Soy, an unlikely hero in the fight against malnutrition
High-quality protein is often missing from the diets of the world’s hungry children and adults. Whether in the scattered bushes of a savanna, a vast rain forest basin, a rural coastal river community or a densely populated squatter settlement, access to a substantial source of consistent and complete protein is often in short supply.
Today there are 7.2 billion people on Planet Earth and the United Nations projects that by 2050
9.6 billion people will live in the world. Ensuring global food security is one of the most pressing issues facing the world and its importance will grow in the coming years. A wide variety of strategies are needed across the agricultural value chain to feed another 2.4 billion by 2050.
Why is soy a hero in the fight against malnutrition? Soy possesses many superior qualities related to economic variables, nutrition and functional properties. Food manufacturers are seeing a trend in soy usage benefits as it provides an ability to control food costs as well as meet the need for health-filled products. When soy is used as an ingredient, it boost protein content, often at a cost savings compared to other protein sources such as dairy or meats. Soy protein often improves the texture and mouth feel of a product. Baked goods prepared with soy protein boast improved texture, better moisture retention, and extended shelf-life. Soy flour is also often used as an egg replacement in baked goods. Soy protein boosts the nutritional value of products such as cereal and pasta. Lecithin, which is derived from soy oil, offers emulsifying and stabilizing properties within food to help provide consistent texture.
When used in meat-extending applications, soy helps to promote juiciness, protein quality, cost stability, and a longer shelf-life. When soy is used as a replacement for dairy or egg-derived ingredients, it provides an alternative that reduces allergenic responses in those with specific allergies. Moreover, soy ingredient usage can reduce oil absorption in fried foods, and improve dough handling during processing.
Soybeans contain all three of the macro-nutrients required for good nutrition: complete protein, carbohydrate and fat, as well as vitamins and minerals, including calcium, folic acid and iron.
Soybeans are the only common plant food that contains complete protein. Soybean protein provides all the essential amino acids in the amounts needed for human health. The amino acid profile of soy protein is nearly equivalent in quality to meat, milk and egg protein. Almost 40% of the calories in soybeans are derived from protein, causing soybeans to be higher in protein than other legumes and many animal products. Unlike many other good sources of protein, soybeans are low in saturated fat and are cholesterol-free. Soy is a good source of B vitamins, including foliate. Edamame, soy flour and textured vegetable protein are very high in fiber. Soy is chalked full of the essential Omega-3 fatty acids as well as linoleic and alphalinolenic acid. Isoflavones in soy provide biologically active substances that may help prevent chronic disease.
The National Soybean Research Laboratory (NSRL) at the University of Illinois is dedicated to being part of the efforts to reduce food insecurity and fight malnutrition. NSRL seeks to connect cost effective and highly nutritious soy protein to the global challenge of hunger and malnutrition through sustainable solutions in the areas of early childhood nutrition, school feeding programs, economic development and technical assistance.
NSRL’s efforts, as it relates to Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition, put emphasis on ensuring the use of soybeans as a source of protein in developing countries.
The treatment of malnutrition requires the consumption of a nutritious diet. Soy provides excellent nutrition in Ready-To-Use Therapeutic Foods, complementary foods that supplement breast feeding, school feeding programs that incorporate soy into local cuisines and educational programs that teach the importance of good nutrition and the value of soy protein.
Soy as an ingredient in Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF)
Only half of the children in Haiti can actually afford to go to school and most of them walk 1-2 miles on an empty stomach and return home at noon with the same empty feeling. MAMBA, a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) that includes soybean oil, defatted soy flour and soy protein concentrate along with a high concentration of vitamins and minerals has made its début with school children in Haiti. The children receive this nutritious and delicious soy-enhanced RUTF when they enter the school each morning and it boost their energy level, improves attendance and decreases anemia and sick days.
Soy incorporated into local cuisine
Food manufacturers, chefs, non-government organization representatives, and community leaders gathered together, rolled up their sleeves and jumped right in incorporating soy protein into soups, stews, rice dishes, and meat patties during workshops conducted in Africa to provide information, education and instruction about soy. These workshop participants learned not only about the nutritional benefits of soy, but they received worthwhile information about food safety and hygiene and educational materials about the value of protein and other key amino acids to overall health. They had fun as well, sharing recipes and discovering how soy ingredients can easily be adapted into local cuisines.
Soy education to prevent malnutrition
Hundreds of excited elementary students at the Republic de Honduras School in San Pedro Sula enjoyed a day of dancing, singing and learning at a health fair centered on nutrition. The fair introduced soy protein as a way to meet daily protein needs and also provided a unique opportunity for students to learn about the importance of protein in a balanced diet. Students’ parents also attended and participated in educational cooking classes. Children stayed busy at the fair, gobbling up soy milk and cookies, watching cartoons about nutrition, and creating songs soy. They discovered that incorporation of soy can be an important protein contributor to daily diets by providing the necessary nutrients for growth and health. The nutrition fair offered a comfortable atmosphere for children to learn about this and other personal wellness trends.
When it’s all said and done, soybeans may not have the strength of Hulk, the agility of Spider-Man or the speed of Superman, but soybeans do possess superior qualities to achieve the impossible and fight back against the evil of malnutrition.