Isoflavones (genistein, daidzein, and glycitein) are bioactive compounds with mildly estrogenic properties and often referred to as phytoestrogen. These are present in significant quantities (up to 4-5 mg·g-1 on dry basis) in legumes mainly soybeans, green beans, mung beans. In grains (raw materials) they are present mostly as glycosides, which are poorly absorbed on consumption. Thus, soybeans are processed into various food products for digestibility, taste and bioavailability of nutrients and bioactives. Main processing steps include steaming, cooking, roasting, microbial fermentation that destroy protease inhibitors and also cleaves the glycoside bond to yield absorbable aglycone in the processed soy products, such as miso, natto, soy milk, tofu; and increase shelf lives. Processed soy food products have been an integral part of regular diets in many Asia-Pacific countries for centuries, e.g. China, Japan and Korea. However, in the last two decades, there have been concerted efforts to introduce soy products in western diets for their health benefits with some success. Isoflavones were hailed as magical natural component that attribute to prevent some major prevailing health concerns. Consumption of soy products have been linked to reduction in incidence or severity of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular, breast and prostate cancers, menopausal symptoms, bone loss, etc. Overall, consuming moderate amounts of traditionally prepared and minimally processed soy foods may offer modest health benefits while minimizing potential for any adverse health effects.
Keywords: Isoflavones; bioactive compounds; bioavailability; chronic diseases; health benefits; nutrition; soybeans.