More and more people are moving meat to the side of the plate in order to let plants shine. The mighty soybean, found in a variety of foods, such as tofu, tempeh, meat alternatives, soymilk, and soy nuts, can help.
The old American plate looked something like this: a big brown steak at the center, a volcano of potatoes on the side, and a modest little pile of green beans along the border. Make way for the new American plate, which has a whole new look: meat is more of a seasoning, with plant proteins, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits forming the basis of the meal.
Increasingly, health experts recognize that a diet filled with more minimally processed plant foods and fewer animal foods offers myriad health benefits; studies show this eating style can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and obesity. And that’s not all. A plant-based eating style can trim your carbon footprint, too. No wonder 50% of consumers say that they are seeking more plant proteins in their diet, according to a NPD Group survey.
So, how do you take the plunge into plant proteins? One surefire way to get started is to take full advantage of the mighty soybean in meal planning. Soybeans, a traditional, staple food in Asian diets for centuries, has the highest quality protein profile among plant proteins—it’s very similar to that of beef, fish, milk and eggs. Soy is also very eco-friendly, offering a protein source that is ten times more efficient than meat, in terms of land usage. Plus, soy has been linked with heart health benefits due to its fabulous nutritional lineup, which includes fiber, healthy fats, high quality protein, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals.
Ready to get started eating more soyfoods as a plant-based meal alternative? It’s easy! Turn to an array of wholesome soy foods, such as tofu (in a variety of textures, ranging from silken to extra firm), tempeh (an Indonesian fermented soy grain cake), soymilk, edamame (green, immature soybeans), soynuts, and meat alternatives that run the gamut from sausages and burgers to “chicken” strips and crumbles.
My 9 Favorite Tips for Powering Your Plate with Soy Foods
1. For taco night, fill your taco shells with “ground beef-style” soy crumbles, which are available in a variety of flavors.
2. Try soymilk as a more sustainable alternative to cow’s milk. Fortified soymilk has a very similar nutritional profile (the most nutrient-rich of the plant milks, in fact) to cow’s milk, and its mild flavor is perfect for topping cereal, blending into smoothies, stirring into coffee, and mixing into baked goods. Check out my blog on all things soymilk here.
3. Switch out cubed, cooked chicken for tofu in your favorite recipe, such as stir-fry, cacciatore, pasta dishes, and casseroles. Just drain the tofu (you can use a tofu press for best results), and dice it. Remember that tofu is very mild and takes on the flavor of the sauces it is prepared in, so maximize the flavor of your dish.
4. Pack cooked, chilled edamame as your go-to healthy snack in kids’ lunchboxes, office brown bags, and picnic baskets.
6. Try a new brand of veggie burger featuring soy for your next weekend BBQ.
7. Give your weekend breakfast a healthy makeover with tempeh bacon served with grilled veggies and whole grain toast.
8. Swirl silken tofu into smoothies, dips, puddings, or pie fillings for a creamy alternative to cream cheese, yogurt, or sour cream.
9. Sprinkle soynuts into your trail mix, granola, or yogurt.
Try out some of my favorite plant-based recipes featuring soy:
Image: Mediterranean Edamame Quinoa Bowl, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN on March 3, 2016; Updated on September 19, 2019.