Soy: The Complete Protein!

By Marie Oser

Obesity is a health problem of epidemic proportions and the high fat cholesterol laden Western diet has increasingly come under fire in recent years.

Home cooks are choosing vegetarian alternatives more often than ever before and the market for soy milk, burgers, breakfast sausages, snack bars and even tofu has exploded.1

Soy protein is a complete high quality protein, comparable to meat, milk and eggs, but without the unhealthy baggage.2 It is very good news that consumers have been buying vegetarian products in record numbers because of the health benefits and environmental concerns.

However, old myths die hard and there are those who would have you believe that a plant based menu is somehow lacking and that one must follow the ‘food combining’ strategy promoted in the 1971 bestseller, “Diet for a Small Planet.” (Author, Frances Moore Lappe reversed her position in the 1981 edition.)

The World Health Organization (WHO) addressed the quality of soy protein and whether or not it supplies all of the amino acids that we need almost 20 years ago. A 1991 Food and Agriculture Report (FAO) identified soy as a high quality protein that meets all of the essential amino acid requirements of humans.3 The 1988 American Dietetic Association Position Paper discredited ‘Protein Combining’ stating, “Adequate amounts of amino acids will be obtained if a varied vegan diet, containing unrefined grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and vegetables is eaten on a daily basis” 4

For more than 5,000 years, soy has been a dietary staple and the primary source of complete, high quality protein for millions of people worldwide. So, where did this flawed information originate? An outdated method of evaluating protein requirements, the Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER), which based the protein quality for humans on the growth of young rats, whose amino acid requirements are vastly different from humans.

From 1919 until recent years the PER had been a widely used method for evaluating the quality of protein in food. In 1993 the FDA adopted the PDCAAS method, which is based on human amino acid requirements and is more appropriate than a method based on the amino acid needs of animals.

Scientists who have studied the impact of soy protein on heart health for many years have concluded that soy protein, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels and the risk of coronary heart disease. The results of these studies have led governments to approve soy protein health claims related to heart disease (US FDA 1999).

Soy protein is the only protein with a health claim and is clinically proven to help improve heart health. Since 1996, eleven countries have established heart health claims for soy protein.5

Meat and dairy products are the only dietary source of cholesterol and a major source of fat, particularly saturated fat.  Animal protein is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and a number of cancers, as well as the development of numerous risk factors that lead to these diseases, including obesity and hypertension.

Therefore, it follows that replacing animal products with plant foods, such as soy is a nutritionally sound dietary strategy.

Marie Oser is a best-selling author, writer/producer and host of VegTV, Follow Marie on Twitter:


  1. Soyfoods:The U.S. Market 2009. Soyatech, LLC and SPINS, Inc. April 16, 2009
  2. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2002.
  3. FAO/WHO. Protein Quality Evaluation Report of Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1991.
  4. Havala, S. and Dwyer, J. (1988). ‘Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets - technical support paper’, J. Am. Diet. Assn., 88, 352-355.
  5. Japan 1996, U.S. 1999, UK 2002, South Africa 2002, Philippines 2004, Indonesia 2005, Korea 2005, Brazil 2005, Chile 2005, Maylasia 2006, Columbia 2008

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