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It's not a fad or a passing fancy. It's soy and while you may not see a slew of ads with television stars promoting it with creamy tofu mustaches on their faces, it needs to be a part of your diet.

The health benefits of soy are many, while the drawbacks, save for those allergic to soy products, are nil. Soy beans are made up of isoflavones, saponins, protease inhibitors, phytic acid, phytosterols, protein and oil, and while it's not knowing yet just why these different components are effective in fighting disease and promoting good health, one only needs to look to the Far East to see thousands of years of anecdotal evidence as to soy's promis for the future health of the world.

Isoflavones are antioxidants, meaning they fight the breakdown of cell structure, and are mildly estrogenic. This group of phyto (meaning plant) chemicals lower risks for prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. For menopausal women, soy can lessen the unpleasantness of hot flashes and decrease the risk of osteoporosis, and for post-menopausal women it is a possible substitute for hormone replacement therapy.

Power-packed with phytonutrients, saponins fight cancer and support immune function. Cancer risks are further reduced by the protease inhibitors, which block the actions of cancer-causing enzymes. Another cancer preventive and antioxidant component is the phytic acid present in the mighty soy bean.

Phytosterols are cholestoral-like compounds that are indigestible. Studies are beginning to suggest that they may prevent colon cancer. All but one essential amino acid are present in soy protein. And while soy beans are not considered to be a lean source of protein, the oil present contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids and no saturated fats.

How can you get these cancer preventing, heart disease fighting benefits from soy? First you've got to eat it, and quite a bit of it. Daily intake of soy, for optimum disease-fighting, needs to vary between 25 and 50 grams according to the Food and Drug Administration. More is better and remember, there are no negative side effects to eating this food.

Calcium-fortified soy milk comes in flavors like vanilla and chocolate and can be substituted for cow's milk in a one-to-one ratio as a drink or in recipes. Tofu is easily found in most grocery stores and health food stores. Tofu or bean curd, is a silky, bland-tasting product used extensively in various ethnic cuisines. Its charm is that it picks up the flavor of the broth or sauces it's cooked in. Add it to soups, stir fries, or slice and broil it for sandwiches. Nearly as versatile is a chunky, fermented bean cake called tempeh. Dice up the tempeh, toss in tamari soy sauce and bake for ten minutes at 350 degrees. Add soy mayonnaise, onions, dill and diced peppers for a tempeh salad worthy of any picnic.

Miso soup is perhaps the easiest soy dish to eat every day. Miso is a concentrated, salty, earthy-tasting paste that makes excellent dressings and seasons other dishes. A simple way to enjoy it is to stir two tablespoons miso soup into one cup of nearly boiling water, stir, add chopped scallions, tofu squares, shaved carrots or fresh parsley. Just drink and enjoy, although the taste may take some getting used to.

Dried soy beans can be soaked in water and used in soups or served as a side dish. Alternatively after soaking, place beans on a baking sheet and salt or season with herbs. Bake at 250 degrees for twenty minutes, stirring periodically. Soy nuts, as they are called, have a very mild taste on their own, so some tamari sauce or chili pepper powder can go a long way to creating a snappy, take-along, crunchy snack.

Purchase ready-made soy frozen desserts or soy fiber products such as okara for easy sandwiches. Soy flour can be added to baked goods, but remember soy flour, coming from a legume, has no gluten, and hence, it is not for using alone in baked goods. Replace up to 1/4 of the regular flour used in a recipe with soy flour to enhance its nutrtional oomph without creating a dense, heavy loaf.

Soy is truly a wonder food. Eat it, live long and ask your friends the important question: Got soy?