If you go
Overcome your "tofu-phobia" at a special lunch hour event, "Soytastic!" sponsored by Yampa Valley Medical Center. Meet Laura Stout, RD, and Lori Bell, organic baker from Healthy Solutions. Learn more about the benefits of soy and taste some delicious samples Wednesday in YVMC's Conference Room 1. Call The Wellness Program at 871-2500 to reserve your spot.
Steamboat Springs I have to admit, I've never purchased tofu. I do not even know where to find it in the store. However, this bean curd has landed on my plate more often than I ever thought possible.
I am surrounded by vegetarian neighbors, and because I like them and we like to eat meals together, sacrifices have been made. I'm living proof that tofu and other soy products are not just for vegetarians anymore.
Technically, soy never was just for vegetarians. Soybeans have long been a key ingredient in East Asian diets; the word, "soy" is derived from Japanese. In addition to soy sauce, other soy products have found their way onto shelves in U.S. health food stores and supermarkets.
Their popularity is due to vegetarian and lactose-intolerant diets, as well as other health-minded consumers looking for nonmeat and nondairy protein sources.
Most of us meat-and-potatoes types get the bulk of our protein from animals: meats, fish, eggs and dairy products. For those who don't eat "anything with a face," as one neighbor puts it, or for those who have allergies to dairy products, soy is the only plant protein equivalent to animal protein.
Of course there are other grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts that, when combined, can offer the protein bodies require. However, soy, like animal protein, offers all the essential amino acids. This makes it an obvious choice for vegetarians and vegans and an easy alternative for carnivores.
Registered Dietician Laura Stout, who works at Healthy Solutions in Steamboat Springs, said there are simple ways to add soy to your diet. She also believes the less processed the soy the better and thus prefers eating miso, tempeh and edamame.
"I'm about whole food," Stout said. "I like soy the way nature intended it."
Stout thinks the natural process of fermentation in miso and tempeh plays a role in overall wellness. She suggests easy ideas such as adding miso to soup, or crumbling tempeh into pasta sauce. She also likes to stir-fry tempeh with onions and red peppers, then add a little soy sauce, cornstarch and water to make thick gravy to pour over rice.
"We need to eat a little bit of protein at every meal, and my kids get tired of meat," Stout said. "It's a lower cost than chicken with similar protein content."
Stout said soy also is a great source of fiber and calcium. Also, some studies have shown that soy can protect against some cancers, heart disease and osteoporosis. Soy may even diminish menopausal symptoms. Although some believe these studies are not conclusive, soy's lower fat content makes it the healthier alternative to animal protein.
Before we count soy's delegates, there is one negative campaign to mention. In recent years, a growing number of people have developed an allergy to soy. One possible reason is that people eat too much soy in highly processed forms.
"The more processed soy is, the more you have to eat to receive the protein benefit, and the more you eat, the more likely you are to develop allergies," Stout said. "Whole food rather than supplements is a better way to go."
So rather than adding a highly processed powdered form of soy to a smoothie, try silken tofu. Soy latte anyone? Even Starbucks has embraced the soy milk trend. Although the nonfat milk latte still contains less fat than the soy version, at least those who have dairy restrictions have equal opportunity to the cafe craze.
Although there aren't any tofu chapters in my grandmother's cookbooks, this "complete protein" is becoming more mainstream and adding diversity to diets with its culinary versatility. As I've thumbed through more recently published cookbooks, and even a few local menus, I cannot help but spy soy.
I may even find it on my next trip to the grocery store.
Riley Polumbus is communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.