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Soya bean (Glycine Soja)

A bean (legume) native to East Asia, in particular China and Japan.

Derivatives of these beans have been used by the Chinese for thousands of years. Unlike their herdsmen enemies, the Tartars and Mongols, the Chinese didn"t use milk products; instead they developed soya milk, soya beancurd (tofu) and soya cheese. Today it is hard to find processed foods without soya included, in the Western world, as they figure in everything ranging from the obvious T.V.P "textured vegetable protein" (used to bulk out burgers and flavoured for veggie-burgers to cheap sliced bread, baked beans and fish fingers.

This is largely because of their high vegetable protein (38 per cent), which is greater than that of cow's milk. 'Milk' made from soya also doen't contain the saturated fat, cholesterol and toxic residues of dairy milk. As a food source, it has revolutionised the eating habits of millions of people.

The beans themselves can easily be grown as bean sprouts in a jam jar at home, or outside like any other bean. They then need shelling, and cooking - they are indigestible in their raw state when mature.

Until recently, they were wholeheartedly credited with health benefits, because of their 'phytochemical' content (beneficial antioxidant nutrients, such as saponins, phytosterols and phenolic acids) - which protect the body from free-radical damage, reducing the risk of the degenerative diseases of ageing, such as heart attack, cancer and strokes; and a study has found that three glasses of soya milk and one soya dessert consumed daily lowered the 'bad' cholesterol LDL by 11 per cent and increased the 'good' HDL by 9 per cent in 70 per cent of subjects tested.

However, as well as being one of the earliest crops selected for GM experiments, soy beans are coming under the spotlight as a health risk for serious reasons - for although MAFF research won"t be complete until the end of 2002, it looks though they have all along contained chemicals that can"t be destroyed even with long cooking and could be to blame for conditions ranging from thyroid and digestive cancers, to damage to a foetus in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. For really up to date information on this research try and "The trouble with Tofu" on .

Fermented soya products, such as soy sauce and miso are considered free of these problems as the fermentation process negates the toxins.

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