Eating a well-balanced diet is key to achieving optimal overall health. However, for many Americans, the cost of a healthy diet presents a significant hurdle. One study found that following dietary guidelines would cost a family of four between $12,000.00-$14,400 annually. In the U.S., the average middle-income family spends approximately $6,224 on food each year. Whereas the average low-income family spends approximately $3,862 per year.
And, as challenges posed by climate shocks, conflicts, and pandemics increase in severity and frequency, the cost of nutritious foods continues to soar, making it even more difficult for households to access and afford healthy diets. This lack of access to nutritious food has far-reaching consequences, impacting eating habits, nutritional well-being, and overall health, while also contributing to various chronic health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and mental health disorders.
High quality protein plays a crucial role in the quest for promoting good nutrition and well-being. Enter soy, a complete and highly nutritious protein, offering all three essential macronutrients vital for maintaining a well-balanced diet.
Beyond its affordability and accessibility, soy’s sustainability is a key aspect of its appeal. Not only are soy foods and beverages widely available to help consumers make easy, nutritious, and budget-friendly choices, but embracing soy as a sustainable protein source may also play a crucial role in creating a more environmentally friendly and ethical food system. Let’s take a closer look at five of the ways soy foods (and the farmers that grow them!) help provide a solution for combating food insecurity, improving global nutrition, and promoting a healthier future.
1. Soy is nutritionally rich
First things first. It’s well known that soy foods are a nutritional powerhouse, offering a range of essential nutrients necessary for a balanced diet.
Soy is a source of folate, potassium, and fiber, with a protein quality comparable to animal protein and higher than other plant-based proteins. In fact, soy is one of the few complete plant-based proteins, providing all nine essential amino acids required for a healthy diet.
2. Soy offers a variety of health benefits
In addition to being nutritionally rich, soy foods have a plethora of health benefits that are backed by scientific research and recognized by health authorities.
Soy protein carries FDA heart health claims and is considered the only plant protein that may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. As recommended by the 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, soy is an essential component of a healthy diet across various categories, including dairy, oils, vegetables, and protein foods.
Digestion of soy protein may lead to the production of small chains of amino acids, which can help lower blood pressure. Furthermore, soy foods offer significant health benefits to men, potentially reducing the risk of prostate cancer, heart disease, and more. For women, soy’s richness in isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen, may offer heart health benefits and help alleviate hot flashes during menopause.
And, if you take a closer look at soy milk, you’ll find that numerous dietitians endorse it over other plant-based milk alternatives due to its closely matched nutritional composition to cow’s milk. When it comes to other non-dairy milks—including almond, cashew, coconut, oat, hemp, and flax—only soy and pea milk boast a protein content comparable to that of cow’s milk. Also, soy milk’s content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may contribute to lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart-related issues and strokes when consumed in lieu of saturated fats.
3. Soy is affordable
As a versatile and highly nutritious protein source, soy’s affordability sets it apart from other food options. Tofu, edamame, and soy milk are all examples of affordable food options. But what exactly makes soy such an affordable and cost-effective food choice?
There are multiple factors that contribute to soy’s budget-friendly nature, making it a staple in households around the globe, including:
- Efficient Farming and Processing: Soybeans are relatively easy to grow and harvest, and they may be processed into various forms, such as tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein (TVP), at a lower cost compared to certain animal-based protein sources. The efficiency of soybean farming and processing helps keep the overall production costs lower.
- Abundance and Scale: Soybeans are one of the most widely cultivated crops globally, and the sheer abundance of soybean production contributes to their affordability. Large-scale soybean cultivation and harvesting result in economies of scale, allowing for cost-effective production and distribution of soy products.
- Versatility and Availability: Soybeans can be transformed into a wide range of products, making them versatile and accessible to different markets and consumers. This versatility may increase competition among manufacturers and suppliers, leading to competitive pricing and affordability.
- Long Shelf Life: Many soy products, such as canned soybeans, TVP, and soy milk, have a relatively long shelf life compared to fresh animal-based protein sources. This longer shelf life reduces waste and allows for efficient storage and distribution, contributing to lower costs for consumers.
4. Soy is accessible
Accessing high-quality protein is essential for maintaining good nutrition and overall health, and soy is a complete and highly nutritious option. The accessibility of soy products extends its benefits to all individuals, regardless of demographic or cultural background, thanks to the following factors:
- Diverse Product Range: Soy products offer a wide range of options to cater to different dietary preferences and needs. They can be found in various forms, flavors, and textures, providing alternatives for individuals with specific dietary restrictions, such as vegans, vegetarians, or those with lactose intolerance or allergies to animal-based proteins.
- Online Shopping and Delivery Options: The rise of e-commerce has made soy products easily accessible. Consumers can conveniently purchase soy-based alternatives online and have them delivered to their doorsteps.
- Cultural Acceptance: While soy has a rich culinary heritage in Asian cuisine, soy products have gained widespread acceptance and integration into various cuisines and cultural dietary habits. They are commonly used as ingredients in traditional dishes and incorporated into recipes worldwide. This cultural acceptance and familiarity make soy products more accessible as people are accustomed to incorporating them into their diets.
- U.S.-Grown: U.S. farmers produce over 80 million acres of soy annually across 30+ states. This reliable and renewable supply ensures a steady flow of soy products for consumers.
5. U.S.-grown soy is sustainable
Of course, behind every block of tofu or glass of soy milk, there are dedicated U.S. farmers who take pride in providing a sustainable source of safe, affordable protein.
U.S. soybean farmers are at the forefront of adopting innovative technologies and farming practices to ensure the provision of sustainably produced and consistent supplies of food, feed, and other products for the future. Precision agriculture and digital tools enable growers to “farm by the inch,” maximizing harvests while optimizing the use of resources.
That’s not all though! Advancements in areas like microbials and biotechnology are empowering soybean growers to reduce water usage and more precisely apply pesticides and chemicals, resulting in a safer, more reliable, and more affordable food supply for the world.
Comparing soy’s environmental impact to other protein sources and milks, soybeans use less than a tenth of water than some tree nuts do, and the greenhouse gas emissions from soy production are much lower than production of some other milks. As research continues to highlight the positive effects of plant-based proteins on environmental sustainability and human health, soy emerges as a promising food source for the future.
Soy has emerged as a promising solution for addressing the challenges of food affordability and accessibility. By embracing soy as a nutritious and sustainable food option, we can make significant strides in combating food insecurity, improving global nutrition, and promoting a healthier future.