Tofu, soy milk, tempeh, edamame, miso, even faux soy meats and cheeses- is too much soy bad for you? A plant-based diet has a lot of fun food that is from soybeans. A common question I receive from women in my health coaching practice is, “what are your thoughts on soy?” I knew this was the perfect next topic in my Vegan Nutrition FAQs series that I wanted to address.
It’s funny because I didn’t know how to necessarily answer all these questions prior to attending the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I had just seen all the proven research so had no worry in my mind, but I struggled to articulate it. That’s why I want to arm others with the information in a digestible format here. Almost like, “plant-based diet for dummies.” I 100% have witnessed the benefits first hand, and I want other women to be able to as well. So let’s dive in.
Soy got somewhat of a bad rep in the past. In recent years, there’s been a ton of noise coming from the media saying “it’s bad, it causes cancer and man boobs!” But I promise you this is not true. And also, zero judgment if you think that right now. I totally used to before I actually did the research. What IS 100% causing cancer is stuff like toxic man-made chemicals and too much processed animal food in our diet. It’s just the facts.
Ok, on to soy-splaining. 😉 As Dr. Neal Barnard, M.D., President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says, “There’s no debate: Soy is beneficial to your health. Soy products have been shown beneficial for lung cancer prevention and survival, prostate cancer prevention, heart health and diabetes, bone health, inflammation, and hot flashes, among other conditions.” Soybeans can lower cholesterol, help prevent osteoporosis, and can even alleviate problems associated with diabetes.
Here are the common myths debunked!
Soy and estrogen (the primary female sex hormone)- what’s the deal?
Soy contains plant-based estrogens called phytoestrogens. The way I think of it is like little estrogen copycats and then on the other end of the spectrum, they can have anti-estrogen effects. For example, they have beneficial anti-estrogenic effects in breast tissue (how soy helps prevent breast cancer, which we’ll cover below). They ALSO have beneficial estrogen-mimicking effects in bone tissue (the copycats, which are helpful in this case for bone health.)
Does soy cause breast cancer?
Nope! Studies show that soy actually has a positive effect helping to PREVENT breast cancer AND on the flip side, helps aid in breast cancer survival. As Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D., a Board-certified family physician, New York Times best-selling author and nutritional researcher notes, “Overall, the research suggests that soy intake helps to protect against initial breast cancer development (especially postmenopausal breast cancer), breast cancer recurrence, and breast cancer mortality. There is no more soy breast cancer controversy.” Think about this, Asian cultures have used soybeans in moderation for thousands of years without exhibiting any problems. Their breast cancer rates, for example, are actually much lower than ours. Furthermore, Soy is linked to decreases in risk of prostate, lung, stomach, and colorectal cancers.
Does soy cause man boobs? Is it bad for men to have it?
LOL- NO. As Dr. Fuhrman explains, “That rumor actually seems to be based on sensationalized reports about one rare case of a man who developed breast swelling, who had been drinking three quarts of soy milk every day for over six months. When he stopped over consuming soy, the issue was resolved. Of course, nobody should eat or drink that much soy; nobody should even consume that much of any one food.” This case is not at all relevant to people consuming moderate amounts of soy in forms like tofu, soymilk, edamame, etc. And that has been scientifically proven through studies. In summary, there were no significant effects in these studies on men’s testosterone levels, estrogen levels, or sperm quality. If this is interesting to you and you want even more information, I’d highly recommend you watch The Game Changers documentary on Netflix that also covers this topic. (I mentioned it on my Insta here.)
Is it ONLY ok to eat if it’s a fermented soy product? (Ex: Tempeh over tofu)
The myth of only eating fermented forms (and that fermented forms are healthier) came about because soybeans have something called phytate. This is in legumes, and grains as well, and was once believed to be an anti-nutrient. However, more recent research has found beneficial health effects of phytate, specifically for bone health.
Which soy foods should I eat and how much?
Both unfermented (tofu, edamame, soy milk) and fermented (tempeh) soy foods can be eaten in a whole food plant-based diet. Two to four servings per week is reasonable and should be eaten in conjunction with other legumes, vegetables, and more. As my girl Alicia Silverstone says, in The Kind Diet, “it’s good to eat tofu and tempeh a couple of times a week but as you focus on real, whole foods, keep the processed soybean products like ice cream as an occasional treat.” Lastly, make sure you are buying ORGANIC, NON-GMO soy just as I always encourage you to buy organic produce and other items when possible.
And that’s a wrap, ladies! Have more questions? Want me to highlight another plant-based diet topic? Please let me know below. Until next time.