I hear a lot of concern about soy. That ominous, harmful legume. The concern I hear is that soy contains estrogen.
But I love soy. I enjoy tofu in my stir fry, tempeh in my sandwiches, edamame as an afternoon snack, and soy milk in my coffee. I think soy gets a bad rap (probably fueled by the meat and dairy industry). I have been consuming soy for over a decade, and I am alive and well to blog about it. 🙂
Soy contains compounds called isoflavones. The concern is that these compounds could mimic estrogen in the body and lead to hormone overload (and related health risks). However, based on my research and after discussing it with my my kids’ pediatrician, I have found that moderate consumption of minimally processed, organic* soy is not only ok, it is the heart-smart choice.
First, while isoflavones are similar to estrogen, they are much weaker than actual human hormones. It is not estrogen. Second, risk identified in studies came from a huge consumption of soy on a daily basis (e.g. over 100 mg of soy isoflavones, the equivalent of 16 cups of soy milk). No one I know is eating this much soy. Third, minimally processed soy (i.e. tofu, tempeh, edamame, and miso)** have great health benefits. Replacing meat with tofu lowers saturated fat intake and increases fiber intake, both important for heart health.
I also reached out to my friend, Sabina Vyas, a fellow plant eater and a public health professional working towards making plant-based foods more widely available. Below are her thoughts on soy consumption:
I love soy and add it to my meals or smoothies several times a week. Not only is soy high in protein (it has all 9 amino acids), manganese, selenium, calcium, iron, potassium, b-vitamins, and zinc among other nutrients, I also love the taste and texture and so do my kids!
There are many health benefits to soy; the isoflavones are soy phytoestrogens and are protective not only for heart health and blood pressure but also show protective features against breast cancer by serving as an estrogen-blockers for estrogen receptors linked to breast cancer.
Men, concerned about eating soy? Well, soy consumption does not appear to impact testosterone levels in men and can even be protective against prostate cancer.
Unfortunately, not all soy is created equal. Much of the soy grown in the U.S. falls under industrialized agriculture that often gets doused with pesticides and are genetically modified organisms or GMO. Over 70% of the soy we grow is used for animal feed on factory farms meaning that the meat most often consumed in the U.S. was primarily fed GMO-soy and corn to increase their weight quickly. Also, as an industrialized crop, current practices often lead to nutrient depletion of soil, which in turn impacts the nutrient density of foods grown in that soil.
How do we enjoy the benefits of soy, without the downsides? The key is to choose organic to benefit from the positive aspects of soy since organically grown soy is more environmentally friendly and grown without excessive pesticides and is naturally more nutrient dense.
I use organic tofu in stir fry, as a paneer (an Indian cheese made of curdled milk) alternative, as a pizza topping and more. Tofu and tempeh will take on the flavor of the ingredients you prepare it with. I especially love to bake or air fry my tofu before tossing it into my recipe for the day. In sum, soy can be a staple in your kitchen. I stick to organic soy and have my favorite brands, including Hodo.
So go ahead. Add tofu, edamame, tempeh, and soy milk to your shopping list. If eating soy helps to replace animal products in your diet, you will be healthier for it. Don’t forget, processed meats are deemed by the World Health Organization to be a carcinogen – something that causes cancer! And red meat is deemed to be a “probable carcinogen.” Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb and goat.***
Just choose your soy products wisely (avoiding non-organic soy products) and eat moderately. There is nothing wrong with incorporating soy into a healthy diet of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
But don’t just take our word for it. I have included links to some of the articles I have read and found helpful for your reference! Knowledge is power. Power to the people.
How Good is Soy? June 2000 – https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/how-good-is-soy#1
Organic Soy is More Nutritious than GE or Conventional Soy April 28, 2017 – https://www.cornucopia.org/2017/04/organic-soy-nutritious-ge-conventional-soy/#:~:text=Cornucopia’s%20Take%3A%20According%20to%20a,lower%20levels%20of%20saturated%20fat.&text=To%20really%20bring%20things%20into,very%20high%20levels%20of%20glyphosate.
Confused about Eating Soy? March 2018 – https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/confused-about-eating-soy
Is Soy Good or Bad for You? January 2020 – https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a20707020/is-soy-good-or-bad-for-you/
Is Soy bad for You? June 2020 – https://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-weight-loss/a27751629/is-soy-bad-for-you/
Almonds are out. Dairy is a Disaster. So what Milk Should we Drink? – https://getpocket.com/explore/item/almonds-are-out-dairy-is-a-disaster-so-what-milk-should-we-drink
What Does Drinking Soy Milk Do to Hormone Levels? July 9, 2020 – https://nutritionfacts.org/2020/07/09/what-does-drinking-soy-milk-do-to-hormone-levels/?utm_source=NutritionFacts.org&utm_campaign=fe6ac216b2-RSS_BLOG_DAILY&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_40f9e497d1-fe6ac216b2-24979381&mc_cid=fe6ac216b2&mc_eid=e34bbb4e3b
USDA FactSheet – https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/coexistence-soybeans-factsheet.pdf
Straight Talk About Soy – https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/soy/
*Unfortunately, more than 90% of the soy produced in the U.S. is genetically modified. There is much debate over the safety of genetically modified foods. I avoid buying non-organic soy products.
**I try to avoid highly processed food in general, including highly processed soy products such as soy meat analogs and soy supplements.
*** World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer – October 2015, https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer.html