Many people making the shift to a vegetarian or vegan diet may be reluctant to try meat or dairy alternatives.
Others simply do not realize the variety of products available to replace meat and dairy and still enjoy favorite foods like burgers, shakes, and cheese.
Meat alternatives are usually made from soy protein and other ingredients.
These foods are not only of interest to vegetarians but are also of benefit to people who want to take advantage of the significant health benefits of soy.
Soy protein products can be made to taste like meat. There are soy protein products that are naturally flavored to taste like beef, pork, chicken, and even fish.
There are “veggie” burgers, hot dogs, and deli meats as well.
These products vary in terms of how much they taste like the meat-based foods they are named after.
Some taste remarkably like meat while others do not. In many cases, people like the new versions better, even if they do not taste like meat.
There are also products, like Revival soy bars and shakes, which use a natural process to pack concentrated amounts of isoflavones (the compounds in soy that are credited with health benefits) found in into a single serving.
Of course, the most popular meat alternative is tofu.
Tofu, which resembles soft cheese, is made when soymilk is curdled with a coagulant.
By itself, tofu is rather bland, but it has an amazing ability to soak up flavors.
It is used as an ingredient in many flavorful recipes, such as scrambled tofu, tofu casserole, tofu stir-fry, and tofu taco filling.
Meat alternatives are available frozen, canned, and dried.
There are also fresh products, like tofu hot dogs and veggie burgers that can be cooked just like the meat-based varieties of these foods.
Natural food stores and food coops have the widest selection of meat alternatives, but they are also increasingly available in mainstream grocery stores.
Soy can also be made into dairy alternatives, such as soymilk, soy cheese, and soy-based puddings and frozen desserts.
There are also soy products made to resemble butter, cream cheese, and yogurt.
You may want to get more soy in your diet because of its nutritional benefits whether you are a vegetarian or not.
There are many other soy products in addition to the wide variety of meat and dairy alternatives made from soy.
These include soy oil, soy protein concentrate, textured soy protein, soy sauce, soy flour, and many other products that are used as cooking ingredients.
You can also snack on soy nuts or crackers and soy butter. The possibilities are endless.
There are hundreds of delicious recipes, like the taco recipe below, that use tofu or soy as the main ingredient.
1 (12-14 oz.) bag frozen or refrigerated precooked soy crumbles*
1 (1.25 oz.) envelope taco seasoning mix
3/4 cup water
flour tortillas or taco shells
Cook the soy crumbles until brown, then drain. Stir in taco seasoning and water and mix well. Continue heating until thoroughly hot. Serve ¼ cup filling in each tortilla or taco shell.
Yields 12 servings
Per ¼ cup serving: 46 calories, 6.5 g protein (4 g soy protein), 6 g carbohydrate, 0 g total fat (0 g sat fat), 290 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g dietary fiber
*Morningstar Ground Meatless, Green Giant Harvest Burgers for Recipes and Lightlife Gimme Lean are a few of the soy crumble choices.
Soy Side Effects
Consuming foods containing soy protein or taking soy protein products is LIKELY SAFE.
Taking dietary supplements with soy extracts is POSSIBLY SAFE when used short-term (up to 6 months).
Soy can cause some mild side effects such as constipation, bloating, and nausea. It can also cause allergic reactions involving rash and itching in some people.
Long-term use of high doses of soy dietary supplements is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. There is concern that taking high doses might cause abnormal tissue growth in the uterus.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding:
Soy protein is LIKELY SAFE to be used during pregnancy and breast-feeding when consumed in amounts normally found in food.
However, soy may be POSSIBLY UNSAFE when used during pregnancy in medicinal amounts. Higher doses during pregnancy might harm development of the baby.
Not enough is known about the safety of higher doses during breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid larger doses.
Soy is LIKELY SAFE for children when used in amounts commonly found in food or infant formula.
Using soy formula does not seem to cause health or reproductive problems later in life.
However, soymilk that is not designed for infants should not be used as a substitute for infant formula. Regular soymilk could lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Soy is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when used as an alternative to cow’s milk in children who are allergic to cow’s milk.
Although soy protein-based infant formulas are often promoted for children with milk allergy, these children are often allergic to soy as well.
Don’t give children soy in amounts larger than what is found in food or formula. Researchers don’t know whether soy is safe for children at higher doses.
Soymilk can interfere with the way children with cystic fibrosis process protein. Don’t give these children soy products.
The effects of soy in people with breast cancer are unclear. Some research finds that soy might “feed” certain breast cancers because it can act like estrogen.
Other studies have found that soy seems to protect against breast cancer. The difference in effects might have something to do with the amount taken.
Because there isn’t enough reliable information about the effects of soy in women with breast cancer, a history of breast cancer, or a family history of breast cancer, it’s best to avoid using soy until more is known.
Long-term use of concentrated soy isoflavone tablets might increase the occurrence of precancerous changes in the tissue lining the uterus.
Don’t take concentrated soy isoflavone supplements if you have endometrial cancer.
Soy contains a chemical called phytoestrogens. Very high levels of phytoestrogens can be toxic.
People with kidney failure who use soy products might be at risk for blood levels of phytoestrogens becoming too high.
If you have kidney failure, avoid taking large amounts of soy.
There is some concern that soy products might increase the risk of kidney stones because they contain large amounts of a group of chemicals called oxalates.
Oxalates are the main ingredient in kidney stones. Another concern is that people with serious kidney disease aren’t able to process some of the chemicals in soy.
This could lead to dangerously high levels of these chemicals. If you have a history of kidney stones, avoid taking large amounts of soy.
Children who are very allergic to cow’s milk might also be sensitive to soy products. Use soy products with caution.
Urinary bladder cancer:
Soy products might increase the chance of getting bladder cancer. Avoid soy foods if you have bladder cancer or a high risk of getting it (family history of bladder cancer).
Under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism): There is a concern that taking soy might make this condition worse.
People with asthma are more likely to be allergic to soy hulls. Avoid using soy products.
Hay fever (allergic rhinitis):
People with hay fever are more likely to be allergic to soy hulls.
Soy might increase the risk of blood sugar levels becoming too low in people with diabetes who are taking medication to control blood sugar.