Soy Foods – Friend or Foe to Your Health?

Adding soy foods to your diet is still considered to be controversial today. However, the majority of studies show that their consumption may be an easy way to improve your overall health.

Like all foods you consume, it's a good idea not to overdo it. You wouldn’t for example, eat all fiber or all green veggies. Eating a little of this and that is always a good way to ensure you’re getting enough of the various food groups without going overboard!

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You may have read that soy is NOT good for you. In most cases, the health benefits have to be weighed carefully. So far however, there have been no conclusive studies proving that soy is harmful to your health but there is a small caveat.

Sales of Soy Foods

Soy food popularity has been on the increase among health conscious individuals since the early 1990's. In 2000, approximately 27 percent of United States consumers reported using soy products at least once a week, which was nearly double the amount in 1998.

Sales of soy products are up and are projected to increase due in part to an FDA approved health claim. From 1992 to 2008, sales of soy increased from $300 million to $4 billion. Today, the US produces 49 percent of the world's soybeans. It is a huge cash crop although is mainly used as livestock feed.

The increase of soybean production may also be attributed to new soyfood categories being introduced, soyfoods being repositioned in the market place, and new customers selecting soy for health reasons.

Nutritional Value of Soy Foods

Soybeans were first used as early as the 11th century BC by the Chinese as both food and as medicine. Its use later spread to Europe and then ultimately made its way into the US by the early 1800’s.

soybeans image Soy beans, also called "the King of Beans', is in the pea family so it’s not a bean, which is a common misconception. Although they look like a bean, soybeans are the high-protein seed of the soy plant. They contain isoflavones, which are compounds called *phytoestrogens, and similar to the female hormone estrogen.

Proteins found in soy foods are a complete protein, which means that soy contains all nine essential amino acids. Nutrient-dense whole soybeans are low in saturated fat and are considered a to be a super food. Various amounts of soy foods have been common in Asian diets for thousands of years but can also be found in modern American diets.

Soybeans are high in nutritional value and contain up to 35 percent oil, 24 percent carbohydrate, and 50 percent protein. Soybeans are rich in minerals and trace elements, including calcium, iron potassium, amino acids, and vitamins, and are a good fiber source.

*Moderate consumption of foods that contain phytoestrogens do not provide sufficient amounts to elicit a negative physiological response in the human body.

My first exposure to soy foods was when our family attended the State Fair in Raleigh, N.C. back in the early 1960's. Several vendors were selling roasted (salted and unsalted) soybeans and BBQ flavor roasted soybeans. The salesman we bought them from told me that they were really good for me! Since I was only four or five years old at the time, I only knew they were a delicious food I had never tried before and quickly gobbled them up.

Years ago while attending Therapeutic Massage Therapy and Bodywork school, I gave up cow’s milk and tried soy milk. I thought it was simply yummy! My past experience with soy also led me to try other soy products. Organic soy foods in moderation are an excellent way to get more low fat protein in your diet!

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Health Benefits of Soy Foods

Lowers Cholesterol

Adding soy to your diet can reduce your cholesterol by up to as 9 percent in a month. The amount and type of soy you eat is KEY to enjoying its health benefits.

According to a recent research study done at the University of Kentucky, you should choose uncooked forms of soy such as tofu, soy milk, or natural raw soy nuts. The amount of soy that helps to lower cholesterol levels the most, was equivalent to two 12-ounce servings of soymilk daily or two 2-ounce servings of tofu. Even if you cook tofu, it doesn’t destroy the soy proteins responsible for the cholesterol-lowering effect. Eating more soy than the recommended amount won’t give you more benefits however.

Heart Health

Scientists agree that foods rich in soy protein can have considerable value to heart health, a fact backed by dozens of controlled clinical studies. A year long review of previous research studies done in 1999 prompted the FDA to allow a beneficial ‘health claim’ on food labeling. Companies who produce soy products were (and still are) allowed to state ‘that a daily diet containing 25 grams of soy protein, also low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease’.

To qualify for the health claim, foods must contain at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving and fit other criteria, such as being low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. The claim is similar to others the agency has approved in recent years to indicate heart benefits, including claims for the cholesterol-lowering effects of soluble fiber in oat bran and psyllium seeds.

Breast Cancer Protection

There has been much debate about whether higher levels of dietary soy protein are safe or beneficial for postmenopausal women. Some evidence suggests that the isoflavones found in soy foods may protect women from the estrogen produced by their body, which is an important risk factor for breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Previous population studies show that women who consume diets high in soy generally have lower rates of breast cancer.

For women with an increased risk of breast cancer (due to higher estrogen levels), a diet rich in soy isoflavones may be beneficial. The study may not apply to premenopausal women though, who have higher and more dynamic hormone levels, or to women taking combined hormone therapies that contain estrogen and progestin.

Bone Health

The benefits of soy in bone health are so impressive that the U.S. government is currently spending more than 10 million dollars on research into the skeletal benefits of isoflavones.

Whole soybeans are naturally low in saturated fat, which helps promote better bone and heart health.

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Soybean Products

Soy foods can be a good substitute for animal products because soy is a 'complete protein'. Soybeans contain all the amino acids essential to human nutrition, which must be supplied in the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the human body. Soy protein can replace animal-based foods, which also have complete proteins but also contain more fat, (especially saturated fat), without requiring major diet adjustments.

Tofu is made from cooked puréed soybeans processed into a custard-like cake. It has a neutral flavor and can be stir-fried, mixed into "smoothies," or blended into a cream cheese texture for use in dips or as a cheese substitute. It is available in three textures; firm, soft and silken.

Soymilk is produced by grinding dehulled soybeans and mixing them with water to form a milk-like liquid. It can be consumed as a beverage or used in recipes as a substitute for cow's milk. Soymilk, sometimes fortified with calcium, comes plain or in flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, and coffee. For lactose-intolerant individuals, it can be a good replacement for dairy products.

Soy flour is created by grinding roasted soybeans into a fine powder. The flour adds protein to baked goods, and, because it adds moisture, it can be used as an egg substitute. Soy can be found in cookies, breads, and snack bars. It also can be found in cereals, pancake mixes, frozen desserts, and other common foods.

Textured soy protein is made from defatted soy flour, which is compressed and dehydrated. It can be used as a meat substitute or as filler in dishes such as meatloaf.

Edamame is a green salted or steamed soybean product that's eaten right out of the pod.

Tempeh is made from whole, cooked, fermented soybeans formed into a chewy cake and used as a meat substitute.

Miso is a fermented soybean paste often with rice or barley and added for seasoning and in sauces or soup stocks.

Soy protein also is found in many meat analog products, such as soy sausages, burgers, franks, and cold cuts, as well as soy yogurts and cheese, all of which are intended as substitutes for their animal-based counterparts.

Soy has recently also been added to many beauty products because of it's high protein content. Soy milk can also help whiten the skin (if applied regularly), by preventing melanin from reaching cells of the skin.

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Possible Contraindications of Soy Foods

For Women

A 2001 literature review suggested that women with current or past breast cancer should be aware of the risks of potential tumor growth when consuming soy foods, based on the effect of phytoestrogens that promote breast cancer cell growth in animals.

A 2006 commentary reviewed the relationship between soy and breast cancer. It stated that soy may prevent breast cancer, but cautioned that the impact of isoflavones on breast tissue needs to be evaluated at the cellular level in women at high risk for breast cancer.

A high consumption of omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, (which are found in most types of vegetable oils including soybean oil), may increase the likelihood that postmenopausal women will develop breast cancer. Another analysis suggests an inverse association between polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of breast cancer.

For Men

Because of the phytoestrogen content, some studies have suggested that there is an inverse correlation between soybean ingestion and testosterone in men. For this reason, soy may protect against the development of prostate cancer.

A theoretical decrease in the risk of prostate cancer should be weighed against the possible side-effects of decreased testosterone, which are unclear. The popular fear that soybeans might cause reduced libido and even feminine characteristics in men has not been indicated by any study.

Soy foods intake does not affect sperm motility, morphology, or ejaculate volume.


The FDA granted the following health claim for soy: "25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."

One serving, (1 cup or 240 mL) of soy milk, for instance, contains 6 or 7 grams of soy protein. One four-ounce serving of soy is all you need in most diets.

An American Heart Association review of a decade long study of soy foods benefits casts doubt on the FDA allowed "Heart Healthy" claim for soy proteins and does not recommend isoflavone supplementation. The review panel also found that soy isoflavones have not been shown to reduce postmenopausal 'hot flashes' in women when the efficacy and safety of isoflavones is in question.

The chief concern that most people should keep in mind about the consumption of large amounts of soy is that there is a risk of mega-dosing on isoflavones. If you were to consume 100 grams of soy protein per day, your daily *genistein intake could easily exceed 200 milligrams per day. This level of genistein intake should definitely be avoided.

*Genistein - an isoflavone found especially in soybeans and shown in laboratory experiments to have anti-tumorous activity.

Still, many people use soy foods to help them improve their health. Many people use soy products to prevent or treat a variety of health conditions, including high cholesterol, menopausal symptoms, memory problems, high blood pressure, and prostate cancer.

I feel very badly for the poor soybean. What used to be a great product back in the 60's, isn't so much anymore. This is because 90 percent of all soybeans grown in the US are genetically altered. Your consumption of soy foods is something you will have to decide for yourself. Opting for organic soybeans when you have a choice, seems like a smarter choice for your long term health.

Related Pages on This Site

Non GMO Foods Versus GMO Foods – Facts, Pros and Cons

The Benefits of Phytonutrients for Health and Aging

Eating a Balanced Diet Decreases Weight and Increases Energy

The Secrets of Longevity

Stay Healthy and Enjoy More of Your Life!

Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan

Have a Heart – A Healthy Heart!

Reduce the Risk of Cancer through Nutrition


Soybeans - The Worlds Healthiest Foods

Health Benefits of Tofu and Soy Products

Ten Benefits of Soybean

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