Written by FH Contributor, Claudia Carillo

Soy is a nutrient-dense legume and edible bean, commonly used to make soy milk and tofu. Soy’s health benefits are a hot topic in nutrition research, as throughout the years, findings have been very controversial. However, we’re going to break down the newest findings right to you!

  • Protein and energy: Soy is one of only a few plant-based proteins that provide all nine essential amino acids that our bodies need, making it an excellent option for vegans. One serving of soybeans contains 18 grams of protein and 172 calories! Around 40% of the energy one serving of soybeans provides comes from protein. 
  • Nutrient profile: Soy is high in unsaturated fats, which are known to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cholesterol levels. It is also an excellent source of fiber, whose benefits include improving bowel movement (aka constipation relief) and lowering blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Fiber also helps with increasing satiety, so less quantity will help you feel more satisfied! 
  • Antioxidants: Soy is also a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Antioxidants protect against the damage of cells, aging and lower the risk of cardiovascular injury and disease. 
  • Phytoestrogen: Soy has isoflavones, a plant antioxidant that mimics the estrogen hormone in our bodies. Estrogen is the hormone responsible for maintaining reproductive health and female characteristics. Isoflavones are also protective against cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and loss of cognitive function.  

How to enjoy soy

Soy products come in a great variety of food sources, making it easy to include them in our everyday diet. There are two common types of soy products: fermented and unfermented. Fermented soy products are cultured with beneficial bacteria, also called probiotics, which are easily digested and have numerous benefits for our bodies. These include restoring or maintaining our normal gut bacterial community that helps us absorb nutrients from the food we consume and fight off disease. Some examples of fermented soy products include:

  • Miso: Seasoning that is used in foods of Japanese origin, made from fermenting soy with mold. It is commonly added to seafood since the mold used to make it originates from seaweed. It has a sweet and fruity taste!
  • Soy sauce: It is a liquid condiment of Chinese origin, made from a fermented paste of soy with roasted grains and bacteria. It’s commonly used to marinade meat or added in stews due to its strong umami flavor. 
  • Tempeh: Deep-fried fermented soybeans, a traditional Javanese food. It has a mushroomy flavor! Traditionally, it is served with chili paste. 

Unfermented soy products undergo more processing than fermented. They provide just a little under the amount of protein and nutrients than the fermented, but they are also a good and viable option to include soy in your diet. Some examples of unfermented soy products include:

  • Soy milk: Plant-based milk that is used as a dairy alternative and can replace dairy milk in any product or recipe! It has a sweet taste and creamy consistency that’s similar to dairy milk. If you want to add soy to your diet, this is one of the easiest ways to do it! 
  • Tofu: Bean curd commonly used in Asian and vegetarian cuisine that is made from mashed soybeans. Tofu is a low-fat meat alternative and complete source of protein, which is why it is a staple product in vegetarian and vegan diets!  
  • Edamame: Immature soybeans in the pod, common in East Asian cuisine. It can be served with salt and other condiments after being boiled or steamed. It is a great way to include more greens in your diet, and the fact that it is a complete protein is just another win for vegetarian cuisine or for people looking for meat alternatives! 

How to choose the best soy product in the market

Considering the benefits of all soy products, whatever you can get your hands on is beneficial! However, studies have shown that fermented food products offer more benefits than unfermented ones since they provide more protein and a greater variety of nutrients and isoflavones. The less processing, the better! Processed foods are also called pro-inflammatory foods because their contents activate inflammatory proteins in our bodies. An excess of pro-inflammatory proteins in our body can cause auto-immune diseases. However, the amount of processed foods that need to be consumed for this to happen is unknown. Therefore, more research is needed in the area. For now, try to keep the processed foods you eat to a minimum and focus on eating fermented products. 

Most of the fermented products are of Asian origin, so trying new Asian recipes is a great way to increase our soy consumption!  

Now, is soy beneficial in terms of Women’s health?

In a study published this year, soy was found to increase estrogen levels in menopausal and postmenopausal women. During menopause, women experience a decline in the estrogen hormone, so increasing the intake of soy during that time helped relieve common symptoms like hot flashes. The results of these studies are not universal, so more research is needed! 

In the past, excess consumption of soy in the diet was thought to increase the risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer is hormone-sensitive, and since soy has phytoestrogen that mimics estrogen effects in the body, it was thought that breast cancer risk increased. However, recent research has found that increasing soy intake in postmenopausal women can reduce the risk for breast cancer, but the health benefit may not be the same for premenopausal women. 

Nutrition research findings change throughout the years due to increased technology and data collected. It is essential to stay up to date with these and talk to a registered dietitian to find what works best for you and your health! 

Soy can be a part of a healthy and balanced eating routine, enjoy it with your favorite meals and snacks.