The debate on whether or not you should be consuming soy…most of us have heard it. And of course, the burning question, is it really that bad?! Just like most nutrition topics, soy is confusing…and rightfully so.
There’s a whole slew of differing opinions online, that vary greatly on the spectrum of soy being good vs. bad. For example, on one post you’ll read that soy is detrimental to your hormones and on another post you’ll read that it is a solution to some menopause symptoms.
There’s been a lot of claims on media platforms that soy is harmful to your health and it should be avoided, but is that really the case?
Before we dive into that answer, we first need to explore what soy is and where you can find it.
Soybeans are legumes that grow in pods. Soybeans are “are an excellent source of high quality protein, which most other legumes lack, making the soybean and its food products a superior protein source for people following a strict vegetarian diet” (Soy Foods, 2013). Some examples of foods containing soy are:
- Minimally processed: soybeans, edamame, tofu, soy nuts, tempeh (ideal sources)
- Processed: soy cheeses, soy burgers, and other vegetarian/vegan meat replacements, soy sauce, soy milk, soy flour
Below are some examples of soy products, along with their soy protein and isoflavone content (Nguyen et al, 2016):
What are isoflavones?
Soy is unique, compared to other legumes, because it contains isoflavones (Straight Talk About Soy, 2021). Isoflavones are a “type of plant estrogen (phytoestrogen) that is similar in function to human estrogen but with much weaker effects” (Straight Talk About Soy, 2021).
So, is soy safe to eat?
The short answer is yes, absolutely (unless told otherwise a dietitian). It is important to note that just like anything, going to the extremes would not be helpful. If soy became the only food you consumed, I couldn’t tell you how your body would respond long-term to that. But if you’re reading this blog, you know the important of balance. In combination with a diet that contains a good mix of foods and macronutrients, soy is great.
While there are claims that soy is harmful, Harvard School of Public Health shared some very important points the factors that influence soy’s impact on the body, seen in the photo below.
Due to these varying factors, there is no black and white answer to whether soy is “good” or “bad”. However, we do know that soy has many health benefits and is beneficial + safe to consume. In fact, “numerous clinical studies have found that daily consumption of up to 50 grams of soy protein is not only safe, but may also be effective in improving risk factors for chronic disease such as some types of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease” (Nguyen et al, 2016). Choosing minimally processed versions of soy is ideal.
What are the benefits of consuming soy?
Soy-based are beneficial for our health because they are:
- A great source of complete plant-based protein, which means it contains all essential amino acids (Straight Talk About Soy, 2021).
- Naturally cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat. They also contain healthy fats called polyunsaturated fats and omega-3s (Soy Foods, 2013)
- A great source of fiber.
- Rich in nutrients including B vitamins, fiber, potassium, + magnesium (Straight Talk About Soy, 2021).
Soy + Various Health Concerns
Check out Food + Nutrition’s post here for more information on health concerns and soy.
The Bottom Line
Soy is 100% safe to consume in a well-balanced diet, unless your doctor or dietitian has specifically told you otherwise due to a medical concern. It is important to remember that, just like everything, taking things to the extreme can have negative impacts on the body. Eating soy in extreme excess could potentially have implications, but most of us wouldn’t eat soy in an amount that would be detrimental.
If you enjoy soy, there are many benefits including protein, fiber, healthy fats, and micronutrients.
Nguyen, L., Steinberg, F., & Zidenberg-Cherr, S. (2016, January). Nutrition and Health Info Sheet: Soy. Retrieved from https://nutrition.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk426/files/content/infosheets/factsheets/fact-pro-phytochemical.pdf
Soy Foods. Cleveland Clinic. (2013). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17491-soy-foods
Straight talk about soy. The Nutrition Source. (2021, December 8). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/soy/