Soybean is a grain legume and provides high quality nutrition, nutraceuticals and therapeutic ingredients that help people feel better and live longer with an enhanced quality of life. Soybean has tremendous potential to be transformed into a number of healthy foods and pharmaceuticals suiting to each individual not only in India but across the globe. Soy protein is one of the best proteins and least expensive. On account of increased health awareness among the people, there is a tremendous demand for functional foods that contain enhanced levels of phytochemicals that are beneficial for human health.
In soybean, such phytochemicals are isoflavones, fatty acids, amino acids, phytic acids, phytoestrogens, glucosides and saponin glycosides. Isoflavones have several health benefits such as in breast cancer, prostate cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Direct food uses of soybean in the form of soy fortified cereals/legumes/millets flour or Sattu; roasted/fried/fermented soy snacks; soymilk; soy paneer (Tofu), etc. are more nutritious, healthful and affordable by one and all. Nutritionally, soy protein is one of the best proteins and least expensive. The absorption and assimilation of health promoting soybean phytochemicals by humans may be better when taken/eaten as part of the foods prepared from whole-beans than when these phytochemicals are extracted and isolated from soybean and its products and then later used as micro-nutrient/medicine, as and when required. Examples are soy based isoflavones, lecithin, dietary fibre, fatty acids, etc. It, therefore, suggests that direct food uses of soybean are in human interest on account of health & economic benefits and need to be encouraged and promoted.
Majority of the Indian population, 60-70%, are vegetarian and derive their proteins from pulses and cereals and to some extent from oilseeds like soybean, groundnut and sesame. Proteins from milk, meat, fish & poultry are costly and only select group of rich population has regular access to it. About 40% of Indian population are below poverty line and do not have enough purchasing power to buy even pulses, the major source of dietary proteins.
Use of soybean as protein source is the only option for India to augment its protein supply at an affordable price to poorer section of the population and thereby to ensure household nutritional security for all. Soy protein is the least expensive and best plant protein. In 1993, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) adopted the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), a new and more accurate method for evaluating protein quality. The highest PDCAAS value that any protein can receive is 1.00. The PDCAAS value of soy protein is 1.00 and that of egg white, casein and meat are 1.00, 1.00 and 0.92 respectively.
Soybean being rich in protein and calorie has a great potential to tackle the problem of protein-calorie malnutrition (PCM) prevelant in India and other developing countries of the world. Soybean contains twice as much protein as pulses, groundnut, meat & fish; three times as much as egg and more than 10 times that of milk. Soybean does not have lactose. Hence, soymilk and other dairy analogs are best suited to lactose-intolerant persons. Soybean is also a very good source of food for diabetics.