How soybeans can improve your diet and save you money

Saving With Soybeans

by Debra Karplus, MS, OTR/L

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You've seen those lush green plants growing as you've driven along the highways and back roads in the Midwest or some of the states in the Southeast. You found it difficult to identify what type of crops these were as they were far too short to be corn, with almost a bush-like appearance. Then you discovered that the acres and acres of these plants, categorized as legumes and not vegetables, are soya or soybeans.

Get beyond the myths that soybeans are tasteless and produce gas in your digestive system, and you may discover one of nature's most perfect foods. Soybeans are low cost, fat free, and are a complete protein with the essential amino acids. They also contain many vitamins and minerals. Of course, they have fiber that everyone requires in their diets for optimal health.

Research shows that cooked soybeans assist in lowering cholesterol. For women of a certain age, soybeans are known to help maintain a healthy heart and strengthen aging bones; that's a concern for people at risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis. Though soybeans are a food favored by vegans and vegetarians, as they are a good meat replacement, they are also chosen by meat-eaters, too, not only for their health promoting benefits, but because of their delicious, somewhat nutty flavor.

The edible part of the soybean is the pod of the bean, similar to the green peas with which you are already familiar. The tan-colored dried soybeans have numerous uses in your kitchen and can be purchased packaged or in bulk from most supermarkets and natural food stores and online for about $2 a pound

Experiment with different types of soy products and create delicious foods in your kitchen.

Soy milk is a tasty protein and calcium-rich beverage that can be enjoyed cold or hot and plain or flavored with vanilla, cocoa, coffee or cinnamon. It's available at most supermarkets in the refrigerated section near the milk. Though not a dairy product, soymilk is used by those who are lactose intolerant or have milk allergies, as well as by others who simply enjoy its taste and health benefits. Soymilk can easily be made from scratch, using the dried tan-colored soybeans. Check the internet for recipes for making soymilk at home. You'll be pleased with the lack of effort required to make your own soymilk.

Soy nuts are generally healthier than most snacks. They are made simply from soybeans that are soaked and then baked and often flavored or salted. Unsalted dry roasted soy nuts are the healthiest for you. You can buy them packaged or in bulk, or make them at home seasoned the way you like them.

Textured vegetable protein (TVP), heated and dried soybeans, is often added to cooked dishes as a meat alternative because it is non-fat and high in protein. You can purchase the dried flakes packaged or in bulk or online. Soy powder can be sprinkled on cereal or soup to increase nutritional value. Soy flour is terrific to add in home-baked breads or biscuits or in baked dishes. These soy-based foods are available at many groceries and most health food stores. Just ask.

Related: How to Be a Vegetarian or Vegan on a Budget

Tofu (pronounced TO-foo) is a curd made from mashed soybeans or soymilk. You'll find it flavored or plain, soft, firm or extra firm in the grocery refrigerated section near the specialty vegetables, such as bean sprouts. You can cut tofu into slices and make a sandwich, or cut into small cubes and top with tamari, soy sauce, or your favorite seasoning and eat chilled. Or cook tofu; stir fried entrees come to life with tofu added.

Tempeh (pronounced TEM-pay) comes in a frozen patty and can be found, plain or multi-grain, in the grocery freezer. Wow your vegetarian friends with tempeh cooked outdoors on the grill at your next barbecue, or bake or fry it in the kitchen. Because it is made from fermented soybeans, the fermentation process facilitates the body's ability to digest the protein and calcium in this soy-based treasure. Experiment with the many uses for tempeh and you will not be disappointed.

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Edamame (pronounced ed-a-MOM-ay) are green soybeans par-boiled or steamed in their pods. They resemble snow peas and typically you buy them frozen in packages. They're especially high in Vitamin A. Enjoy them as a snack, chilled, or add them to cooked entree or vegetable dishes.

Soybeans are inexpensive, non-fat, high in protein and calcium and are an amazingly versatile food as a beverage (soymilk), snack (soy nuts and edamame), nutrition enhancer (TVP, soy powder, and soy flour), or main course (tofu and tempeh). Peruse your cookbooks or the internet for some ideas on how to cook with soy-based products and then head to your favorite grocery and bring home a bag full of goodies that contain soy. Your family will delight in some of the new foods served on your dinner table.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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