What You Should Know About Soy

Reading nutrition blogs is part of my daily routine. I like to keep up with what’s going on in the industry, get recipe ideas, learn from other nutritionists and stay inspired. However, sometimes the posts can be scary, discouraging and frustrating (ie. GM foods, high obesity rates among children, unhealthy food in schools, the dangers of eating meat or dairy that isn’t organic, etc). There is one topic in particular that falls into this category for me, and I’ve been putting it off for a while because it’s kind of overwhelming: the topic of soy.

Soy is a tricky one because it was quickly snagged up by food companies, and marketed as a super healthy food so everyone started buying & consuming it like crazy (similar to what’s happening with gluten-free right now – don’t get me started on this one…I’ll save it for another post). But, it turns out that soy, mainly in its refined forms may not be good for your health.

Here comes the overwhelming part. Go into your cupboard and take out some packaged foods: start with crackers, cereal & granola bars. I bet that all of them include some form of refined soy product: soy protein isolate, soy lecithin, textured vegetable protein etc. – am I right?

A little background info on the soybean
Soybeans are a plant, and contain the isoflavones, genistein and daidzein, which are types of phytoestrogens (PEs).

The tricky part
PEs are naturally occurring plant compounds that have health benefits, but can also have a mild affect on the estrogen hormone (mimic it and/or block it). Because of this effect, PEs are being studied in terms of their connection to conditions & diseases that involve estrogen (ie. breast cancer, menstrual cycle, menopause symptoms, and osteoporosis) (1).

Soy to avoid
Refined soy products such as: textured vegetable protein (TVP), soy lecithin, soy protein, and soy protein isolates. Rule of thumb: most refined foods have all their vitamins, minerals & fiber removed, and usually undergo a crazy process involving heat, chemicals & toxins to make this happen. And apparently the cancer connection & hormonal effects are highest with these soy products (2). While this is worrisome in itself, you should also avoid them because they are highly refined products.

Sorry baby, no soy for you
New moms should avoid giving their infants soy formula. It’s actually been banned in some countries because of the PEs & high aluminum content (1).

Some soy in moderation is ok
According to my research, eating organic edamame, tofu & soymilk on occasion is fine. While soybeans do have health benefits: complete protein, a source of omega-3, fiber, vitamins & minerals; when it comes to cancer & hormone disruption I prefer to be on the safe side. I would recommend one serving per week: ½ cup of edamame or 1 cup of soymilk or tofu. Make sure it’s organic because soy is the #1 genetically modified food in the world.

Fermented soy is safe
Miso, soy sauce, and tempeh are examples of soy products that have been fermented. Good bacteria are used in the fermentation process, which is good for digestion (think probiotics), and also reduces the amount of PEs in soy (2). I love soy sauce, but have never cooked with miso or tempeh – I’m definitely adding it to my “ingredients to try” list!

Takeaway tips

-Read nutrition labels and avoid processed & packaged foods that contain refined soy products as much as possible
-Avoid soy formula for your infant
-Make your own cereal, cookies, muffins & granola bar substitutes
-Only consume 1 serving per week of organic soy products like edamame, tofu & soymilk
-Get the health benefits of soy without the risk by including fermented soy products into your diet – soy sauce, miso, and tempeh

Sources & Reading:

1. Dr. Fuhrman
2. Foodtrainers
3. Mercola.com (this one is extreme anti-soy except for fermented, but provides some good info, and links to more articles about soy)
Image Credit 

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  1. It’s All Good Gwenyth | The Other Big O - June 19, 2013

    […] the beginning of the book, she includes a section on soy; stressing the importance of buying non-GMO (soy is one the top genetically modified foods in the […]

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