In China, the soya bean has been cultivated and used in different ways for thousands of years. Soya was considered as one of the five holy crops, along with wheat, barley, millet and rice.
Growing evidence points to the health benefits of a soya-rich diet. For vegan and vegetarians, eating protein-rich soya (harvested from sustainable sources - choose organic soya products) is especially important.
Here - in conjunction with Alpro Soya - are some reasons for including soya in your diet:
* High blood pressure affects over 16 million people in the UK. A soya-rich diet may help lower your blood pressure by up to 10%, according to research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
* Replacing meat products with soya leads to noticeable improvements in the metobolic syndrome. Researchers also noted significantly lower cholesterol levels among those following this diet.
* A soya-rich diet could also help stimulate bone formation. Around 50% of European women older than 55 experience osteoporosis, or loss of bone mass. A recent article in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that isoflavones stimulate bone formation and reduce loss of bone density. Soya contains isoflavones naturally. It is also important to retain bone density by getting enough exercise: yoga, walking, gardening all place weight on the bones.
* Early consumption of soya food products may help decrease the risk of breast cancer later in life, according to several reports. There is growing interest in the role of isoflavones in reducing this risk - breast cancer rates are far lower in China and Japan, where the diet is rich in soya.
* Omega 3 and 6 help maintain cardiovascular health; soya naturally contains both these essential fats.
* A diet rich in soya could also help weight control: a recent study found that body weight, body mass index and body fat percentage decreased significantly in groups of overweight men consuming soya protein and plant proten for eight weeks. Soya-based low-calorie diets decrease serum total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrates, which result in reducing body fat precentage.
So which foods contain soya?
Soya milk, tofu, soya sauce, soya yogurt, miso or tempeh - a cake of soybeans which have been de-hulled, cooked and mixed with a tempeh starter and incubated for a few days. Tempeh is made from whole soybeans.
People with soy allergy should avoid eating food containing soy protein.