If you are pregnant and vegetarian, soy becomes all the more important because of the protein in it. The popular belief that protein is best obtained from animal products is a myth. When pregnant your need for protein increases because you are replenishing your own body alongside, you are providing your baby with the raw materials for its growth. Soy was once considered an Asian delicacy, and was more often featured in vegetarian palates. Gradually this changed and now soy is gaining popularity in the West because of its health benefits and versatility. A fact that can help change your mind about soy (if you are not already convinced) is that soy is a plant food that is a 'complete' protein and contains all nine of the essential amino acids.
A little background on Amino acids
- Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and protein is part of every cell in the body
- There are about 20 different amino acids which your body uses to manufacture body proteins, of which nine are considered essential. That is to say your body cannot make them and so you must get them from the food you eat.
- Animal foods such as meat, fish, eggs etc contain all nine essential amino acids and are therefore considered to be 'complete' proteins.
- Plant foods contain essential amino acids but not all nine of them and are therefore regarded as 'incomplete' protein
The benefits of Soy
- Soy is rich in protein, calcium, fiber, phytochemicals and some vitamins.
- Its health incentives are plenty: reduces the risk of certain cancers, lowers LDL cholesterol and minimizes to some extent the loss of calcium in bones
- Its versatile enough to adapt and blend into almost anything you cook, from a latte to a stew
- It makes a good substitute for those who are lactose-intolerant
- Vegetable protein sources such as soy often contain additional beneficial complex carbohydrates and are less acid-forming than meat.
Soy comes in many forms. Tofu, tempeh, miso and soy milk to name a few. Don't go by the names - they taste better than they sound.
- Tofu is made from soy milk that has been allowed to solidify into 'cakes'. It is whitish in color and comes in various textures, from smooth and jelly-like to extra firm. It has very little taste on its own and takes on the flavors of whatever you cook it with. The softer varieties can be used in soups and purees for instance and the firmer ones can be used in stir-fry dishes or it can be grilled, pan-fried or baked.
- Tempeh is actually fermented soybeans wrapped in special leaves until it firms up into a cake. It can then be sliced and cooked like meat or fish, and like tofu it can be used in stir fries, grilled or pan-fried.
- Textured vegetable protein or TVP is a defatted, dehydrated soy protein that comes in either flakes or small nuggets. It makes a satisfactory substitute for ground meat, especially when it is prepared in highly flavored sauces or spices.
- Soybeans make a good substitute for refried beans. They can also be added to salads and soups.
- Soy milk can be used as a substitute for cow's milk. Supermarkets sell varieties that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D and these are ideal if you are lactose-intolerant. Soy cheese is a good non-dairy alternative to the real thing.
- Miso is a fermented paste of soybean combined with rice, barley or wheat. It is salty and is often added as a flavoring to enhance foods or made as a soup.
Despite the pluses, like all other foods, soy too should be eaten in moderation. If you are a vegetarian, do not rely on soy as your main protein food but include other varieties into your diet. Soy is best consumed in the form of whole soy foods rather than from dietary supplements (pills and powders).