Soy provides a range of beneficial nutrients:
- Protein: soy is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids needed by our bodies.
- Healthy fats: soy foods contain primarily monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Calcium: the consumption of soy foods has been observed to maintain bone density and potentially decrease fractures in postmenopausal women.
- Iron: some soy foods, such as tofu, provide iron.
- Isoflavones: some soy foods have a type of phytoestrogen with antioxidant properties, which may be beneficial in fighting cancer. This means there are estrogen-like plant-based compounds in soy products that have a similar shape to real estrogen and can act as a protective substance.
Types of soy products
There are plenty of soy products that we can include in our everyday meals.
Tofu is likely the first soy product most people think of. It's a widely available and versatile way to incorporate soy into both sweet or savoury recipes. For a savoury recipe, try our black bean garlic tofu nourish bowl. For a sweet recipe using tofu, try our mousse au chocolat.
Tempeh differs from tofu in that it's fermented and it uses the whole soybean. This means that tempeh offers more protein compared to tofu. Like tofu, it takes on the flavour of any marinade or sauce used. For some tempeh inspiration, see our soba noodle bowl with BBQ tempeh.
Edamame is the immature soybeans within the pod. They're often boiled or steamed and served with salt. Our PUL edamame chips make for a delicious snack on their own or can be used as a topping for salads and nourish bowls.
Fortified soy milk is another popular soy-based product. We can enjoy it as it is or use it in our morning beverages, smoothies, or baked goods. Soy milk can vary in sugar content based on sweetness level. When possible, here at PUL we try to opt for the "unsweetened" or "original" varieties over the "vanilla" or "chocolate" varieties.
Soybeans are less commonly heard of. We can purchase roasted soy nuts to pack into lunches as a crunchy snack. Raw soybeans aren't properly digestible so we recommend ensuring that they're roasted. 1oz of soy nuts contains 11g of protein, 6g of fat, and 2.5g of fibre.
Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning/paste made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji. The fermentation process gives miso a unique flavour profile and the benefit of probiotics. Since miso can be quite salty, it's not usually used in large amounts. Enjoy miso at home in our glorified miso soup.
Soy protein isolate is often found in vegan protein powders. It provides around 23g of protein in just 1 oz of protein powder! With that said, we recommend getting protein from food sources first. We aim to leave this one for days where convenience is a priority, or if our needs are higher than what we can manage to eat from foods alone.
Soy-based meat substitutes can come in the form of soy burger patties, sausages, nuggets and more. Many contain a soy-based product called "textured vegetable protein," also abbreviated as "TVP." While tasty, these tend to come with excess amounts of saturated fats and sodium. Here at PUL, we typically enjoy soy-based meat substitutes for the days where we're in a pinch or are absolutely craving a "nuggets" style dish.
Is it safe for men to eat?
Men commonly ask about the effects of soy on their hormone levels and prostate health. This stems from the presence of phytoestrogens, which are plant-derived estrogens found in a variety of foods, most notably soy. The phytoestrogens in soy don't appear to have any effect on hormone levels under moderate intake of 2-3 servings per day. With regards to prostate health, the consumption of soy foods has actually been associated with a reduction in prostate cancer risk in men.
Does soy cause breast cancer?
Many studies have displayed the potentially protective powers of soy foods against breast cancer. A research analysis found that soy intake is associated with a small reduction of breast cancer risk. They do note that other elements are at play that should be considered, such as genetics and level of physical activity.
In general, estrogen-like plant-based compounds in soy products have a similar shape to real estrogen and can act as a protective substance. Since they have a similar shape, they're able to bind to receptors in our intestines which are normally for either estrogen that our body produces or estrogen that we get from consuming animal-based foods such as meat. Consuming the plant-based estrogen-like compounds in soy limits our body from absorbing real estrogen that we potentially have too much of. This in turn can help drive the levels of estrogen in our bodies down and can act in a protective way.
As a side note, for those who are already diagnosed with breast cancer, or are in remission, it's been shown that soy food consumption was significantly associated with decreased risk of death and recurrence for certain types of breast cancer.
Soy & deforestation
It's true that soybean plantations are unfortunately responsible for a great deal of deforestation, primarily in South America. This means that these plantations can be a great threat to wildlife and biodiversity. This doesn't mean we need to cut out soy products altogether though. According to a 2014 report, around three-quarters of the world's soy is used for animal feed and around 6% is used for human food. We may have to pick our battles and do the best that we can in our own circumstances. Here at PUL, we believe that by limiting our intake of meat, we can make a larger impact on reducing this footprint than what we would reduce it by if cutting soy products out altogether instead.
Soy and heart health
Research has supported the role of soy protein and the reduction of certain serum lipids. Serum lipids are fat-like substances found in our blood such as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which are related to heart disease. There's no current observed change in high-density lipoprotein, triglyceride or blood pressure levels. This means that soy-based foods not only can be enjoyed for their tastiness, but also for supporting our heart health.
Soy and thyroid health
While soy doesn't cause hypothyroidism, it's been noted that soy isoflavones may somehow occupy or take up the iodine needed to make thyroid hormones important for thyroid function. It's theorized then, that those with hypothyroidism may not necessarily need to stop consuming soy products, but instead increase their iodine intake to ensure adequacy. Seaweed is a fantastic source of iodine, although depending on where we live, our table salt may include iodine as well. As always, it's best to consult with a physician and dietitian for individualized recommendations. Research is ever-growing and all of the information has yet to be uncovered!
Genetically modified soy
The topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is perhaps even more controversial than the topic of soy itself. It's a whole other matter which deserves a dedicated nutrition article. There's no evidence to show that genetically modified foods cause allergies or resistance to antibiotics. Using Canada as an example, genetically modified foods available are considered safe to eat as per safety assessments. Ultimately, it's our choice. We can check the rules and regulations in other countries surrounding labelling and safety assessments. If concerned about eating genetically modified foods, look for "GMO-free" labelling or buy organic foods. More research is needed in this field and we look forward to creating an article on this topic in the future.
- Soy is safe when consumed in moderation. About 2-3 servings of soy products per day are known to be safe and potentially beneficial.
- There are many different soy products available, including tofu, tempeh, edamame, fortified soy milk, soybeans, miso, soy protein isolate, and soy-based meat substitutes. It's recommended to have whole food sources more often than processed soy products.
- More research is needed on soy with regards to cancers, heart health, and other conditions. It's important to consult with a physician and dietitian for individualized recommendations.
- Soy is a common allergen. Consider visiting a physician if experiencing adverse effects when eating soy products.