Good eating habits when you are a child will influence what you eat during adulthood and influence health in later life. Certain diseases such as cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease can take root during childhood. In fact, many ailments that were once associated with older age, such as diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, are now becoming increasingly common in children. For these reasons children should be encouraged to adopt a healthy diet and active lifestyle.

Soya foods can easily fit into this picture. Great-tasting soy foods provide essential nutrients for growing children. There is evidence to suggest that eating moderate amounts of soy foods during childhood provides both immediate and long-term benefits. Let’s look at health benefits soya foods can offer as well as soya foods forming part of preventative diet for certain diseases.

A number of factors contribute to becoming obese (a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease etc), but what you eat plays a major role. Protein-rich and high fibre foods appear to improve the feeling of fullness after eating a meal. In this way it can help suppress appetite, help control hunger and prevent a child from craving high sugary foods. Soy foods provide high-quality protein without the high fat, saturated fat and cholesterol content of many animal protein sources.Soy foods can help to manage weight, as they are an excellent source of low-fat, high-quality protein and fibre. They are also lower in fat than animal proteins- we are all familiar with the fact that the energy you put in (food you eat) must be in balance with what you put out (exercise and activity level) for maintaining a healthy body weight.

With more children having high blood cholesterols, the cholesterol lowering benefit of soy protein is an additional reason to use soy foods in place of animal proteins. High cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease, can be prevented or managed by modifying your diet. In children who have high cholesterol due to a genetic defect, soya protein has been found to help lower blood cholesterol and may delay or prevent the need for medication. The high fibre content of soya can also assist in lowering cholesterol. Soy foods are also a good source of ‘healthy’ fats, it is high in polyunsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids and low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol. This excellent fat profile can help to lower cholesterol, by higher inclusion help to decrease high saturated fat intake from animal protein sources and have heart health benefits.

Soy foods can deliver growth nutrients like iron, essential fatty acids and B vitamins. Many soy foods are a great source of iron and soybeans are one of the only plant sources of essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Depending on the soy food, they can also provide calcium, vitamins B and D, magnesium and potassium which is essential for healthy growth in children.

There are a few things people are concerned about in giving soy foods to children. Some parents worry about exposure to estrogen compounds in soy foods, but soy phytoestrogens are not human estrogens and do not cause estrogen-like effects in the body.  Research has shown children who eat soy foods will have normal reproductive development and do not cause the feminization of boys.Allergies tend to be another concern with soy.  Soy protein is one of the eight major food allergens, but research has shown that soy food allergies affect less than 1% of children and most children outgrow this allergy by age 10.

School food service programs are increasingly taking advantage of the nutritional and economical value that soy foods can provide their students. At home we should also take advantage of the nutritional benefit soy foods can offer to the children and the rest of the family. Soy foods are generally well accepted by children and can be included in the diet from one year of age. Including soy foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet can have beneficial effects on obesity, heart health and growth for children.