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Soy story; This humble little legume is sprouting up nearly everywhere -- and it's good for you.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Soy -- it's what's for dinner. And breakfast. And lunch these days.

At least, that's what food consultants are predicting -- and nutritionists and dietitians are urging.

"The health-conscious will search for nutritious foods, like soy, to feel good about in 1999," says Dianne Keeler Bruce of New York-based DKB Consulting, which tracks food trends. "We are going to be seeing a lot more soy products."

Soy -- which has been popular in Asian cultures for centuries -- finally has come into the U.S. spotlight, showing up in foods that please even the most American of palates. It is being assimilated into a variety of favorite foods from pumpkin bread to vegetable soup to macaroni and cheese.

Still, trying to promote a plant food, like soy, in a traditionally meat-loving nation is not easy.

"Most people don't change their eating habits over-night," says Baltimore-based dietitian Colleen Pierre, who is a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "I kind of suggest people should try one vegetable meal and one animal meal a day."

Even celebrities are praising the little legume.

Food-lover Rosie O'Donnell has revealed an affinity for soy burgers. And Oprah featured the protein-packed bean on a recent show.

But soy's nutritional wallop -- with its many essential vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, folic acid and iron -- is only part of the attraction.

It also is being linked to preventing cancer, lowering cholesterol, reducing heart disease, relieving menopausal symptoms and preventing osteoporosis. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering a ruling to allow soy-protein products to carry heart-healthy labels on food packaging.

With all these claims, the days when we wrinkled our noses at strange-sounding soy foods like tofu, tempeh, yuba and miso are dwindling.

"When I would mention the words 'soy' or 'tofu,' people would make a face," says nutritionist Sanaa Abourezk, author of "Oh Boy, I Can't Believe It's Soy" (Palmyra Publishing Co., 1998). "They would say it was tasteless and hold that against it. As a cook, it's an advantage."

Tofu has a wonderful propensity for absorbing the flavor of surrounding foods without affecting overall taste. Add extra-firm cubed tofu to a dish like Spicy Tofu, Cheese and Green Chili Enchiladas and you savor Mexican flavors, not some unfamiliar texture.

In her new cookbook, Abourezk, a Sioux Falls, S.D., resident who has a master's degree in nutrition, offers more than 100 gourmet soy recipes, including tiramisu, falafel, tarragon pasta, and potatoes with coriander.

"I started experimenting [with soy] and would give some to my neighbors," says the Syrian native. "When I told them it was soy, they would say, 'No way.' "

Incorporating soy into our diets is becoming easier, with more soy cookbooks and Web sites available. Log onto www.soyfoods.com and find recipes for applesauce cake made with soy flour; pasta with a cream sauce made from soy milk; pork and vegetables stir-fried in soy oil; and easy-day vegetable lasagna with tofu.

Soy's increased availability and better processing also have made it more palatable to American taste buds.

"Up until two or three years ago, soy was considered a fringe food here," says nutrition consultant and registered dietitian Anne Patterson of Nutrition Advantage in Farmington, Ill. "Now, it's been mainlined into supermarkets."

Improved soy foods also bring variety and taste to a meal, she says. "It works in the center of the plate [as an entree], as a snack, as a dessert. It works with every food group."

The Grocery Manufacturers of America forecasts a growing demand for soy products, whether they are varieties of tofu, protein alternatives for ground beef, soy shakes, roasted soybeans or frozen soy desserts. Americans are buying into the health and nutritional claims, spending almost $1 billion a year on soy products.

While researchers still are exploring how soy works on the human body, strong evidence suggests that the different types of phytochemicals and antioxidant properties found in soy are responsible for its healthful impact.

"We know our diets should be more plant-based," Pierre says. "Substituting soy is one way to shift our total eating to a more plant-based one."

How much we should eat for optimal results is not certain. Some health professionals say two or three servings a week. Others say one meal a day.

The United Soybean Board recommends consuming between 40 grams and 60 grams of soy per day to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommended requirements of protein. For example, one-half cup of cooked soybeans has 14 grams per serving; 1 cup of soy milk has 7 grams; and one-half cup of tofu has 10 grams.

There also are powdered soy supplements, which can boost intake. A 1-ounce portion provides about 24 grams of protein per serving. Stir it into a smoothie or sprinkle some over cereal.

For lowering cholesterol, the soybean board advises adding as little as 25 grams of soy protein a day.

When it comes to alleviating menopausal symptoms, the amount of soy needed is "all over the board," Patterson says. "We really don't have an exact amount we can tell people. There is not conclusive evidence."

Some research indicates that soy foods, which are a rich source of phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), may help compensate for the lack of natural estrogen production. Many nutritionists point out there is no word for hot flash in Japanese, a culture that has consumed soy foods for hundreds of years.

While the health effects of soy continue to be explored, everyone seems to agree the food is nutritionally beneficial. Some even call it a wonder food.

But it is not a panacea, nutritionists point out. We should still strive to eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet for overall health.

"It's just a soybean," Patterson says. "We're treating it as a medicine. This is an old bean with a new twist that also can help you."

Stir-Fry Pork and Vegetables

Serves 4

2 tablespoons soybean oil (most vegetable oils are soybean oils)

1/2 cup vertically sliced onions

2 cups (about 1/2 pound) Chinese pea pods

1 cup sweet red bell pepper, cubed

6 ounces cooked pork, cut in 2-inch strips

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root

1/2 teaspoon sugar

pepper to taste

Heat oil in large, nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat about 1 minute or until hot. Add onions and stir-fry about 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir-fry about 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender and pork is thoroughly heated.

-- From Indiana Soybean Board

Tiramisu

12 ounces light tofu, pureed

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream, optional

4 tablespoons maple syrup

12 ounces fat-free or light Cool Whip

2 packages ladyfingers

1 cup strong coffee

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Mix the pureed tofu with vanilla extract, Bailey's Irish Cream, if using, and the maple syrup until well blended.

Fold the tofu mixture into the Cool Whip.

Cut the ladyfingers about an inch from one side so they will be the same length as the side of a cheesecake (springform) pan.

Quickly dip each ladyfinger into the strong coffee. Do not soak them or they will fall apart. Place each ladyfinger next to each other against the pan wall.

Cover the bottom of the pan with the ladyfingers. You will have a mold.

Spoon tofu mixture inside the ladyfinger mold, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 48 hours.

Sprinkle top with cocoa powder. Cut and serve.

(From "Oh Boy, I Can't Believe It's Soy!" by Sanaa Abourezk)

Spicy Tofu, Cheese and Green Chili Enchiladas

Serves 6

1 package (10.5 ounces) extra-firm tofu, cut into small cubes

1 can (4.5 ounces) chopped green chilies

1 cup corn kernels, frozen, fresh or canned, optional 1/4 cup taco sauce or salsa

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

6 (8-inch) flour tortillas

1 can (10 ounces) enchilada sauce

chopped cilantro, sliced olives, optional

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine tofu, chilies, corn if using, 1/2 cup of the cheese, taco sauce and cilantro in medium bowl. Mash together with fork until combined. Spoon mixture evenly onto tortillas; roll up. Place seam-side down in 13-inch-by-9-inch baking pan sprayed with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Top with enchilada sauce and remaining cheese.

Bake until bubbly and lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and olives, if using.

-- Adapted from "Pillsbury Fast and Healthy Cookbook"

Pumpkin Bread

Serves 12

2/3 cup sifted soy flour

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, well-beaten

3/4 cup pumpkin, canned

2 tablespoons water

Sift and measure soy flour and all-purpose flour. Measure other dry ingredients except sugar, and sift together with flours. Set aside.

Cream shortening and add sugar gradually, creaming well. Add eggs and beat until light.

Blend in pumpkin and water. Add dry ingredients in two portions, blending well after each addition.

Pour batter into a greased 9-inch-by-5-inch-by-3-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Remove loaf from pan immediately and cool on a wire rack. Batter also may be cooked in muffin pans.

-- From The Soy Connection: Health and Nutrition News About Soy

Creamy Herb Miso Dressing

Serves 10 (2 tablespoons each)

1/2 cup low-fat soy milk

1/4 cup white miso

1/4 cup brown rice vinegar

1/4 cup onions, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon coriander powder

In a blender or food processor, combine all the dressing ingredients until smooth. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours to allow flavors to develop. Serve with your favorite salad greens.

-- From the Indiana Soybean Board

Banana-Maple Pudding

Serves 4

2 cups very ripe mashed bananas

4 ounces fresh soft tofu, well-drained

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup real maple syrup, or to taste

1 cup sliced bananas, for garnish

In blender, puree mashed bananas, tofu, vanilla, nutmeg and maple syrup until very smooth. Spoon into 4 dessert glasses and chill 1 hour. Top with sliced bananas before serving.

-- From Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Pub Date: 02/03/99

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