As part of our involvement with World Food Day 2013, we teamed with the National Soybean Research Laboratory on a “Perspectives” essay looking at this year’s theme of “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition.” See our contribution below.
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Soy Protein: A Promising Piece of a
Global Food Solution
By Bridget Owen
The year 2050 stands as a milestone for our planet, with forecasts indicating the global population will exceed 9 billion people. A growing population presents both unique challenges and great opportunities for agriculture and food industries to build sustainable food systems for food security and provide access to nutritious and affordable food for everyone. To this end, soybean- or edamame- based foods that are consumed directly or made into soymilk, tofu, tempeh, and soy protein-based foods provide high-quality protein and critical nutrients that can improve food security in a sustainable way. This valuable protein resource makes efficient use of land and water and has an excellent potential to continue meeting the growing global demand for protein as our population increases, especially in the developing world.
While population growth strains local resources for food, water, power, infrastructure and services, it also presents opportunities for economic growth and innovation. But, in order to maximize human capital potential, countries first need to protect the health of their citizens. Therefore, the challenge begins with ensuring mothers and their babies thrive and have access to healthy food systems and acquire the necessary knowledge and skills for eating a nutritious, balanced diet.
To maximize capital, global leaders and national governments seek solutions that provide the macro- and micro-nutrients necessary to meet recommended dietary requirements. It is particularly challenging for governments and global leaders to ensure that individuals have access to adequate amounts of complete proteins that sustain growth and development .In the developing world, many sources of protein are often relatively costly and perishable, and thus require transportation systems to be refrigerated and uninterrupted—resources that many food insecure areas do not have.
Soybeans represent part of the solution. They can supply large quantities of protein that contain all the key essential amino acids required for human growth and development. In addition, soybeans do not require refrigeration and can be grown and processed using relatively low-tech approaches. Although soybeans have been utilized globally for centuries, the past 15 to 20 years have seen an emergence of new uses of soy protein as a supplemental or complementary ingredient in cuisines around the globe.
For example, soy is a complementary protein to cereals like corn and rice. Adding small amounts of soy protein to grain-based diets results in a significant increase in the overall protein quality. Furthermore, soy protein can easily be added to traditional dishes and cuisines throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean to provide a low saturated fat, low cholesterol, high quality protein. Depending on the cultural preferences and the economic capacity, countries may use the “soy cow” technology to simply grind whole soybeans into soymilk, or utilize simple processes to turn the soybean into flour or protein. The National Soybean Research Laboratory (NSRL) at the University of Illinois has brought these solutions to communities to enrich tortillas in Central America, naan in India, and noodles in Cambodia and Vietnam. Work at NSRL has incorporated soy protein into a variety of programs, including early childhood nutrition, school nutrition programs, small- to medium-scale enterprises for soymilk production, baking, meat processing, beverage and snack production, and poultry and swine nutrition programs. NSRL and the Soyfoods Association of North America also work closely with nutrition education and food safety efforts.
Soy protein serves as an excellent example of a valuable, practical component of a healthy and sustainable food system that can help address the growing global demand for high-quality, nutritious foods. The future of growing nations is intimately tied to the nutritional health and well-being of their citizens and the careful stewardship of natural resources. The global food industries have both the unique challenge and opportunity to create innovative, new products to meet diverse cultural, economic, and nutritional needs. Soybeans and its derived forms continue to be a promising piece of this global solution.