Monday, October 26th, 2020

You Can Feel Safe with Soy

Published on August 31, 2009 by   ·   30 Comments Pin It

We hear it constantly from carnivores, raw foodies, and Doctors alike; “Don’t eat soy.”   And yet, we always wonder how (organic) soy products can be nearly as harmful as processed, cancer-ridden, anti-biotic hosting slabs of carcass on a sandwich.   Therefore, we keep eating it (in moderation) regardless of the constant bad press poor ole edamame gets.

In their newsletter today, Meatout Mondays reports;

Researchers report that soy is a safe and healthy food. A study published in the August issue of the American Institute for Cancer Research dispels the confusion over stories claiming that tofu and soy milk can lead to breast growth or reduced testosterone levels.

The recent analysis combined results from several studies, revealing that men who consumed the most soy foods were 26% less likely to develop prostate cancer. Another study found that hysterectomy rates were lowest among women whose diets contained the most soy foods, suggesting that soy reduces the risk of fibroids and endometriosis.

Additionally, a study of men in their 50s and 60s found those who ate soy foods twice a day for three months showed no change in testosterone levels but a 14% drop in levels of PSA (an indicator of prostate growth used in screening for prostate cancer). Yet another study of children fed soy protein formula for more than six months showed no harmful effects.

Soy beans contain high amounts of protein, including all essential amino acids (the only such vegetable source). Soy beans are also a rich source of calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, B-vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids and fiber.

A recent article on tell us;

Asian populations tend to show a much greater drop in prostate cancer risk with soy foods than Western populations.

Fermentation may change how easily our bodies absorb isoflavones, which means that fermented soy foods (miso, tempeh, natto) may have a different effect on prostate cancer risk than non-fermented soy foods (soy milk, tofu and edamame). Some studies suggest that the effect of soy foods may depend on its interaction with other food compounds; the lycopene from tomatoes is one such interaction under study.

While we wait for more answers about the possible protection from soy, men can feel safe eating one or two servings of soy foods daily. Soy foods are nutritious, low in saturated fat, and men have consumed them for generations without harm. However, until we know more about isoflavone safety, research does not show benefit or safety of consuming large amounts of isoflavone supplements in hopes of achieving protection.

Still not comfortable enough to throw some marinated tofu on the grill?   How about a Doctor’s opinion? One of America’s most respected Doctors, Dr. Andrew Weil tell us;

I’m aware of Internet paranoia on the subject of soy and the contention that only fermented soy is safe to consume. That is simply not true. Some of the best forms of soy – edamame, tofu and soy nuts – are unfermented and are much more likely to help you than hurt you.

Claims that unfermented soy foods (such as tofu and soy milk) contain toxins that block the action of enzymes needed to digest protein, and that these toxins cause pancreatic enlargement, cancer and stunted growth in animals are misleading. While soy does contain substances (trypsin inhibitors) that may adversely affect the pancreas in animals, there’s no solid evidence that they cause similar problems in humans. Furthermore, trypsin inhibitors are found in all of the vegetables of the cabbage family as well as in beans other than soy.

Other concerns about soy safety focus on the following issues:

* Breast cancer: Here, the idea is that high levels of isoflavones, active ingredients in soy that behave like estrogen in the body, may increase the risk of breast cancer. While high levels of isolated isoflavones may do so, it appears that the total mix of weak plant estrogens in soy protects the body’s estrogen receptors. This protection may reduce the effects of excess estrogen exposure from such external sources as meats and dairy products from hormone-treated cows as well as artificial chemicals and industrial pollutants that act as foreign estrogens. Japanese women whose diets contain a lot of soy foods have only one-fifth the rate of breast cancer that occurs among Western women.

* Thyroid Problems: Excess consumption of soy can affect thyroid function, but only if you have a thyroid disorder to begin with or if you’re not getting enough iodine in your diet (a rare deficiency in the United States). If you take medication for hypothyroidism (low thyroid), and are concerned about the effect of eating two daily servings of soy, have your thyroid levels checked regularly.

* Mineral absorption: The idea that substances in soy called phytates block absorption of essential minerals is also in circulation, but there is no scientific data suggesting that soy consumption leads to mineral deficiency in humans.

All told, based on the evidence to date, I see no reason to worry about eating soy foods, whether fermented or not. I still recommend consuming one to two servings of soy per day, an amount equivalent to one cup of soy milk, or one half cup of tofu, soy protein (tempeh) or soy nuts.

So stop your whining… and enjoy your dang soy.   It’s fabulous protein and (when organic) better for you than any dead animal or animal bi-product you could consume, by far.

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Readers Comments (30)

  1. steve says:

    I have heard 2 concerns about soy that aren’t addressed here:

    1. Soy ferments during the digestion process, releasing carcinogenic gasses that can be dangerous in high quantities.

    2. It is high in Omega 3 but contains no Omega 6 fatty acid. These 2 acids need to be consumed in equal proportions for some reason that I have yet to discover.

    Do you have any knowledge of these issues? Thanks.

  2. Ari Solomon says:

    Thank you for this piece and cutting through some of the bullshit! All the research I’ve done shows that if you’re consuming soy from things like tofu, edamame, or tempeh at about 1-2 servings a day you’re good to go. Unfortunately, many vegetarians/vegans center their diet around soy. No one’s diet should center around one ingredient. The key is to eat a variety of healthful plant-based whole foods.

    Many mock meats and protein powders contain things like ‘soy protein isolates’ or ‘textured soy protein’. This is a processed version of soy and something I tend to leave off my plate. I rarely do processed foods. If you eat the stuff once or twice a month I think you’re probably fine, but if you’re eating it everyday I think you should probably consider incorporating more whole foods into your diet. That being said, there are many mock meats that don’t use that shit at all. Field Roast and Tofurkey are seitan-based mock meats and they’re delicious!!

  3. jasmin says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Ari. As a holistic health counselor, I have seen time and time again that the allergies people think they have to soy, or the sensitivities that people have to processed soy, are solved by 1.reducing the amount of heavily-processed soy they intake, and 2.focusing on whole, unprocessed — or lesser processed — soy products. Though there are times where it might be nessecary to temporarily eliminate processed soy from one’s diet due to sensitivities, those sensitivities are almost always cured by slowly reintroducing it and not going overboard with consuming it. Soy — in moderation — can result in health benefits. Regarding the question of EFAs, flax oil (or freshly ground up flax seeds) consumed on a daily basis will take care of that necessity. Also, there are EFA drops that Dr. Joel Fuhrman (of Eat to Live) sells on his website that are high-quality and recommended.

    Soy to the world!

  4. I’m also in agreement with Ari. The problem comes up when you use soy to replace everything you used to eat. I find it’s totally okay to use some soy sauce or some soy nuts in a meal. But I’d rather use other “meat” or “cheese” substitutes, otherwise you end up with a plate full of nothing but soy. ;)

    I’m a raw foodie, and I don’t go overboard with soy because I know that thyroid issues are prevalent in my family. I just prefer to err on the side of caution with my health.

  5. Ariela says:

    This is a great piece! I definitely agree that just because you choose not to consume meat and dairy does not mean that you have to become a soyaholic! There are so many other options out there, but it’s great to finally know that a little soy does a lot more good than evil!

  6. Katherine says:

    Thanks for this!

    One thing I’m concerned about…. after watching Food, Inc. and hearing about Monsanto’s GMO soy… it seems as if there’s been some “jumping” of their GMO product from fields where farmers have intentionally planted the GMO crop, to fields where farmers have planted non-GMO beans.

    So, I guess really what I want to know, how do we know our organic soy is really organic and doesn’t contain GMO beans? Or am I being crazy and paranoid?

  7. Thanks for posting this… nice article. :)

  8. Hi Steve,

    You have great questions about soy. I did a little digging and found some info that will hopefully give you some answers…

    1) Soy fermenting and releasing harmful gasses during the digestion process: while I am not familiar with this claim and unable to answer your question directly, there have been several studies done on soy and stomach cancer, and fermented vs. non-fermented soy. Here is one article from the University of Illinois that may be helpful: There are several Clinical Journal studies cited in this article that might be helpful as well.

    2) As for the Omega 3 / 6 question, Dr. Weil (also quoted in the blog post) gives a great overview of why the two need to be eaten together:

    “Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of essential fatty acids meaning we cannot make them on our own and have to obtain them from our diet. Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids that differ from each other in their chemical structure.[…].. There are two critical omega-3 fatty acids, (eicosapentaenoic acid, called EPA and docosahexaenoic or DHA), that the body needs. Vegan sources, such as walnuts and flaxseeds contain a precursor omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid called ALA) that the body must convert to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth as well as components of cell membranes.

    By contrast, sources of omega-6 fatty acids are numerous in modern diets. They are found in seeds and nuts, and the oils extracted from them. Refined vegetable oils, such as soy oil, are used in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, and sweets in the American diet as well as in fast food. Soybean oil alone is now so ubiquitous in fast foods and processed foods that an astounding 20 percent of the calories in the American diet are estimated to come from this single source.

    The body also constructs hormones from omega 6 fatty acids. In general, hormones derived from the two classes of essential fatty acids have opposite effects. Those from omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation (an important component of the immune response), blood clotting, and cell proliferation, while those from omega-3 fatty acids decrease those functions. Both families of hormones must be in balance to maintain optimum health.

    Many nutrition experts believe that before we relied so heavily on processed foods, humans consumed omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in roughly equal amounts. But to our great detriment, most North Americans and Europeans now get far too much of the omega-6s and not enough of the omega-3s. This dietary imbalance may explain the rise of such diseases as asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body. The imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may also contribute to obesity, depression, dyslexia, hyperactivity and even a tendency toward violence. Bringing the fats into proper proportion may actually relieve those conditions, according to Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., a psychiatrist at the National Institutes of Health, and perhaps the world’s leading authority on the relationship between fat consumption and mental health. At the 2006 Nutrition and Health Conference sponsored by the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Hibbeln cited a study showing that violence in a British prison dropped by 37 percent after omega-3 oils and vitamins were added to the prisoners’ diets.

    If you follow my anti-inflammatory diet, you should get a healthy ratio of these fatty acids. In general, however, you can cut down on omega-6 levels by reducing consumption of processed and fast foods and polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed, for example). At home, use extra virgin olive oil for cooking and in salad dressings. Eat walnuts, flax seeds, and take an omega supplement. Your body and mind will thank you.”

    Hope this helps!

  9. YnNeJ says:

    Thank you so much for this.As a somewhat newbie vegan I was concerned about soy(mainly because of a history of breast cancer in my family) and I had heard lots of things that contradicted each other. As a pharmacy student,I tried to do some bibliography research on the topic,but your points here helped me a lot as well.I’d like to add something I’ve learned about isoflavons and their interaction with estrogens:their behavior as substrates to estrogen receptors is not purely agonistic;they have (mixed) agonistic/antagonistic behavior.Meaning that when the amount of estrogens in the body and around the receptors is excessive they act as antagonists,thus protecting us from the effects of excess estrogens, whereas when there is a low concentration of natural estogens in the body they behave as agonists and add up to the estrogenic action of naturally occuring estrogens. So the balance depends largely on the estrogens in our bodies;and of course on the relative concentrations of estrogens and isoflavones,which affects the balance/ratio of receptors covered by esrogens to those covered by isoflavones-thus the appeal to a reasonable,moderate daily consumption.

  10. Sara says:

    These are all excellent points. Something that I thought was implied but not explicitly stated is that many people consuming the Standard AMerican Diet ingest moderate to high amounts of isolated soy protein and other soy derivatives that are added to processed foods as fillers or inexpensive added protein – plus it may come from a GMO source. Like any refined substance, more than a small amount of this tends to be detrimental, not to mention hard to digest. Also, culturally speaking, many people go overboard when they hear that something is good for them; some people who rely on soy consume far more than the 2 servings described here.
    There is one piece of information that I believe to be incorrect: soy is far higher in omega 6 fatty acids. As mentioned already, these are essential to the body and not in any way bad for us. Also, as mentioned, for people who consume a lot of legumes, nuts, seeds, and/or veg oils (not to mention packaged, processed stuff), the high ratio (roughly 5:1) can become as issue over time – but no biggie if you keep tabs on your omega 3-6 ratios. If you’d like to see for yourself, check out this link (the fatty acid info is lower left)
    One final thing: you don’t want people to insult soy foods, don’t insult other food choices. “It’s fabulous protein and (when organic) better for you than any dead animal or animal bi-product you could consume, by far.” It’s awfully convenient to distinguish between organic and conventional/GMO soy, but not to do so with animal products. High quality animal products have helped people heal and lead healthful lives for generations, when consumed appropriately/in moderation – isn’t this part of the point of the article? Just as you understandably want to debunk many soy myths, please don’t lump other food traditions together into something equally crude. (For anyone who’s interested, do some research on Japanese diets and you’ll learn that small servings of meat were used quite regularly – as was soy.)

  11. […] You can now feel safe with (organic) soy. […]

  12. beforewisdom says:

    Anecdotal accounts are not knowledge, but I have to say that I have trouble taking the soy hysteria thing seriously.

    I’ve been eating soy foods of all kinds several times a week for 30 years since I was 14.

    It hasn’t turned me gay, it has not feminized me, it has not given me thyroid problem nor has it made me demented.

    In fact, my health is great and I feel like my whole life is ahead of me. I feel and look better than many of the endless scare mongers who I have been reading and hearing the past several decades.

    It isn’t just dairy and meat industry shills either. It is also what I call alternative health food cultists. Lets face it, people love to have stories to tell.

    If it isn’t soy, its that tomatoes, “nightshades” ( insert scary music ) are poisonous or that grains are unhealthy or carbs or fat.

  13. Chloe says:

    Well said BW… though most sensationalism does hold a grain of truth.. it’s best that we all do our individual research and learn as much as we can about what we ingest to make the most informed choices possible.

  14. beforewisdom says:

    Do you have a URL to the quote from Meatout Mondays? I would like to check out their references.

  15. Chloe says:

    The MeatOut Mondays site is hyperlinked in this article.

  16. natalia says:

    How do you ensure that your soy/soy based product was not grown/sourced in brazil from once fertile amazon land, rendered useless by intensive farming of said product?

  17. Chloe says:

    Natalia, Do research on the brands you buy, and read labels. If product says “Organic, made/ produced in USA” you should be safe!

  18. Mia Gomez says:

    This is my experience with soy. As a way to save money I recently started eating a lot more soy. I live in Korea so Tofu is crazy cheap here. I would put it in my smoothies, grill it, put it in soups, and the effect that soy had on my skin was horrible. I’ve always had clear skin and suddenly, I started breaking out like a teenage boy, I’m 26. I was a vegetarian for many years prior and would have soy like twice a week without adverse effect, but having so much of it, I imagine really screwed up my hormones. I stopped eating it altogether and my skin cleared up. So I would be careful not to overdo it with the soy, or have a bit and see how your body reacts to it first.

  19. arthritis says:

    I’m a raw foodie, and I don’t go overboard with soy because I know that thyroid issues are prevalent in my family. I just prefer to err on the side of caution with my health.

  20. Chloe Jo says:

    ALSO to note:
    There’s a lot of misleading information online about the benefits of soy. It’s time to bust those myths and learn the truth about nature’s perfect protein.

    Myth: Soy contains estrogen
    Soy contains isoflavones, aka plant estrogens, which function much different in the human body.

    Myth: Soy is dangerous for children.
    Truth: Soymilk contains many of the same nutrients found in dairy milk (like calcium and vitamin D) and can be a good addition child’s diet. However, also like dairy milk, soymilk should not be used as infant formula.

    Myth: Soy increases the risk for heart disease
    The FDA asserts that consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day, as part of a healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may actually help reduce the risk of heart disease.

  21. RankPay! says:

    Tofu and soybean are natures miracle, we just have to do our part, create good recipes and enjoy them to the fullest!

  22. You have to write more about this.I really like your article

  23. Elizabeth says:

    I am so happy to have come across this article! I do have more of a question rather than a comment. I recently discovered I am pregnant…about 8 weeks along. I am a pesca-vegetarian…I do eat some fish occassionaly…and have been for over 13 years. I have been hearing that soy and soy-based products are bad for pregnant woment. This definitely concerns me because I eat a lot of different soy-based products, such as lunch meat, chicken, chicken nuggets, burgers, just about anything from Boca and MorningStar. I didn’t see anything in this article pertaining specifically to pregnant women and soy. Does anyone know if pregnant women should avoid soy? Or just monitor how much we eat? I’m concerned because I have been continuing to eat what I normally do and did not think there would be a problem with all of my soy-based products until some family members brought it to my attention. Any advice on this would be tremendously appreciated!!

  24. Hey Elizabeth,
    I have a VERY healthy 1 yr old vegan baby, and ate soy during my pregnancy, as did many of my friends during their pregnancy. The trick is – everything in moderation! And read “Skinny Bitch: Bun In The Oven” it’s a treasure trove of helpful info. You want to stick with as many WHOLE foods as possible. And if you are doing the fake meats, try for the least processed ones, like the Field Roast brand and Dr. Cow vegan cheese. And steer clear of fish – mercury city and lice (uch!!)

    Lettuce know if you need a rec for a great vegan nutritionist! We love Alex at Nutrition for Empowered Women.


  25. […] covered this topic before, and the comments then were as controversial and split as we are sure they will be again.  […]

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