Depending on what you eat everyday, soy-based foods like tofu, soy milk, miso, tempeh, and edamame may sound like classic “health” foods. But for vegetarians, vegans, and other dieters who have come to rely on this common meat alternative in their diets, grocery store items rich in soy have developed scary reputations for a purported “disease risk.” Some previously published research can be downright scary, with claims that increased soy can mess with your hormones, the thyroid, and possibly cause cancer.
So which side of this debate is actually right — does soy deserve that health halo, or should you swear the stuff off of your shopping list for good?
As is often the case when it comes to nutrition, the answers aren’t black and white. But for the most part, “Soy-based foods are some of the best foods you can eat on the planet,” says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN. “Soybeans provide a plant-based protein source; a slew of vitamins and minerals crucial for reducing risk of chronic disease; and fiber that helps you fill up and feel satisfied.”
While some small, poorly designed studies have led to inflammatory headlines over the years, it’s important to think about all foods in context. Eating plant-based foods in their closest-to-nature (a.k.a. least processed) form? Super nutritious. But taking supplements made with the compounds in soybean? Not so much.
“That’s where we’ve seen health risks,” London explains. “In fact, it’s not uncommon to see research reflecting consuming compounds in supplement form rather than eating the foods themselves.” Those supplements are linked to increased disease risk, while real, whole foods are linked to decreased disease risk.
- Why Soy Is Controversial
- What We Know Today
- The Best (and Worst) Types of Soy to Eat
- What is soy ‘milk’?
- Nutritional profile
- Is soy ‘milk’ healthier than cow’s milk?
- Is soy ‘milk’ suitable for everyone?
- How to buy the best soy ‘milk’
- An introduction to soya
- Nutritional highlights
- How to select & store
- Recipe suggestions
- How Tempeh Works
- Soy Allergy
Why Soy Is Controversial
Let’s take a trip back to the 1990s, when soy foods first started really hitting it big. At the time, many experts believed that soy had the power to fight problems like obesity, heart disease, and even cancer. After all, people in Asia eat a ton of soy. And studies showed that these populations had significantly lower rates of obesity, heart disease, and breast cancer compared to people in the U.S. Clearly, soy was the miracle food, right?
Not necessarily. Those studies only looked at associations, not causation. Just because people who consume a lot of soy also happen to be healthier than people who don’t eat soy doesn’t automatically mean that soy is the key to their superior state. Countless other factors — from genetics, to lifestyle, to the rest of their diet — could also play a role.
When researchers began taking a closer look to find out what made soy so healthy, they ran into some surprises. Soy, it turned out, contains estrogen-like compounds called isoflavones. And some findings suggested that these compounds could promote the growth of some cancer cells, impair female fertility, and mess with thyroid function. Some health experts also trash-talk soy because of its potential to be an endocrine disrupter — meaning it can mimic estrogen in the body, which may lead to a hormone overload.
At the same time, other studies were still showing that soy consumption could cure high cholesterol and help women cope with the symptoms of menopause. And Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, a Chicago-based dietitian, says that while whole soy does contain natural plant estrogens, they’re much weaker than actual human hormones, and shouldn’t case you worry. Add it all up, and you can see how this little green bean became a source of mass dietary confusion.
What We Know Today
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As with all foods, experts still don’t know everything there is to know about soy. But research in recent years suggests that moderate consumption of minimally processed soy foods (more on what those are later) not only isn’t bad for you, it probably has some benefits. Here’s what we can say about soy today:
Soy may decrease your risk of certain cancers, among other chronic diseases.
How did soy even get linked to cancer risk in the first place? Stephanie Clarke, RDN, a dietitian based in Washington, D.C., says it has to do with processed grocery products. Soy protein isolates, a highly processed form of soy used in cereals, protein bars, and snacks (among other foods), may contain more soy isoflavones, which are organic compounds that can also be considered endocrine disruptors in high amounts. Elevated levels of this kind of soy may lead to unbalanced hormone levels, which can play a factor in cancer risk.
The majority of recent, high-quality studies, however, have found that unprocessed soy doesn’t increase breast cancer risk, and very high consumption could even offer some protection.
Eating soy could help protect against other types of cancer, too. Findings show that soy consumption may slightly lower the risk for gastrointestinal cancers and have a protective effect in prostate cancer survivors. Eating a high-fiber diet is also tied to lower colon cancer rates, and soy foods like edamame and tempeh both have plenty of roughage.
The only instance in which you may wish to limit soy consumption? If you’ve previously been diagnosed with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, Clarke says. Your doctor may advise that it’s best to skip soy altogether if estrogen is at play in this case.
Soy might improve fertility and help with hot flashes.
Soy appears to be beneficial for fertility, as long as you don’t eat too much. Women undergoing in vitro fertilization who have environmental exposure to BPA are more likely to get pregnant if they also ate soy. That’s likely because soy’s isoflavones help neutralize the BPA’s endocrine-disrupting effects, researchers say.
Just don’t go overboard. Consuming over 100mg of soy isoflavones (the equivalent of 6-ounces uncooked tempeh or 16 cups soy milk) daily was linked to reduced ovarian function, found a Journal of Nutrition review. But moderate soy consumption didn’t pose a problem.
As for soy solving hot flash problems? It might help, but not for everyone. Among women whose bodies produce the soy metabolite equol, those who ate the most soy experienced significantly fewer hot flashes and night sweats compared to those who ate the least, found one Menopause study. (Between 20% and 50% of North American and European women produce equol. Some research centers can test for it in a urine sample, but there’s an easier option: Try adding soy to your diet for four to six weeks and see what happens. If it helps, you produce equol. If it doesn’t, you probably don’t, the study authors say.)
Eating soy in place of meat will probably protect your heart.
Early research suggested that soy could help lower levels of bad cholesterol. But more recent findings have shown that might not be the case, and in 2008, the American Heart Association said that there wasn’t enough evidence to say for sure that soy lowered the risk of heart disease.
Still, it’s safe to assume that soy has some benefits going for it. In general, replacing animal foods with plant foods like soy lowers saturated fat intake and ups fiber intake, both of which are help your heart. In other words, swapping that steak out for tofu or tempeh is a heart-smart move. But having steak followed by a bowl of soy ice cream for dessert probably won’t be as helpful.
You should pay more attention to your soy intake if you have thyroid issues.
Soy foods don’t affect thyroid function in people with healthy thyroids, found a Loma Linda University review of 14 studies. But if you have an underactive thyroid, you might want to watch how much soy you eat. Soy foods have been shown to interfere with the body’s absorption of thyroid medication — but only if you overdo it, suggests a 2016 Nutrients review. The evidence is still far from conclusive, but experts still advise to wait at least four hours after consuming soy to take your thyroid medicine.
The Best (and Worst) Types of Soy to Eat
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All of soy’s potential benefits come with an important caveat: To reap them, you need to pick minimally processed forms of soy — think tempeh, tofu, miso, and edamame, all three experts say.
These foods serve up soy’s entire nutritional package without added sugar, unhealthy fats, sodium, or preservatives that you usually find in highly processed foods.
Soy frankenfoods like meat analogs, soy bars, soy yogurts, or protein powders usually only contain soy protein isolates, rather than nutrition from the whole soybean. “Just as other processed foods are lower in nutrient density, removing the protein from the other enzymes and bacteria needed for digestion affects the nutritional quality,” says Dr. Taz Bhatia, MD, integrative health expert and author of What Doctors Eat.
As for how often you should eat soy? As with all foods, moderation is the way to go. Generally, three to five servings of minimally processed soy foods per week are perfectly fine, Bhatia says. If you’re unsure, or you have an underlying health condition (like hypothyroidism), bring it up with your doctor the next time you discuss your diet.
Safe Ways to Enjoy More Soy Marygrace Taylor Marygrace Taylor is a health and wellness writer for Prevention, Parade, Women’s Health, Redbook, and others.
What is soy ‘milk’?
Soy ‘milk’ is made from soaking and grinding soy beans, and it has been a traditional part of the Asian diet for thousands of years. The beans are typically soaked overnight, their skins are then removed before being blended with water and strained. The remaining liquid or ‘milk’ is then heated before being cooled and stored, after which it is ready to consume.
Soy ‘milk’ can be made at home or bought commercially. In the commercial production process, other ingredients may be added such as sweeteners or salt, depending on the brand or flavour.
Unsweetened soy milk is a good source of vegan protein with 2.4g per 100ml. It’s also both low in fat (1.6g per 100ml) and carbohydrates (0.5g per 100ml), and therefore low in sugars (0.2g per 100ml).
Commercial soy ‘milks’ are typically fortified with added nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, both of which play a vital role in bone health, and vitamins B2 (also known as riboflavin) and B12, which are needed by the body to release energy from food, as well as helping to keep the nervous system healthy.
Soy ‘milk’ also contains some vitamin K which we need for blood clotting, phosphorus, which is a mineral that also contributes to strong bones, and potassium, needed to help keep the heart healthy.
Depending on the brand you buy, and whether it’s sweetened or has other added flavours such as coconut, chocolate or vanilla, the nutritional profile will change slightly, usually increasing the carbohydrates and sugars.
While there is no nutritional profile available for homemade soy ‘milk’, it can be assumed that it will be similar to commercial unsweetened soy ‘milk’ but without the additional fortification.
Soy products continue to cause some debate as to whether they are good for you or not. We do know that soy contains certain phytochemicals that may help improve cholesterol levels, as well as some menopausal symptoms.
There have been some claims, however, that soy is not good for women because of the effect it can have on the hormone oestrogen and how it could potentially increase the risk of breast cancer, but at the moment there is not enough evidence to support this. In fact, a 2014 study found that the consumption of soy, and its active component called isoflavone, may lower the risk of breast cancer. However, the NHS does advise those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer to avoid soy products.
Some of this debate seems to be around the fact that in the Western world we do not tend to drink the traditional Asian variety of soy, which is more renowned for these health benefits, but at the moment any evidence is inconclusive.
Is soy ‘milk’ healthier than cow’s milk?
Looking at the calorie content, soy milk is lower in calories than cow’s milk with just 26 calories per 100ml, whereas whole milk contains 63 calories, semi-skimmed 46 calories and skimmed milk 32 calories per 100ml.
The calcium content is the same as cow’s milk with 120mg but 100ml, but soy ‘milk’ is higher in vitamin K than cow’s milk but lower in other nutrients such as vitamins B12, B2 and potassium.
Those with a dairy allergy or who may be lactose-intolerant may find soy ‘milk’ a good alternative.
Is soy ‘milk’ suitable for everyone?
Soy can be an allergen, so if you know or suspect you have a soy ‘milk’ allergy you should avoid consuming it, and contact your GP or healthcare practitioner for advice.
The NHS advises that for children, soy ‘milk’ can be a dairy alternative, but you must speak to your GP first to ensure that they’ll continue to get enough nutrients, such as calcium, in their diet.
The NHS also suggests that those with a thyroid condition known as hypothyroidism are also advised to limit their soy intake, as well as women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
How to buy the best soy ‘milk’
Organic, unsweetened brands are always going to best, but if you can’t buy organic, make sure the brand you buy is unsweetened, and always read the label to just check nothing else has been added, such as rice ‘milk’ or any flavourings.
Which milk is right for you?
The health benefits of soya
How to make dairy-free milk
Spotlight on… dairy-free
This page was published on 21 June 2019.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.
Soy has played an integral part of the traditional Asian diet for thousands of years. And while it has carried over into some vegan and vegetarian diets, today, more and more people are afraid to eat any soy-based foods, as they’ve been accused of causing a plethora of problems including fatigue, digestive ills, weight gain, hormonal imbalances, and even cancer.
But when you dig through the science on soy, it becomes clear that it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) public enemy number one and need not be avoided like cyanide. Instead, there are reasons why you want to welcome soy foods like tempeh and miso into your kitchen more often.
Soy in Our Diets
Be it tofu or textured vegetable protein, these foods hail from the soybean, which originated in East Asia before being introduced to Western nations including the U.S. Soy plays a big part of the traditional diets of many Asian societies, where it’s consumed in forms such as tofu, tempeh, soy sauce, miso, and funky natto. But you might be surprised to hear that American soil is now responsible for about one third of global soy production—a big chunk of which is used for livestock feed. As a major commodity crop, today you’ll find soy is in all kinds of foods that go well beyond tofu and soy milk. You’ll spot guises of soy including soy lecithin and soy protein isolate in energy bars, cereals, vegetable oils, faux cheese, ice cream, yogurt, hot dogs, and a myriad of other imitation animal products. The ubiquitousness of soy makes it hard to avoid eating it in one form or another.
The Benefits of Soy
When you dig into the nutrition numbers of lesser processed forms of soy foods, it’s pretty darn impressive. “From protein to fiber to vitamins, soy has a little bit of everything to help meet the nutritional needs of runners, says Lauren Antonucci, a board-certified sports dietitian based in New York. “In all the hoopla surrounding soy, it’s important to remember that it’s a legume, which is one of nature’s healthiest types of foods.”
Soy is one of greatest food sources of phytoestrogens (a.k.a. isoflavones) including genistein and diadzein, and it’s these compounds that make eating it good or bad for health depending on who you ask. But what is not up for debate is the antioxidant prowess of these compounds. One study showed that runners who consumed soy-derived isoflavones experienced an increase in their antioxidant defenses against the rigors of exercise. “The more you exercise, the greater the chance for a higher amount of oxidative damage to occur in your body, making antioxidants like isoflavones potentially useful to help combat the damage,” explains Antonucci. She adds that it’s always ideal to get your antioxidants from whole foods like soy as opposed to that from a pill.
Plus, a new report in the Journal of Nutrition found that women with higher intakes of soy foods as a whole and also soy isoflavones appear to be at a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But for unknown reasons, this benefit was not found in male subjects. What’s more, there is some evidence to show that greater intakes of isoflavones from soy can help keep our bones strong and healthy, mainly by reducing bone resorption. But this impact seems to be greatest in menopausal women. It’s worth noting that the average daily intake of soy-derived phytoestrogens is considerably higher in Japan and China than on this side of the Pacific.
For vegetarians, soybeans are one of the few plant-based proteins that are considered complete, which means they have all the essential amino acids needed for bodily processes such as making muscle, explains Antonucci. “Runners have higher protein needs than the general public, so they will benefit from consuming more food sources of complete protein,” she adds. While it’s best to focus on eating less processed forms of soy, research shows that adding a scoop of soy protein powder to your post-run smoothie is a viable vegetarian option for bolstering muscle repair and growth. And doing so does not appear to
nosedive testosterone levels.
And it’s worth noting that research is piling up to show that people who eat more plant-based protein like tofu at the expense of animal-based protein may live longer. Case in point: An investigation in the European Journal of Nutrition found that after three months, people who replaced 30 grams of animal protein daily with the same amount of protein from whole soy foods experienced a drop in body weight and blood triglyceride numbers, both of which can be protective against cardiovascular disease. Further, a Dutch study found that women who swapped out some of the animal protein in their diets with soy protein saw their cholesterol and insulin sensitivity improve. “When you eat more plant proteins you also get some nutritional benefits like an increased intake of fiber and certain micronutrients not found in animal protein,” notes Antonucci.
Noshing on soy can also directly do the heart some good. A meta-analysis of 17 previous studies conducted by researchers in China concluded that eating more soy foods is associated with a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and coronary heart disease (although, the impact of soy on heart health was stronger among individuals in Asian countries than those residing in Western countries). This discrepancy could be owed to the simple fact that, overall, people in countries like China typically have a much higher soy intake than those living in North America and Europe. Another report found that individuals who ate soy foods three or more times a week had a lower risk for all-cause mortality, including that from heart disease, than those who consumed less. There is also some evidence that a higher intake of soy isoflavones via soy protein can modestly reduce blood pressure numbers, particularly in people who already have hypertension.
While yes, soybeans contain a stew of beneficial compounds such as amino acids, fiber, isoflavones and lecithins that may work synergistically to improve metrics like cholesterol numbers associated with heart health, keep in mind that highly-processed forms of soy aren’t likely to have the same impact. For example, soy protein isolate—a protein that has been isolated from soybeans using chemical engineering and added to everything from veggie burgers to boxed cereal—won’t improve your heart health in the same way fresh edamame would.
To that point, a research review in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology found no evidence that the consumption of isolated soy isoflavones impacts blood levels of lipoprotein, a substance that appears to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Citing “inconsistent findings” since the claim was authorized in 1999, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed to revoke food companies’ ability to use a label claim stating that there is a relationship between soy protein intake (a dose of 25 grams a day) and reduced risk of coronary heart disease—mainly via a reduction in cholesterol numbers.
Now, this does not suggest that soy protein can’t play a role in a heart-healthy diet, as research shows it indeed can, but just that on its own, it might not be as powerful as was once thought. “The overall nutritional profile of soy is still heart-healthy, which is why I will continue to recommend it as part of a diet designed to improve heart functioning,” states Antonucci. “Even though a bag of apples can’t make a heart health claim, nobody should question that they aren’t good for your heart.”
Additionally, whole forms of soy such as tempeh deliver oligosaccharides, a special type of carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic to nurture the beneficial bacteria in your gut which may bring about positive improvements in immunity and digestive health. But these can come with gassy side-effects to the uninitiated, so if you’ve never typically eaten too much soy, it’s best to ease into this food group.
The Misunderstood Aspects of Soy
The phytoestrogens in soy have a structural similarity to estradiol, the main estrogen in both men and premenopausal women, so it’s not uncommon to come across advice that men should steer clear of soy foods or risk feminization.
The theory goes that soy’s phytoestrogens can inhibit the activity of enzymes involved in testosterone production, and thereby lower its levels while simultaneously increasing estrogen levels. But men should fret not; serving up a tofu stir-fry won’t deflate your muscles. Research has shown that men who consume soy in a variety of forms—foods, protein powders, isoflavone supplements—do not have a clinically significant impact on testosterone levels. Soy also doesn’t appear to negatively impact the testosterone-to-estrogen ratio in men or reduce fertility via lower sperm counts or erectile dysfunction. And contrary the preaching’s of some anti-soy bloggers, including soy foods in your diet appears to help—not hurt—in the battle against prostate cancer.
This isn’t to say that excessively high intakes of soy isoflavones won’t negatively impact hormone levels in males, but unless you eat tofu with a shovel and drink a tanker of soy milk, the amounts of soy consumed in a typical diet, say a serving or two a day, appear to be of little concern. As they say, it’s the dose that makes the poison.
Since phytoestrogens are chemically similar to estrogen and therefore can attach themselves to estrogen receptors and activate them, there is a perception that eating soy may play a role in hormone-influenced conditions in women such as breast cancer because estrogen may encourage the growth of certain breast cancer tumors. Yet, research suggests that consuming soy and its phytoestrogens won’t throw your hormones out of whack, only has a modest impact on estrogen and other hormone levels in women, and doesn’t have a worrisome impact on breast cancer risk.
It’s likely that soy phytoestrogens can’t activate estrogen receptors to the same degree as does real estrogen. In fact, eating soy food appears to lessen the risk for developing breast cancer, but only in Asian populations and not among women living in Western nations, which hints at the idea that for a benefit to occur, soy also needs to be consumed regularly during childhood. “Human studies linking soy intake and breast cancer occurrence just haven’t panned out, but this association continues to be blown out of proportion,” Antonucci says. Still, women deemed to have a higher risk of developing breast cancer like having a strong family history of the disease are best to eat whole soy foods and not use high amounts of pure isoflavone supplements.
Based on some animal and test tube studies, there have been rumors that making soy foods a dietary staple can negatively impact thyroid health by encouraging hypothyroidism. But the available research on humans does not seem to support that eating soy adversely affects thyroid functioning in people with healthy thyroids. For instance, a randomized controlled study, which followed 403 menopausal women for two years, reported that daily supplementation with 80 and 120 mg of soy isoflavones had no significant effect on thyroid hormone functioning. But with that said, there is a need for studies that are designed solely for investigating the effects of high amounts of soy food consumption on thyroid functioning among various demographics. “If you have a thyroid condition such as hypothyroidism or taking thyroid medication, it’s best to discuss your soy consumption with a physician or dietitian to determine if you need to moderate your intake,” advises Antonucci.
Soybeans also contain “anti-nutrients” such as phytates and tannins which are compounds that can impair the digestion and absorption of protein, vitamins, and minerals. But before you freak out and toss your veggie burger in the trash, you need to know that processing methods such as soaking and boiling soybeans, commonly used when making items like soy milk, greatly reduces levels of these anti-nutrients. Fermenting soy such as during the production of tempeh and miso also further removes some of these troubling compounds.
The Dangers of Soy
Not all soy is created equal. Antonucci cautions against eating too many highly processed forms of soy including soy protein bars and soy-infused veggie burgers with a laundry list of ingredients. “Sugar-sweetened soy yogurt is not a health food,” she says. A diet that includes high amounts of products made with processed forms of soy is likely an unbalanced diet that won’t help runners get all the nutrients they need.
And remember that soy sauce won’t give you much, if any, of the nutritional benefits of soy, but will almost certainly eat into your daily sodium allotment. People often report feeling better after cutting out soy from their diet because in doing so, they are eating fewer ultra-processed foods and not because they have taken a pass on edamame when going out for a sushi night.
Because it’s so cheap, soybean oil, made by extracting the fat from soybeans, is the grease of choice, either on its own or as part of a vegetable oil blend in restaurant kitchens and packaged processed foods. Soybean oil is especially high in omega-6 fat, which can be concerning. It’s not that omega-6 fat is unhealthy—in fact one type called linoleic acid is essential, which means you have to get some in your diet—it’s just that most Americans consume much higher levels of omega-6 fats in comparison to omega-3 fats. “This problem arises when people eat too much greasy fast-food and processed foods and not enough omega-3 rich foods like fatty fish and walnuts,” says Antonucci. A ratio skewed heavily towards omega-6 fats may promote unwanted weight gain and drive up inflammation in the body, which can place you at a greater risk of ailments like heart disease and may even reduce recovery from hard runs. So it’s okay to include some soybean oil in your diet (it has a fairly high smoke point making it a good option for searing steak), but only as long as you balance things out by also eating plenty of omega-3 heavyweights.
In terms of concern about eating soy foods because they might be made from genetically modified soybeans, look for certified organic products, as they must be made from non-GMO beans.
The Bottom Line:
Yes, you can go ahead and eat soy daily and feel good about it. Just be sure that you’re consuming an appropriate amount—about three servings—of lesser processed soy foods. Some forms of soy like these below are more nutritious than others, so here’s a quick rundown.
These are dried and toasted soybeans and have even more protein and fiber than typical nuts like almonds. They’re also a leading source of isoflavones. Snack on them by the handful or toss onto salads for some satisfying crunch.
Made from soybeans that are soaked, cooked, slightly fermented and then formed into a firm patty, meaty tempeh is like tofu on nutritional steroids. Try it grilled like steak or crumble and use in pasta sauce, chili, tacos or stuffed potatoes.
Packing an umami-punch, pasty miso is made by combining cooked soybeans with salt, koji (a starter enzyme that breaks down proteins), and rice or barley. It’s home to gut-friendly bugs. Whisk it into salad dressings, a glaze for fish, mashed potatoes, and dips.
Made from curdling soy milk, tofu is a versatile meat protein alternative. Brands that list calcium sulfate as an ingredient contain more of this bone-friendly mineral. Use firm versions in stir-fries and kebabs and blend silky soft tofu into smoothies, dips, and salad dressings.
These nutrient-dense green immature soybeans are high in plant protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Boil up a bunch of frozen shelled edamame for an ultra-healthy snack or add them to soups and salads.
Some of the nutrients are lost during processing, but most brands are fortified with vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Plus, it’s one of the very few plant-based “milks” to have protein numbers that approach what is found in the moo variety. To side-step added sugars, choose cartons labeled “unsweetened.”
Soybeans and soy ingredients continue to grow in popularity and are a common item in the refrigerator and pantry of meat-eaters as well. In the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), soy made a few cameos. Being a milk alternative, fortified soymilk was listed with the dairy group and touted as a source of calcium. Soy also was listed among protein foods, along with nuts and seeds, and was recognized not only for providing protein, but also selenium, polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, magnesium and zinc. The DGAs recommend consuming 8 oz. equivalent per week of soy products for a 2,000-calorie diet and fortified soy beverages and soy products as part of a healthy eating pattern. To meet those recommendations, let’s explore five soy-rich food and beverage sources.
Edamame isn’t just packed with protein. It also contains a substantial amount of fiber. In only ¼ cup of edamame, there are 8 g of fiber, which is one-fifth of the daily recommendation of fiber for men and almost one-third of the daily recommendation of fiber for women. Edamame also contains iron and the phytoestrogen isoflavone, which may serve as a protective factor against breast and prostate cancers, as well as osteoporosis.
Soy Milk & Yogurt
In one 8 oz. glass of soy milk, you’ll find important vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin B-6, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. There are also 8 g of protein and only 0.5 g of saturated fat. Soy yogurt is another product with great nutritional benefits. With its low fat and high protein and calcium content in a 6 oz. container, soy yogurt can be a great option for breakfast or snacks.
Tempeh originated from Indonesia and has made its way to the U.S. It can be described as a fermented soybean cake, and you can use a variety of spices and herbs to obtain the flavor you are looking for. A 3 oz. serving of tempeh contains almost 16 g of protein and less than 2 g of saturated fat. Tempeh also contains iron and calcium. Feel free to use this plant-based protein as the main protein source in any meal.
Soy nuts are a versatile food that can be eaten as a snack or added to foods such as salads or chicken. A low-calorie snack or addition to your favorite meal, soy nuts contain only 194 calories for ¼ cup and are packed with 17 g of protein and almost 4 g of fiber. Being a well-rounded choice, they also contain calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Soy Protein Bars
Protein bars containing soy are plentiful these days and are typically low in calories. Many of them also contain a good amount of fiber. It’s a win-win.
Soy food and beverages are protein-rich options with a number of health benefits. The next time you are looking for a snack or a meal, don’t just think of soy as a meat alternative, but also as a flavorful, healthful choice.
An introduction to soya
Like other beans, the soya bean (Glycine max) grows in pods enclosing edible seeds. They are usually green but can be yellow, brown or black. The texture is so adaptable that soya beans are frequently processed into a variety of foods. Soya beans – also known as edamame beans when eaten fresh from the pod – are consumed as an alternative to meat. They are the basis of soya milk, tofu, miso, tempeh and soya protein.
The soya bean plant is native to China, where it has been cultivated for well over 13,000 years. It was an essential crop for the ancient Chinese who regarded it a necessity for life. Soya beans were introduced into other regions of Asia centuries later and it wasn’t until the early 20th century that it began to be used for more than animal feed in the West. The soya bean is now the most widely grown and utilised legume worldwide.
Since the 1970s there has been a marked increase in the consumption of traditional soya foods and the development of other soya foods which simulate traditional meat and dairy products such as soya milk, soya sausages, soya cheese and soya yogurts.
The key benefits of soya are its high protein content, vitamins, minerals and insoluble fibre. The soya bean has been transformed into a number of popular soya based foods including:
- Miso – a fermented soya bean paste that is used as a flavouring, popular in Asian cuisine. It is a good source of many minerals.
- Tempeh – is an Indonesian specialty typically made by cooking and dehulling soya beans and forming a textured, solid ‘cake’. It is a very good source of protein, B vitamins and minerals.
- Tofu – also known as bean curd is made from soya milk by coagulating the soya proteins with calcium or magnesium salts. The whey is discarded and the curds are processed. It is an excellent source of iron and calcium and a good source of protein.
|141kcal||7.3g fat||0.9g sat fat||14g protein||5.1g carbs||8.1g fibre|
*figures relate to dried soy beans, boiled in unsalted water, from McCance & Widdowson’s, ‘The Composition of Foods’, Seventh edition.
The high fibre content makes soya beans and other soya containing foods valuable in cases of constipation, high cholesterol and type -2 diabetes.
Soya contains phytoestrogens, chemicals found in plant foods. There are different types of phytoestrogens but the ones found in soya bean products are called isoflavones. Soya isoflavones (daidzein and genistein) have attracted a great deal of research and some studies suggest that certain women with a soya-rich diet may have a lower risk of breast cancer. However, it is not clear whether genetic makeup (which influences the way in which the body metabolises food) and environmental factors interact with the soya and therefore produce different effects in people.
Phytoestrogens have been found to help block the effects of excess oestrogen in the body, evening out any imbalance in the ratio between oestrogen and progesterone. They appear to work by locking into the oestrogen-receptor sites on cells and in doing so they block out the stronger natural oestrogens. They can therefore be helpful in improving symptoms of oestrogen dominance such as PMS and endometriosis.
Due to the phytoestrogen content of soya, many women decide to include it in their diet as they enter the menopause. During the menopause, the body’s natural production of oestrogen stops and symptoms may ensue. As phytoestrogens act as a weak oestrogen, they may help relieve symptoms by boosting levels slightly.
Soya is regarded as equal to animal foods in protein quality yet it is thought that plant proteins are processed differently to animal proteins. For example, experimental studies have shown that soya protein isolates tend to lower cholesterol levels, in those people with typically high levels, while protein from animal sources may raise cholesterol levels.
Soya beans also contain compounds called phytosterols. These plant compounds are structurally similar to cholesterol and steroid hormones. They function to inhibit the absorption of cholesterol by blocking absorption sites. The cholesterol lowering effects of phytosterols are well documented.
Genetics and environmental factors play a huge part in how our bodies react to certain foods, so as yet we can’t say whether a diet rich in phytoestrogenic foods is beneficial or not. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, soya-based foods can be an invaluable part of your diet.
How to select & store
Packets of dried soya beans are generally available in supermarkets and health food stores. Keep airtight and in a cool, dry place. Dried soya beans are best soaked before cooking in order to make them easier to digest. If purchasing canned beans, look for those that do not contain extra salt or additives. Once cooked, soya beans can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Edamame are fresh soya beans. They should be a deep green colour with firm, unbruised pods. Edamame can be found in health food shops and Asian supermarkets. They may be in the frozen section, although some shops now offer pre-cooked edamame. Many sushi restaurants serve edamame beans.
Soybeans are a common allergen. Raw or sprouted soya beans contain substances called goitrogens, which can interfere with thyroid gland activity. Soya also contains oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate containing kidney stones should avoid overconsumption.
Before changing your diet, it is advisable that you speak to your GP or alternative health professional.
Tofu is a vegetarian alternative to meat that is an excellent substitute in some of your favourite recipes:
Soba noodle & edamame salad with grilled tofu
Tofu, greens & cashew stir-fry
Spicy tofu kedgeree
Tofu & spinach cannelloni
Soya beans make a tasty, nutritious accompaniment to fish:
Lemon cod with basil bean mash
Soy tuna with wasabi mash
Zingy salmon & brown rice salad
Salmon & soya bean salad
Edamame is simple to prepare and makes a great snack or appetizer. A favourite with kids too:
Edamame & chilli dip with crudités
Lemony three bean & feta salad
Not just for vegetarians, soya beans go well with chicken too!
Chicken, edamame & ginger pilaf
Don’t forget about miso!
Miso brown rice & chicken salad
This page was last reviewed on 24th September 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at www.nutrijo.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.
EATING SOY CAN KILL YOU! Scan the media reports and surf the Internet, and you’re bound to come across scary claims that would lead you to believe this is true. You may have heard:
- Soy will give you breast cancer.
- Soy formula is dangerous to babies.
- Genetically modified soy foods may modify you.
- Soy foods block your thyroid function.
- Soy prevents the absorption of minerals and interferes with digestion.
- Tofu causes Alzheimer’s disease.
As some of you may be aware, I often recommend soy as part of a whole foods diet. Many people question why I include these foods in light of such startling media coverage on the dangers of soy. The reason is relatively simple.
I have reviewed reams of research and many claims for and against soy foods. From the studies available, I can tell you that soy is neither as good as the proponents say, nor as evil as the critics claim. I wish we had more convincing science to report, but we don’t. The key is to take all the available evidence together and see what shakes out.
In today’s blog I have done that for you. I will review some of the recent data for and against soy, and provide you with a few guidelines and things to remember when choosing soy foods.
What the Data Says about Soy
If you want an excellent, unbiased, scientifically sound review of all the relevant human data on soy, I recommend reading the 100-page report from the Agency for HealthCare Research and Quality entitled, The Effects of Soy on Health Outcomes, which reviewed thousands of studies based on rigorous criteria for scientific validity. Its conclusion was this: There is no evidence of significant benefit or harm based on the quality of evidence that exists today.
The dangers of soy are overstated. The benefits may be too.
So what’s a confused consumer to do? Give up on soy until we know for sure? Or chow down on soy nuts? Don’t panic. There are some things we do know about soy, both good and bad.
First, you should be aware that the amount of soy used in many of these studies was much higher than what we normally consume — the average dose of soy was equivalent to one pound of tofu or three soy protein shakes a day. That’s a lot of soy! Most people just don’t eat like that. So when you read negative things about soy, remember that many of those claims are based on poorly designed studies that don’t apply to real-world consumption.
You could apply that thinking to other studies, too — like those that show that broccoli contains natural pesticides or that celery is high in toxins. Sure, those foods might cause you some problems — but not in the amounts that most of us eat. The same is true for soy.
Second, it’s important to recognize that many of the common claims about soy simply don’t pan out when you look at the evidence carefully. Let’s review four of these claims and the science behind them so you can have a better understanding of the real relationships between soy consumption and potential health threats.
#1 “Soy Causes Breast Cancer”
Because soy foods contain natural plant compounds (called isoflavones) that appear to work like hormones, some people worry that they could increase hormonally driven conditions like breast cancer. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, research findings (i) suggest just the opposite:
- All population studies (studies of groups of people) of soy either show reduced breast cancer risk or no effect.
- The only studies to show increased cancer risk are on mice with no ovaries or damaged immune systems who eat high amounts of processed soy.
- Studies in mice WITH ovaries and functioning immune systems show inhibition of tumor growth.
- Mice studies may not reflect the effect of soy on humans (in case you didn’t notice, mice and humans are not the same species).
- High breast tissue density is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. Breast tissue density increases with estrogen replacement, but decreases with isoflavone consumption in postmenopausal women. That’s a good thing.
- Eating soy foods at an early age (childhood and the teen years) appears to have a significant protective effect against breast cancer.
If you really want to reduce your risk of breast cancer, drink less alcohol and eat less trans and saturated fats — all of these compounds may raise risk in high amounts. If it’s a choice between chicken nuggets and tofu, I recommend tofu!
#2 “Soy Formula Could Harm a Baby’s Development”
Some 20 million infants have used soy formula since the 1960s — but some people are concerned that the isoflavones it contains could affect a child’s growth and reproductive development. Yet the only large, long-term study on humans, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, (ii) found that there were no major health differences in 811 men and women between the ages of 20 and 34 who had been fed either soy or milk formula as infants.
More recently, a report issued by the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction concluded that there just isn’t enough human or animal data to say for sure whether soy formula harms a baby’s developmental or reproductive health.
So what should a mother do? First, breastfeed if at all possible, for as long as possible — ideally until your child is one year old. If that’s not possible and you have to use soy- or dairy-based formula, don’t beat yourself up about it. If there are any risks, they are likely to be very small. Hopefully, continuing research will shed more light on this question.
#3 “Soy is a Thyroid Poison”
I think this claim makes a mountain out of a molehill. Yes, there’s no doubt that soy can affect your thyroid gland — the real question is, how much does it take? If you’ve read that soy is bad for your thyroid, you’re probably reading claims based on a few poorly-designed studies that have been blown out of proportion.
Instead, consider this: A review of the research found no significant effects of soy on the thyroid except in people who are iodine deficient — a condition that is rare in this country.
Another well-designed study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (iii) studied the effect of realistic amounts of soy protein on hormones, including thyroid hormone. It found that soy had no significant effects on these hormones.
Based on my assessment of this and other research, I am convinced that normal amounts of traditional soy foods pose no risk to thyroid function.
#4 “Fermented Soy is Better than Non-fermented Soy”
Now here’s a claim that DOES have some basis in fact. That’s because soybeans — along with other beans, nuts, and seeds — contain compounds called phytates, which bind to minerals inside your body and contain some potentially harmful compounds.
The Asian cultures that have traditionally consumed soy typically ferment it first. This process breaks soy down and makes it easier to digest. Plus, fermentation adds extra nutrients and probiotics (“good” bacteria) to soy. For these reasons, I prefer fermented soy foods, like miso, natto, tempeh, tofu and some brands of soy milk.
So, should you eat soy? My answer is YES — but with two very important guidelines:
- Say YES to whole, real soy. The Okinawans are the world’s longest-lived people, probably in part because of their diet. For more than five millennia, they’ve eaten whole, organic and fermented soy foods like miso, tempeh, tofu, soy milk, and edamame (young soybeans in the pod). One to two servings a day of any of these foods are fine.
- Say NO to processed soy. That includes soy protein isolate and concentrates, genetically engineered soy foods (typically made from Monsanto’s Roundup soybeans), soy supplements, and soy junk foods like soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy oil, and soy burgers. They don’t have the thousands of years of traditional use that whole soy foods do, are processed, and contain unhealthy fats and other compounds. I have real concerns about these types of soy.
In truth, good human studies on soy are limited, but those we do have suggest that soy may help lower cholesterol, prevent cancer, increase bone density, protect the kidneys of people with diabetes, and relieve menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.
When you are considering the media reports about soy, here are some things to remember:
- The dangers of soy are overstated (and the benefits may be, too).
- We eat far too much processed soy (and processed foods in general). Stay away from those in your diet including soy protein concentrates or isolates, hydrolyzed or textured vegetable protein, hydrogenated soy bean oil, non-organic sources of soy, and soy junk food like soy cheese and ice cream. Don’t eat them.
- Whole soy foods can be a source of good quality protein and plant compounds that help promote health.
- Eat only organic soy. Stay away from genetically modified versions.
- Replace soy oil with olive oil, fish oil, nuts, and seeds.
- Breastfeed your child. I prefer that no one feed dairy or soy formula to their babies, but if you have to, try not to worry about it.
- Don’t worry about soy’s effect on breast cancer if you eat it in the forms and amounts I recommend. It has even been shown to protect against breast cancer if you start eating it at a young age.
- The effects on the thyroid are not significant or relevant unless you are deficient in iodine (which you can easily get from eating fish, seaweed or sea vegetables, or iodized salt).
I’m eager to see more research on the effects of soy on our health. But as we wait for more studies, there’s no need to pass up this healthful and delicious food. It can be safely included as part of a whole foods diet — which is one of the most important keys to lifelong vibrant health.
Have you experienced any health problem because of eating soy?
Have you experienced any health benefits from consuming soy?
Do you agree or disagree with any of the arguments about this controversial subject that I’ve listed?
Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
(i) Messina, M. 2010. A brief historical overview of the past two decades of soy and isoflavone research. J Nutr. 140(7): 1350S–4S.
Tofu, tempeh, seitan, oh my!
In the modern world where there’s seemingly an argument revolving around nearly every health food, what’s a health-conscious eater to do?
My father recently went vegetarian, and he recently picked my brain for information about meat alternatives. He’s still in the “make me think it’s meat” stage of this new lifestyle, craving the texture and heartiness that meat once provided. Many new vegetarians are also concerned about having enough protein in their diets. I realized I was relying mostly on grain-and-legume combining for my protein, and perhaps ought to delve into investigating Dad’s query firsthand.
I was fortunate enough to learn a good deal at nutrition school about meat alternatives, so now, I present you with a simple guide to navigating the world of meat alternatives.
Tofu is made from soybeans and is rich in iron, calcium and protein. Think about when you make almond milk; you know the almond pulp that’s left over? Tofu is essentially made from the pulp of the soybeans after soy milk has been made. This “pulp,” if you will, is mixed with a coagulant (thickening agent). If you have soy sensitivities, tofu may not work for your body. Something else to consider is the presence of phytates, which may hinder the body’s ability to absorb all of the tofu’s nutrients. Fermentation releases these phytates and makes the food more bioavailable. Which leads us to …
Tempeh is a delicious addition to any diet, vegetarian or otherwise. Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh has a hearty texture and is a complete protein. It also contains more than double the protein content of tofu. Tempeh is one of the absolute best ways to consume soy. Due to its fermentation process, both its digestibility and absorbability is increased. As with tofu, be sure to purchase organic tempeh to avoid GMOs. Consuming tempeh is not only a great way to add healthy soy to your diet, but it also is a way to boost intake of fermented foods and ensure adequate protein intake. You can even make your own tempeh at home!
Seitan is textured wheat protein, and is what makes up a lot of the “fake meats” on the market. A note to the wise, though, is to be mindful with seitan. This food is usually processed, and it’s not for anyone who’s gluten intolerant, wheat sensitive or bent on consuming only whole foods.
Getting adequate protein as a vegetarian is easy. Mother Nature offered us loads of different protein sources both from plants and animals. Some high protein, nutrient-rich options include hemp seeds, mung beans, organic tempeh, organic pastured eggs, organic pastured cottage cheese (higher in amino acids than many meats!), nuts and seeds, quinoa and peanut butter.
Intuitive eating is necessary here; some people thrive as omnivores, while others thrive as herbivores. We must listen to our own bodies and ensure we are getting adequate macronutrients. Ideally, to paraphrase Michael Pollan, if your grandmother wouldn’t think of it as food, don’t eat it.
I think that’s a good lesson to leave off with today. Eat whole, plant-based foods, enjoy one mindful serving per day of your preferred organic, non-GMO meat alternative, and always fill at least half the plate with greens. Cheers to health!
How Tempeh Works
Tempeh may remind you of tofu, since they’re both soy-based products used in all kinds of cooking. But that’s where the similarities end. Tempeh has 160 calories per half-cup (113 grams) compared to just 97 for tofu and that might be its only negative. Simply put, tempeh is a healthier, more nutritious option than tofu. In that same half-cup serving, tempeh has a whopping 15.4 grams of protein compared to 10.1 for tofu, and 3.5 grams of fiber versus tofu’s 0.5.
Tempeh is also fermented, while tofu is not. Why is that an important consideration? Many people’s tummies aren’t happy when they eat a lot of beans and other, um, gas-inducing foods, such as tofu. But the fermentation process creates enzymes that pre-digest carbohydrates, protein and fat. This makes a fermented food like tempeh very easy to digest. Tempeh is also less processed than tofu. And the less processed a food, the better .
So what about meat versus tempeh? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA’s) 2010 dietary guidelines say the average 2,000-calorie-per-day diet should include 5.5-ounce (155-gram) equivalents of protein. Lean meats, poultry, seafood and eggs, as well as tempeh, all meet this requirement. Since the USDA also recommends we eat a variety of protein foods, you may want to alternate some tempeh with your meat and fish.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, adding tempeh to your diet is especially wise. On the micronutrient level, tempeh scores far better than meat in its manganese content. Manganese is critical for your bones, brain function and ability to heal after an injury. Four ounces (113 grams) of tempeh have 1.47 milligrams of manganese compared to a wispy 0.02 milligrams in a 4-ounce chicken breast or a 3-ounce strip steak. Meat does have a healthy dose of vitamin B-12, though, which is lacking in tempeh .
What all this means is that if you love meat, go ahead and eat it (the lean varieties, and in moderation). But try trading it out for tempeh now and then. If you normally eat tofu, tempeh could be an excellent substitute, too.
I can’t believe it’s been a year that I’ve been living a restricted, dairy and soy free diet. When Piper was a tiny baby she had so many G.I. issues that were eventually resolved as reflux and an intolerance to dairy and possibly soy. This wasn’t just her frequent & abundant spit ups (that came with each and every feed and resulted in loads of laundry every day) but blood in her stools and then in her spit up as well. As a brand new mom it’s pretty scary to see in real life the scenarios unfold that all of your pamphlets and baby books tell you require immediate medical attention. After too many trips to the doctor to count and so much anxiety it was a relief once I eliminated dairy and soy and we saw some improvement. Piper was eventually put on medication for her reflux which I resisted for far too long – as soon as we started it her spit ups diminished as did the blood.
I get so many questions all the time about how I went dairy and soy-free for so long. A lot of people also don’t understand that to go completely dairy & soy-free means you can’t have any soy protein, soy lechicin or any form of whey. Most of these are listed in the ingredients for any pre-made or processed item at the grocery store. We were shocked to discover soy in literally every item on our normal grocery list – it’s also kind of scary. A lot of people think ‘oh just don’t drink milk or eat soy sauce‘ — ha it’s so much more! Most food at restaurants is fried in soybean oil. Forget eating out – I pretty much gave it up since it wasn’t worth it to me to order the most bland, boring items on the menu. I’d rather just cook at home. Piper’s intolerance was so strong that if I had any bit of dairy or soy in a dish I didn’t prepare or when eating out we’d know it the very next day and she’d have blood in her stools, so I had to be so very careful with everything I ate.
Starting this diet was a huge and challenging change for me – I love food (especially cheese) and cooking with a newborn presents its own set of new challenges as it is, let alone searching for new meals to make that fit within the dairy and soy-free parameters. I would day dream about being able to order a pizza or just get carry out in my state of exhaustion. It seems like such a small thing to get so disrupted by – and I’m so grateful that Piper was and is OK and that this was the least of our worries but it was still really hard on me, none the less. Today I’m hoping to share resources and meal ideas for other new moms who may be going through this same issue.
Food allergies and intolerances are all too common these days — why? I can’t seem to get a straight answer. Is it the GMO’s I’ve been consuming for years and while I was pregnant? Are our doctors more observant and pro-active in treating and discovering food allergies (many claim that in previous years these intolerances just went unnoticed) today? Is it a medical trend? When did dropping off diapers at your pediatrician’s office to be tested become the norm? It definietly has me thinking a lot more about what we eat and especially what we cook for Piper. One of my good friends experienced similar issues with her daughter and was on this diet with me for a few months which was such a great support to have.
I’m happy to say that I’ve begun to eat dairy and soy (when Piper was 12 months) and Piper’s responded well — and eating both dairy and soy on her own now. She does have an allergy to fish.
So onto my tips and resources for dairy & soy-free eating! I thought I’d break this up into a few categories. If you have any further questions please feel free to send me an email [email protected] and I’d be happy to help however I can!
Grocery shopping tips: I generally found that shopping at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for most of my groceries was the best option – yes you’ll spend more but they have so many more options for you. You can probably find some of these items at your regular grocery store but for things like bread and crackers I just gave up and only got them at Trader Joe’s because I knew I could count on them without having to spend 10 minutes reading labels.
Be careful because a lot of products with the vegan label contain soy — though its a good place to start when narrowing down your options!
Items relied on at Trader Joe’s: They have sliced bread large loaves labeled “Tuscan Pane” in whole wheat and regular white flour that are OK to have (I could not find bread at the regular grocery store that didn’t contain soy). I also got their stoned wheat crackers and their version of wheat thins. I also discovered in my last month on the diet their mini sandwich crackers with peanut butter were OK and a nice “treat”. What I survived off of working so many weddings and just in general as a snack are their peanut butter filled pretzels. I can’t tell you how many bags of them I went through the past year. They are filling and tasty. Both their regular hummus & organic hummus are dairy & soy-free (FYI -Sabra brand is NOT). Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk & cans of coconut milk were a standby in the pantry. I also loaded up on bags of avocados, hard boiled eggs and boxes of frozen quinoa and brown rice.
Daiya makes some great dairy & soy-free options — I didn’t love their cheese alternative but did always have a frozen pizza on stock (especially good when you top it with your own veggies) and indulged in their boxed ‘mac & cheese’ several times!
So Delicious makes a ton of different dairy & soy-free ice creams which we ate far too much of in the past year!
Just Mayo doesn’t contain soy and I used it as a base for many salad dressing recipes.
Go-to dairy & soy-free breakfasts:
Green Smoothies – Spinach, kale, almond milk, banana and frozen mango is my routine morning smoothie.
Toast or rice cakes with almond butter.
Avocado toast with sliced hard boiled egg.
Puffins brand cereal with almond milk.
Go-to dairy & soy free snacks:
Peanut butter filled pretzels
Veggies and hummus
Apple slices with almond butter
Guilty pleasure: potato chips
Go-to dairy & soy free lunch and dinners:
Ground turkey empenadas (Pillsbury pre-made crusts are dairy & soy-free)
Coconut shrimp noodles (we continue to make this dish we loved it so much)
Homemade burgers & fries (Whole Foods has soy-free hamburger buns and I often splurged on frozen fries)
Salads with grilled chicken, avocado, eggs. Brianna’s brand salad dressing is SOY free and I also made a lot of my own salad dressings.
I made cashew cream every few week to use in replace of cheese in creamy pasta recipes and with pesto!
Homemade pesto pasta with peas and chicken. I’d just use basil, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, cashew cream in the pesto and couldn’t tell a huge difference!
One Pan Spanish Chicken & Potatoes
I frequently made my own pizza dough and did a riff off of my favorite potato & leek pizza ( recipe HERE )– substituting all of the various cheeses for the “cashew ricotta” and drizzled extra olive oil on top so it didn’t dry out. It was SO good!
Fish tacos (use Just Mayo, lime juice, cilantro + cabbage to make a really good slaw!)
Comfort food: I think the hardest part about eating on this diet is the restriction of cozy, comforting food.
At home hamburger helper – this meal was SO tasty and comforting I made it all winter long, simply swapped the dairy for full fat coconut milk and you can’t even tell!
Chicken Pot Pie
In general I would swap out butter in recipes for Soy-Free Earth Balance and milk/cream for coconut milk or almond milk – just keep in mind if the recipe requires a “fatty” milk, that you should use a full fat coconut milk. It’s a trial and error process for sure but I found I was able to make plenty of muffins, breads, donuts by playing around with these swaps.
Enjoy Life has dairy & soy-free chocolate chips and pre-made cookies that are actually really thin, crispy and GOOD! I would buy these at Whole Foods or Amazon.
Pillsbury crusts are also dairy & soy-free and I found some puff pastry that I could eat.
Great dairy-free chocolate chips cookie recipe and I shared my recipe for dairy-free sugar cookies here.
Eating out tips:
Always ask what type of oil they use to fry in before you look at the menu so your options are more clear. Typically I’d never order fried food when I eat out but while on this diet it was frequently the only option — think fish & chips, salads with a side of french fries, burgers sans bun.
I love Thai food and was very excited to discover Pad Thai is made without soy-sauce. It became my go-to when I wanted to eat out.
Items I always have on hand in my dairy & soy-free kitchen:
Chicken broth (be sure to look at label carefully, some brands have soy)
Earth Balance Soy-Free butter spread & sticks
Olive Oil + Coconut Oil
Resources for finding dairy & soy-free recipes:
Generally many paleo options work so I found myself searching for them online though I needed to add carbs to keep myself full and my calories up while nursing.
Love & Lemons has a ton of great options!
Both of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbooks (It’s All Good & It’s All Easy) are wonderful and I have used them before and after this diet but they were really helpful when I was eating this way
Images by Abby Jiu
To prevent a reaction, it is very important that you avoid soy and soy products. Always read food labels and ask questions about ingredients before eating a food that you have not prepared yourself.
Soybeans alone are not a common food in American diets. Instead, they are widely used in processed food products. Eliminating all those foods can result in an unbalanced diet. A dietitian can help you plan for proper nutrition.
Soy is one of the eight major allergens that must be listed on packaged foods sold in the U.S., as required by federal law.
Avoid foods that contain soy or any of these ingredients:
- Cold-pressed, expelled or extruded soy oil*
- Soy (soy albumin, soy cheese, soy fiber, soy flour, soy grits, soy ice cream, soy milk, soy nuts, soy sprouts, soy yogurt)
- Soybean (curd, granules)
- Soy protein (concentrate, hydrolyzed, isolate)
- Soy sauce
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
*Highly refined soy oil is not required to be labeled as an allergen. Studies show that most people with soy allergy can safely eat highly refined soy oil as well as soy lecithin. If you are allergic to soy, ask your doctor whether you need to avoid soy oil or soy lecithin.
But avoid cold-pressed, expelled or extruded soy oil—sometimes called gourmet oils. These ingredients are different and are not safe to eat if you have a soy allergy.
Soy is sometimes found in the following:
- Asian cuisine (including Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese)—even if you order a soy-free item, there is high risk of cross-contact
- Vegetable gum
- Vegetable starch
- Vegetable broth
Some unexpected sources of soybeans and soy products
- Baked goods
- Canned broths and soups
- Canned tuna and meat
- High-protein energy bars and snacks
- Infant formulas
- Low-fat peanut butter
- Pet food
- Processed meats
- Soaps and moisturizers
Allergens are not always present in these foods and products, but soy can appear in surprising places. Again, read food labels and ask questions if you’re ever unsure about an item’s ingredients.