antioxidant properties. Soybeans can also help to prevent menopausal symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome, iron deficiency anaemia and can protect the heart. But, some people might be allergic to soybeans and soy products and it can cause flatulence in some. Therefore, it is the best to rule out allergies before consumption and even then consume moderate amounts.

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References

  1. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 11450, Soybeans, green, raw. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  2. Manuel T. Velasquez, Sam J. Bhathena. Role of Dietary Soy Protein in Obesity Int J Med Sci. 2007; 4(2): 72–82. PMID: 17396158
  3. Kang MJ, Kim JI, Yoon SY, Kim JC, Cha IJ. Pinitol from soybeans reduces postprandial blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. J Med Food. 2006 Summer;9(2):182-6. PMID: 16822203
  4. Noel T. Mueller et al. Soy intake and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus in Chinese Singaporeans. Eur J Nutr. 2012 Dec; 51(8): 1033–1040. PMID: 22094581
  5. Messina M, Messina V. Soyfoods, soybean isoflavones, and bone health: a brief overview. J Ren Nutr. 2000 Apr;10(2):63-8. PMID: 10757817
  6. Yufei Cui et al. Relationship between daily isoflavone intake and sleep in Japanese adults: a cross-sectional study. Nutr J. 2015; 14: 127. PMID: 26715160
  7. Mahsa Jalili et al. Soy Isoflavones Supplementation for Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized Double Blind Clinical Trial Middle East J Dig Dis. 2015 Jul; 7: 170–176. PMID: 26396720
  8. Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995-. Extracted or synthesized soybean isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flash frequency and severity: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. 2012.
  9. J.J. RACKIS. Flatulence Caused. by Soya and Its Control through Processing. TEE JOl'RNAL OF THE AMERICAN OIL CHDlISTS' SOCIETY, Vol. 58, No, 3, Pages: 503-510 (1981), United States Department of Agriculture
  10. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health [Internet] Bethesda, Maryland; Soy