In many non-Asian countries, soy is consumed via soy-based meat and dairy alternatives, in addition to the traditional Asian soyfoods, such as tofu and miso. Meat alternatives are typically made using concentrated sources of soy protein, such as soy protein isolate (SPI) and soy protein concentrate (SPC). Therefore, these products are classified as ultra-processed foods (UPFs, Group 4) according to NOVA (not an acronym), an increasingly widely used food classification system that classifies all foods into one of four groups according to the processing they undergo. Furthermore, most soymilks, even those made from whole soybeans, are also classified as UPFs because of the addition of sugars and emulsifiers. Increasingly, recommendations are being made to restrict the consumption of UPFs because their intake is associated with a variety of adverse health outcomes. Critics of UPFs argue these foods are unhealthful for a wide assortment of reasons. Explanations for the proposed adverse effects of UPFs include their high energy density, high glycemic index (GI), hyper-palatability, and low satiety potential. Claims have also been made that UPFs are not sustainably produced. However, this perspective argues that none of the criticisms of UPFs apply to soy-based meat and dairy alternatives when compared to their animal-based counterparts, beef and cow’s milk, which are classified as unprocessed or minimally processed foods (group 1). Classifying soy-based meat and dairy alternatives as UPFs may hinder their public acceptance, which could detrimentally affect personal and planetary health. In conclusion, the NOVA classification system is simplistic and does not adequately evaluate the nutritional attributes of meat and dairy alternatives based on soy.
Advances in Nutrition
Mark Messina, John L Sievenpiper, Patricia Williamson, Jessica Kiel, John W Erdman, Jr, Perspective: Soy-Based Meat and Dairy Alternatives, Despite Classification as Ultra-Processed Foods, Deliver High-Quality Nutrition on Par With Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Animal-Based Counterparts, Advances in Nutrition, 2022;, nmac026, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmac026