A Guide to Soy-Based Foods: Weight Loss, Calcium Supplementation, and Detoxification

A Guide to Soy-Based Foods: Weight Loss, Calcium Supplementation, and Detoxification

Tofu miso soup can promote digestion and provide a protein boost. (K321/Shutterstock)

Naiwen Hu

Naiwen Hu


Updated: 3/14/2024

The production and consumption of soy-based foods have a history of more than  2000 years in China. Similarly, countries like Japan and Korea also have a long-standing tradition of soy-based cuisine. In recent years, with a growing emphasis on healthy foods, and the rise of vegetarianism, soy, and its products have gained popularity in the United States and Europe as a nutritionally complete and healthy food option.
Soybeans are a versatile and contemporary health food, packed with protein, unsaturated fatty acids, lecithin, soluble dietary fiber, and trace minerals. They are also a unique source of isoflavones. Yellow soybean products such as soy milk, tofu, miso, and fermented black beans offer a variety of benefits, including weight loss, calcium supplementation, constipation prevention, and promotion of blood circulation and detoxification.
A comprehensive review published in the Frontiers in Nutrition in August 2022 indicated that soy protein has a cholesterol-lowering effect and, like other protein-rich foods, contributes to body weight management. Furthermore, soy is an important source of isoflavones, which have a structure similar to estrogen and exert their effects by binding to estrogen receptors.
Isoflavones offer various health benefits, including reducing the risk of cancers such as breast cancer, alleviating menopausal symptoms, enhancing postmenopausal women’s bone mineral density, and improving memory. Additionally, studies have found that soy foods are not only beneficial for women but can potentially reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men.
Generally, soy-based foods are divided into two main categories: fermented and non-fermented.

Fermented soy foods

  • Fermented black beans
  • Miso (soybean paste)
  • Natto
  • Fermented tofu and stinky tofu

Non-fermented foods

  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • Soybean sprouts
Fermentation reduces the content of protease inhibitors, which could potentially affect protein digestion, and lowers the content of phytates that may inhibit calcium absorption in soy. However, research has also found that the protein digestibility of traditional unfermented soy foods is quite good. Tofu coagulated with calcium salts and calcium-fortified soy milk have calcium absorption rates similar to milk. Additionally, tofu is more likely than miso to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and various cancers.
How do we choose and incorporate soy products into our diet for optimal benefits? Here are some common soy foods and suggestions on how to prepare them with complementary ingredients and herbs for optimal benefits and taste.

2 Soy Milk Recipes for Optimal Benefits

Soy milk, a beverage made from soybeans, is rich in protein and trace metal elements. It is considered an excellent beauty drink, especially for women in their later years. Moreover, the isoflavones in soy milk can help alleviate menopausal discomfort.

1. Pumpkin Soy Milk

Drinking pumpkin soy milk can promote intestinal peristalsis, enhance bowel function, and prevent constipation. Pumpkin is rich in pectin, which can protect the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract and promote the healing of gastric ulcers. Pumpkin also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which help maintain eye health and prevent eye problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • 16 ounces pumpkin
  • 2.69 liters soy milk
  • Cut the pumpkin into small pieces and steam until tender.
  • Blend the steamed pumpkin with soy milk in a blender, pour into a cup, and it is ready to serve.
If a blender is not available, adding pumpkin puree to soy milk is also a great option.

2. Black Sesame Soy Milk

Black sesame contains abundant calcium and magnesium, which can strengthen bones and teeth. It also contains vitamin E and B-group vitamins, promoting skin and hair health. Adding black sesame to soy milk can increase the calcium content and absorption, thereby preventing osteoporosis. Simply add some black sesame powder to soy milk, stir well, and it is ready to drink.
Note: It is crucial to ensure that soy milk is thoroughly cooked. Uncooked soy milk contains protease inhibitors that can affect protein digestion, leading to symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and diarrhea. Therefore, make sure to boil the soy milk until it reaches a full boil before drinking.

Who Should Limit Soy Milk?

Soy milk may not be suitable for everyone. Particularly, two groups of people should limit soy milk:
1. Those with poor gastrointestinal health: Soy milk may stimulate the secretion of gastric acid, leading to stomach discomfort, bloating, and pain.
2) Those with gout. Soy milk contains a substance called purine, which is converted into uric acid in the body, potentially triggering gout. However, gout patients do not necessarily need to completely avoid soy products. Many clinical trials and observational studies have found that moderate consumption of soy products does not significantly increase blood uric acid levels and can even improve metabolic syndrome, benefiting the health of gout patients.

Ways of Eating Tofu for Optimal Benefits

Tofu is a food made from soybeans and coagulants. It is not only healthy but also offers various health benefits.

1. Tofu With Vinegar for Diarrhea Relief

One of the unique effects of tofu is its ability to improve diarrhea. The ancient Chinese text “Prescriptions for Universal Relief (Pu Ji Fang)” documented that “for prolonged dysentery, one should take white tofu, fry it with vinegar, and eat it to recover.” This suggests that for those suffering from intermittent chronic diarrhea, eating vinegar-fried white tofu can gradually improve their condition.

2. Gypsum Tofu for Calcium Supplementation and Weight Loss

Tofu is rich in protein, which helps increase satiety and reduce food intake. It also contains soy isoflavones, which can regulate hormones in the body and reduce fat accumulation. Therefore, tofu is considered an excellent food option for weight loss.
Tofu can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in various dishes with meat, eggs, and vegetables. Common tofu dishes include braised tofu, mapo tofu, tofu and vegetable soup, and tofu with preserved duck eggs.

Different Types of Tofu

Tofu comes in various types, and various coagulants and preparation methods can influence its texture and nutritional content. Here are some common types of tofu and key points for selection:
1. Firm tofu: Made with gypsum (mainly composed of calcium sulfate) as a coagulant, this type of tofu has higher calcium content, more than ten times that of soft tofu, making it an excellent choice for calcium supplementation. Dried tofu and frozen tofu made from firm tofu are also effective for calcium supplementation. Firm tofu has a denser texture and is suitable for stir-frying, pan-frying, and stewing.
2. Soft tofu: This type of tofu has a smooth texture, making it suitable for cold salads, soups, and steamed dishes.
3. Dried tofu: Dried tofu is made by pressing out excess water from tofu, making it smaller and denser. This process gives dried tofu a chewier texture and a richer aroma. It is also high in calcium and can be enjoyed as a snack or added to salads and other dishes.
4. Frozen tofu: Frozen tofu is created by placing tofu in the freezer, allowing it to form ice crystals. Once thawed, the tofu becomes soft and porous, resembling a sponge. Frozen tofu has good calcium content and can absorb more sauce, enhancing its flavor.
5. Baiye tofu: This type of tofu is made from soy protein isolate, oil, starch, flavorings, and calcium sulfate as a coagulant. It is high in calories and fat, making it less suitable for those trying to lose weight.

2 Well-Known Healthy Fermented Soy Dishes

Miso and fermented black beans are foods made from fermented soybeans. They are primarily made from soybeans and undergo fermentation with different types of koji (fermented soybeans). Miso is a product made by mashing cooked soybeans into a paste before fermentation, while fermented black beans are obtained through the fermentation of whole soybeans. Miso enhances the savory flavor of dishes and is commonly used in Eastern cuisine for seasoning, marinades, dipping sauces, and stews. In recent years, it has gained popularity in Western cuisine.
According to traditional medicine, miso and fermented black beans are considered “warming” foods post-fermentation, possessing properties that help warm the body, providing numerous health benefits.

1. Salmon Miso Soup With Tofu

Miso was revered as the “King of Medicines” in ancient Japan and was believed to have a warming effect on the body. It is often used to nourish the heart and kidneys, restore vitality, and alleviate discomfort during menopause. Miso can also aid digestion and absorption, promote blood circulation, and enhance immunity.
A 2022 study from Japan found that consuming miso enhanced the immune response and tolerance in mice. Another study from Japan suggested that people who ate miso soup daily had a lower risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease compared to those who rarely or never ate it.
Eating salmon miso soup with tofu not only serves as a delicious dinner but also helps enhance the immune function of the entire family.

2. Fermented Black Bean Soup With Green Onions

Fermented black beans, like miso, are soy-based fermented foods. There are two types of fermented black beans: salted black beans used for seasoning, and prepared soybeans used for medicinal purposes. Salted black beans are commonly used in classic dishes such as steamed spare ribs with black beans, steamed fish with black bean sauce, and stir-fried bitter melon with black bean sauce.
When combined with different ingredients or herbs, prepared soybeans offer various therapeutic effects.
Fermented black bean soup with green onions is a traditional remedy for treating colds. This soup is made by simmering green onions and prepared soybeans. It is believed to induce sweating, alleviate cold symptoms, dispel wind, soothe the lungs, and relieve cough. It may help ease symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, feeling cold, and the inability to sweat after catching a cold.
Green onions are known to promote sweating and clear nasal passages. Eating this soup can provide immediate relief from nasal congestion, making the body feel much warmer.

Soybeans With Licorice–Promote Blood Circulation and Detoxification

According to the “Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao Gangmu),” soybeans are believed to promote blood circulation and detoxification. When combined with licorice and boiled into a soup, the effect is enhanced. Studies have also found that licorice has detoxifying properties.

Soybean Licorice Soup

  • 1.76 ounces (50 grams) of soybeans
  • 2 to 3 pieces of licorice
Boil ingredients in 16.91 to 23.67 fluid ounces (500 to 700 milliliters) of water to make a detoxifying soup. Drinking this soup for several days can help eliminate toxins from the body.
Note: Some herbs mentioned in this article may be unfamiliar, but they are generally available in health food stores and Asian grocery stores. It is important to note that treatment methods may vary depending on the individual. Please consult with a health care professional for a specific treatment plan.
Naiwen Hu

Naiwen Hu


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