Soybeans (or soya beans) have 38 percent protein content and are richer in this macronutrient than pork, eggs and milk. After palm oil, soybean oil is the second most consumed in the world, and the most widely used in the United States. It is used as an ingredient in mayonnaise, salad dressings, processed cheese and desserts, among other products.
Soybean oil is also used extensively in feed for livestock, such as chickens and pigs. Some other products made using soybeans include soy milk, tofu, tempeh, miso, soy sauce, soy cheeses, soy flour and infant formula.
Soy is considered a cholesterol-lowering food by the FDA. There is some evidence to suggest that soybeans lower the risk of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and some cancers. Women, for instance, may have a decreased risk of contracting breast cancer if they consume as little as one cup of soy milk a day from early life.
Soybeans have been cultivated for thousands of years, originating in northern China. They are harvested from a leafy green plant that may yield up to 80 pods, each containing 24 individual soybeans, which are about the size of a pea. In the United States, soybeans are best suited to cultivation in the Midwest, although they are grown all over.