Soyfoods are uniquely positioned to meet the needs of the world’s aging population—those who are age 60 and older.  Globally, the number of older people is growing faster than the population in all other age groups. In 2017, more than 962 million people around the world were aged 60 or older. That number is expected to double by 2050 to reach more than 2 billion.[1]

Currently, plant-based eating is one of the hottest dietary trends. Among the plant proteins, soyfoods in particular have much to offer in meeting the health, nutrition and economic considerations of the world’s aging population.

The U.S. Soybean Export Council shares information about current trends that create a demand for U.S.-grown soybeans. This is Part One of a two-part report on the benefits of soyfoods for an aging global population.

Soyfoods are a Budget-Friendly Plant Protein Powerhouse

For older adults with limited incomes, food budgets matter.  Soyfoods are an economical, protein-rich and high-fiber food, offering health benefits that set them apart from other plant protein choices. Not only is the soybean higher in protein than other beans (~35% vs. ~27%),[2] but soy protein is also a complete plant protein, which means that it contains adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids in amounts needed by the body.[3]

How Soyfoods Promote Heart Health

According to the World Health Organization, ischemic heart disease (also called coronary heart disease) and stroke are the leading causes of death worldwide.[4]  A recent statistical analysis published by the Journal of Nutritionemphasizes the benefits of soy protein for heart health. Soy protein was found to lower LDL cholesterol by 3.2%.[5] Each 1% reduction is thought to reduce the risk of heart disease by 1% to 2%. Also in 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration formally recognized the cholesterol-lowering properties of soybean oil when it approved a health claim for soybean oil and reduced risk of heart disease.[6] When soyfoods replace some common protein sources in the American diet—which tend to be high in saturated fat—estimates are that soyfoods, because of the direct effect of the protein and the favorable change in the fatty acid content of the diet, can reduce cholesterol levels by 7 to 8%.[7]

Soyfoods Help Meet Increased Protein Needs of Older Adults

Older adults have increased protein needs, in order to slow or prevent the muscle loss that naturally occurs with aging. Because soyfoods are affordable and provide high-quality protein, they can help older people meet their protein needs. Research shows soy protein leads to gains in strength and muscle mass in individuals engaged in resistance exercise training (weight-lifting) as well as animal protein.[8]

Soyfoods can be easily introduced into the diet. One half-cup serving of canned black soybeans can enhance soup, chili or rice recipes, for example, and adds 11 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. Something as simple asreplacing 25% to 50% of the ground meat in recipes withTextured Soy Protein (TSP) or Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP™) can stretch a food budget without sacrificing flavor, texture or convenience.

[1] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2017). World Population Ageing 2017 – Highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/397)]

[2]Messina MJ. Legumes and soybeans: overview of their nutritional profiles and health effects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999:70 (3 Suppl):439S-50S.

[3]Hughes, GJ, Ryan DJ, Mukherjea R, et al. Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS) for soy protein isolates and concentrate: Criteria for evaluation. J Agric Food Chemistry. 2011;59(23):12707 – 12.

[4]The top 10 causes of death, 2018. World Health Organization.

[5]Blanco Mejia S, Messina M, Li SS, et al. A meta-analysis of 46 studies identified by the FDA demonstrates that soy protein decreases circulating LDL and total cholesterol concentrations in adults. J Nutr.2019; 149 (6):968-81.

[6]Qualified Health Claim Petition – Soybean Oil and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease (Docket No. FDA-2016-Q-0995).

[7]Jenkins DJ, Mirrahimi A, Srichaikul K, et al. Soy protein reduces serum cholesterol by both intrinsic and food displacement mechanisms. J Nutr. 2010;140(12):2302S-11S.

[8]Messina M, Lynch H, Dickinson JM, et al. No difference between the effects of supplementing with soy protein versus animal protein on gains in muscle mass and strength in response to resistance exercise. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 2018;28(6):674-85.