Soy has staying power as healthy option

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Consumers in the US are increasingly turning to soy as a healthy choice as they constantly change their eating habits to improve nutrition, according to a study from the United Soybean Board.

Soy is popular for its potential health benefits and versatility and 85 percent of consumers view soy as healthy, the survey showed. This is an increase of 26 percentage points compared to 1997.

The 2008 Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition survey, which is the 15th annual research study sponsored by the USB, also shows that a growing number of consumers specifically seek out soy foods to aid in weight management and promote heart health as well as to reduce the risk of some cancers.

Meanwhile food companies are taking note. According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, between 2000 and 2007 more than 2,700 new foods with soy as an ingredient were introduced in the US. This includes 161 new products last year alone.

The USB report describes soy as “a promising long-term phenomenon”​ and states: “Turning to soy protein, the ongoing trend toward healthy, versatile foods and an increase in offerings at mainstream grocery stores has promoted the increase of trial and awareness of soy foods and beverages.

“In 1997, 18 percent of consumers surveyed had tried soymilk. Today, this number has more than doubled to 40 percent, and consumption of other soy foods such as edamame and tofu are also on the rise.”

Consumers also continue to recognize soybean oil, commonly labeled as vegetable oil, as one of the healthiest cooking oils. It is relatively low in saturated fat, contains no cholesterol and zero grams of trans fat, which have been linked to health risks as diverse as cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer.

Nutrition concerns

Evidence suggests that regularly changing eating habits and not sticking to any one diet is a long term trend among Americans but this may “sabotage good health if smart eating patterns are never established”​, according to the USB.

It said that “jumping on the latest dietary fad isn't always as beneficial as basic good nutrition like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and high quality protein sources like soy and lean meats”.

Overall, nine out of ten Americans in the USB study expressed concern about nutrition. The results showed that 74 percent of consumers have changed eating habits in the past three to five years due to health concerns and this number has remained relatively consistent over the last 15 years.

A separate study from The International Food and Information Council (IFIC) had similar results as 67 percent of Americans were said to have changed their diets over the past six months alone. The main reasons were to improve overall well-being (69 percent), lose weight (69 percent) and to improve physical health (64 percent).

Disguising negative tastes

Manufacturers are going to great lengths to try to improve the flavor of soy and mask the off-tastes associated with it, such as bitterness. A variety of techniques are used such as adding sugar, fat or salt to a recipe.

Senomyx and Solae, for example, are currently working on new bitter blockers to enhance the taste characteristics of soy proteins and as a result, improve the nutritional value of foods by allowing manufacturers to add more protein and use less sugar, salt and fat.

Earlier this year Symrise introduced a new series of flavor masking tools which it claimed were effective “in overcoming bitter, burning, astringent, chalky, salty, metallic tastes and a host of other off-flavors and off-notes​”.

The German-based firm said that they could be used for caffeine, green tea, proteins, soy, sweeteners and cacao, as well as other “problem ingredients​”.

The USB's fifteenth annual survey was conducted by an independent research firm and includes 1,000 random online surveys which took place in February 2008. The United Soybean Board is a farmer-led organization comprised of 68 farmer-directors.

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