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Six easy ways to sneak soy products into your diet

We keep hearing about the power of the bean: the soybean, that is. The American Heart Association says consuming 25 to 50 grams of soy a day can help lower our LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) by as much as 8%. Research has also shown promising results for soy in preventing stroke, cancer (notably breast cancer), osteoporosis, and hot flashes.

Researchers are still debating whether it's the phytoestrogens found in soy that promote these health benefits, or the soy protein and fat -- or both. Either way, the bottom line is to eat soy. If you haven't been eating any at all, several servings a week is a good start.

The good news is that soy has come a long way, baby! It's not just in health food stores anymore, and it isn't all about tofu, either.

Here are my top six ways to get some soy.

Green soybeans, sometimes called edamame, are found in the frozen vegetable section of your supermarket. They look like baby limas and have a mild taste and a firm texture.

Use them in recipes as you would beans (soups, casseroles, etc.). Try microwaving them in their shells, let cool, and eat as a snack or appetizer (discarding the pods). Or microwave shelled soybeans, and eat them hot with salt, pepper, and maybe a bit of butter or canola margarine. Journal 1/2 cup of cooked green soybeans as 1/2 cup of vegetables plus 1 teaspoon fat.

Canned soybeans are found in some supermarkets. Frankly, I haven't been impressed with the brands that I've tasted. But maybe there's a better-tasting brand out there. Use them in place of other canned beans: in bean salads, soups, entrees, etc. Journal 1/2 cup of canned soybeans as 1/2 cup in the starches-and-legumes category, plus 1 teaspoon fat.

Plain tofu comes in firm, soft, lite, or silken. There are two ways to approach tofu: hide it and hope no one notices, or feature it as a main ingredient. I do both! Add tofu to stir fries, casseroles, and other entrees to replace some or all of the meat. Add the soft or silken variety to sauces, soups, smoothies, dips or spreads. Journal it in the main-dish category as tofu without added fat. One serving is 4 ounces.

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