Soybean is one of the oldest food sources known to humans. On an average, it contains about 40% protein, 23% carbohydrates, 20% oil, 5% mineral, 4% fibre and 8% moisture (Gopalan et al., 1974; SOPA, 2002). Soybean is recognized for its value in enhancing and protecting health. Soy protein contains all of the eight essential amino acids. The recent discovery of the value of soy-isoflavones and their role in disease prevention has created a special interest in soybean. It has boundless food potential. However, soybean also contains some antinutritional factors such as trypsin inhibitor, urease and flatulence factors. Hence, it requires careful processing before utilization.
Soybean, being rich in protein and calories, has a great potential to tackle the problem of protein-calorie malnutrition from which many people in India and other developing countries suffer. Soybean contains twice as much protein as pulses, groundnut, meat and fish; three times as much as eggs; and more than ten times that of milk. In addition, soybean is the most economical source of dietary protein in the world and is superior to other plant proteins. Soybean does not contain lactose. Hence, soy milk and other dairy analogues are best suited to lactose-intolerant people. Soybean is also a very good food source for those with diabetes. Overall, soybean is an environment-friendly crop that is needed for better global health.
India has a population of >1100 million people. The majority (65-70%) are vegetarians who derive their proteins from pulses, cereals and milk and to some extent from oilseeds such as groundnut, sesame and soybean. In general, the quality of the protein eaten by the population is poor. Better-quality proteins from egg, meat and aqua products are costly and only a small proportion of the population has access to them. About 30% of the Indian population is below the poverty line and does not have enough purchasing power for good-quality dietary proteins. It is therefore important to provide them with an alternative source of dietary protein that is financially affordable. Soybeans meet this requirement. Hence, for India, one option is to make use of soybean as a protein source to augment the conventional protein supply at a cost/price that is affordable by all, especially those with lower incomes. In India, the cost of 1 kg protein from full-fat soy flour is just US$1.5, as compared to US$4, US$5, US$8, US$10, US$12 and US$18 from split pulses (dal), egg, milk, chicken, fish and meat, respectively (Gandhi et al., 2008).
Soybean is high in protein and is one of the very few plant-based foods to contain all of the essential amino acids. Therapeutically, soybeans lower cholesterol, boost the immune system and, being high in fibre, ease constipation. Soybean is extremely versatile. It contains a high proportion of polyunsaturated fat. It can be processed into a number of fermented and non-fermented food products. Research into phytochemicals has shown that soybean contains phytoestrogens, and so may help in managing irregular periods, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal hot flushes and post-menopausal problems such as osteoporosis, fatigue and vaginal dryness (Holt, 1998; Connie, 1999). It may also help guard against cancers, including prostate cancer.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a health claim stating that 25 g of soy protein in a daily diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can help reduce total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (FDA, 1999). Various research studies undertaken the world over have indicated that the inclusion of soy foods in the daily diet not only provides good-quality protein, but also helps prevent diseases such as diabetes, breast cancer, osteoporosis, heart attack and memory loss (Holt, 1998; Patricia and Newton, 1998; Messina, 2002; SOPA, 2002). The use of whole-bean-based food provides all of the nutritional benefits that soybean offers and, when included in a diet with cereals, the food provides an excellent source of nutrition.
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