By Naini Setalvad April 2010 The market is flooded with soya milk, chips, nuts and more, promising high nutritive value. but only fermented forms of soya are good for health During my growing years, I had never heard of soya. When I did, it sounded like an exotic food from abroad that visiting relatives brought with them. In fact, my first taste of soya was in the form of soya milk. This was a replacement for a child, who was allergic to milk, and milk products, and was recommended soya milk as a substitute. I started studying nutrition, and intrigued by its goodness, read up all I could about this product that originated in South East Asia. It is popular in the Far East, as people there are genetically lactose-intolerant, and find it a good substitute. However, they consume it only in its fermented form as tofu, miso, or temph. It is popular with vegans and is a rich source of protein and calcium and a miracle food for cancer patients. Soya, in its non-fermented form, is harmful to health. In South East Asia, it is consumed in its fermented form and not as soya milk or soya atta. It is advisable not to indiscriminately add soya to atta, or snacks, or drink soya milk.An important point to remember is that soya is high in fat and protein. If you eat it regularly, make sure that you cut down on other fat and protein sources, as it could lead to excessive nutrients that cause harm to the body. Adding it occasionally to the diet in its fermented form will be beneficial but please don’t go overboard. Here are some of the health benefits of fermented soya.Fermented soya is a rich source of magnesium, calcium, zinc, copper, iron, and selenium. These minerals are transformed into soluble forms during the process of fermentation, and therefore are much easier to digest.Fermented forms of soya are suitable for people who are lactose- intolerant, or find dairy products hard to digest. Since, soya is a non-dairy food it does not cause digestive upsets like milk does sometimes.As soya is also a high quality protein, it can be a part of your meal, but as a substitute for other forms of protein. So use it instead of dal, sprouts, chicken, or fish not as an addition.Due to the presence of oestrogenlike substances, soya has been known to reduce PMS symptoms and other menstrual disorders. However, these studies are contradictory, since research has also shown that too much soya is detrimental to women’s reproductive system.Today, people have begun to use non-fermented forms of soya, such as soya beans, soya flour, soya chips, soya bars, and the worst of the lot – soya shakes. To begin with, this soya is highly processed. This means that it is filled with chemicals, preservatives, and additives, all of which are damaging to health. In addition, because soya is a concentrated form of protein, it can be difficult to digest for people with sensitive stomachs. It can lead to bloating, gas, and diarrhoea when consumed in large quantities.Although soya is technically rich in several vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron, copper, and magnesium, these are not in a soluble form in processed snacks and shakes. Therefore, they will not be available to the body, even though they are present in the soya bean.In conclusion, it would be safe to say that soya is indeed good for health but only when consumed in its fermented form, and in limited quantities. Soya may be the latest in the food market, but it pays to be cautious, and be aware of it, before you jump on to the soya bandwagon.Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits. See more article on health at: articles/health
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