Soy for thought

by Khushboo on March 11, 2013

Hi!  How was your weekend?  I spent way too much time with Sheldon Cooper & Harvey Specter…not that either is a bad thing ;).  Before I accidentally post Big Bang Theory or Suits spoilers, I’m going to swiftly switch topics to something I’ve been meaning to discuss for a while: soy!  This post is long so you might want to grab a snack & get comfy.

As much as I love having a wealth of information at my fingertips, the internet also acts as a double-edged sword.  Initially touted as the epitome of “health”, soy products like tofu & tempeh are now claimed to provide more harm than good.  With all the gazillion contradictory studies surrounding its effects, determining whether to eat soy is confusing to say the least.

Tofu & Quinoa Bowl

Tofu & Quinoa Bowl

For starters, soy contain phytoestrogens called isoflavones, which mimic the female hormone estrogen.  The estrogenic properties of soy have been known to carry various health benefits including a reduction of raised blood pressure levels, protection from various prostate diseases and a potential decline in the incidence of breast cancer.  Also as a plant-based protein which is both complete and low in fat, it serves as a great alternative to various red meats and animal products.  In fact if you look at the ingredient list of most protein bars/products (or packaged food in general), chances are you’ll see soy or soy lecithin listed.  Due to its protein content, soy has also been said to provide protection against osteoporosis by increasing bone density.

On the other hand…

Some studies reveal that soy is terrible because it’s processed at very high temperatures that strip it of important enzymes our body needs to digest it.   The processing methods used for soybeans are allegedly toxic to humans because they are acid-washed in aluminum tanks, which leaches amounts of aluminum into the beans and those levels remain high through processing and right into soy products.  Moreover its phytoestrogens are also presented as both estrogen agonist & antagonists.  While the same chemical can stimulate cells in the body that are sensitive to estrogen, it can also block the effects of estrogen.   It can also stimulate hormonal imbalance due to estrogen dominance.  As a result, the consumption of soy has been linked to breast cancer, infertility, thyroid diseases and irregular menstrual cycles.

Salad topped with a Homemade Soy Burger

Salad topped with a Homemade Soy Burger

All this controversial information only makes my head spin.  While there is no definitive conclusion about soy, here’s my take:

Like with all health issues, it’s important to evaluate both sides of a debate and establish how it applies to individual circumstance.  Up until recently, my consumption of soy was primarily in the form of soy milk (oatmeal/coffee/straight up out of the packet), tofu, processed meats (e.g. vegetarian sausages/burgers) & TVP (i.e. textured vegetable protein/ soy mince).   Over the past few weeks, I have made a conscious effort to eat less of these products. I’m at point where I do not want to risk further hormonal imbalances, and cutting back on my soy consumption is a small price to pay.  Sure it might mean eating less protein on some days but I just have to pick my battles.  As of now, compromising on my protein intake is the lesser of 2 evils.

Salmon Avocado Makis with Edamame

Salmon Avocado Makis with Edamame

Along with my frequency of my consumption, I’m also a bit more cautious about the kinds of soy I eat- where possible I would rather stick with natural, unprocessed and fermented soy in their whole forms (e.g. miso, edamame, tempeh) over products that contain fractionated elements of soy.   However, it’s unrealistic for me to swear off soy completely.  I do enjoy tofu and will eat it occasionally, and I’m still adding soy milk to my coffee.  If you’ve ever tried adding almond milk to hot drinks, you’ll know that it doesn’t go down well. As for sushi without soy sauce, that’s just blasphemy!  Although soy is a hidden ingredient in many packaged foods, fortunately I don’t eat processed foods on a regular basis.

Of course my stance on soy may change in the future, and who knows what further data will be discovered years (or even months) down the line.   And because I would love to hear your thoughts:

What’s your take on the soy debate? 

Do you eat soy often?  If so, in what form?

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin March 11, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I agree with you! I think there’s still a lot that needs to be researched about soy, but based on the studies I’ve read and the opinions of the Dietitians of Canada, consumption of unprocessed soy like tofu and tempeh is not harmful. It’s the more processed products and isolated soy that gets added to foods that should probably be avoided, but again, more research is needed in that area. Personally I’m happy about this because I love tofu and tempeh! And I don’t really eat many processed foods or foods with soy protein added, so I don’t really worry about that.

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm

It looks like we share similar views on soy! Fortunately there are so many other foods available which serve as great alternatives and to be honest, I’m over all these “high-protein” products!

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Parita @ myinnershakti March 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I am not a dietician but I agree with you and Chelsea – unprocessed soy (in moderation) is probably fine. I do worry about the more processed kinds being added to common foods. I think this brings up a great point about foods in general, and what is good for you and what is “bad” for you. While I’m not an expert, I do read a lot of articles and studies about nutrition, and what I see, there are pros and cons for so many different foods. Organic vs. non-organic, soy products, peanuts, coconut oil, and the list goes on… The other day someone told me almond milk is bad…huh?!

I think people need to make educated decisions about how they fuel their bodies, and at the end of the day, recognize that what works for one person may not work for another. And I know this is cliche, but moderation is key. GREAT post, K!

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Ooh lord I can’t believe there’s now speculation around almond milk- it just goes to show that no matter what we do, we just can’t win! And cliche or not, you’re totally right about moderation being key!

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Sabrina @ Living, Learning, Eating March 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I used to try to eat soy, then try to not eat soy, now I just don’t try at all and enjoy soy as I want, but not excessively.
Soy yogurt and edamame are just too good to give up! And it’s in a lot of Kashi cereals (like my favorite, Go Lean Crunch) and protein bars and tofu/tempeh are so good and…
yeah, I’m a fan of soy 😛

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:01 pm

It’s all about finding what works for you and I’m glad that soy agrees well with you, Sabrina :)!

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Sam @ Better With Sprinkles March 11, 2013 at 6:08 pm

I think that if we avoided all the food that has been labeled as “controversial” or “could be bad for you”….we wouldn’t have a lot of options as to what to eat :-p

I agree that more research has to be done to determine whether or not it’s actually harmful. I’ll eat soy once in a while, but I generally don’t seek it out so I tend not to worry about it (although I have been thinking that it’s been a while since I picked up tofu…)

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:02 pm

You raised a really good point about not trying to follow everything we read. Ultimately we just gotta pick our battles and find a balance between those foods which make us feel at our best and those which we rather avoid.

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Alex @ therunwithin March 11, 2013 at 7:24 pm

I don’t a eat a ton of soy but I do have it once and a while. I think you are right though, looking at both sides of the debate should always be a factor.

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Glad you agree that looking at any debate from one perspective cannot be a good thing!

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Meghan @ After the Ivy League March 11, 2013 at 8:32 pm

I’ve never read too deeply into the soy debate, so this was actually very interesting. I personally don’t eat that much soy, because I do find that it bothers me if I have it too often. I think the amount that I eat it shouldn’t be harmful, but who knows! Also I’m obsessed with Suits and love that someone else watches it too!

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Oooh I’m a huge Suits fan- so bummed that I have completely caught up with all the episodes haha :)!

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dixya @ food, pleasure, and health March 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm

this is such a great post and very controversial topic. I do eat moderate amount of soy – tofu, tempeh and edemame mainly! And like you and other readers stated- I think based on research so far, moderate amount of soy isoflavone consumption does not pose any health threats. However, there is a concern in regards to cancer (breast, uterus etc) and also for hormone sensitive individuals. But again this study states otherwise- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19996398. Also, I have read that soy isoflavones are not the same as our own estrogen, so eating soy does not cause us to have more estrogen in our bodies. Although research is limited and inconclusive, we do not know how much soy is needed for us yet but I think its more important to focus more on reliable & good quality soy as close to whole form (tofu, edemame etc) as possible in moderation (as long as you are not soy allergic, other health concernts or sensitive). Also, lets not forget where we are getting our research/info from because internet is a great and not-so great source of information sometimes 🙂

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Thanks for linking the study, Dixya- will surely check it out! And you’re absolutely right about the internet- especially where health is concerned, I can’t stress the importance of looking at credible sources enough!

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Tara @ Sweat like a Pig March 11, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Great, great post! It’s funny how soy is promoted as a health food. I recently started working with a woman in person who also has PCOS – every single meal she was eating was dominated by soy! She had no idea that it caused a negative hormonal response. The only thing I changed about her diet initially was cutting out the soy and she couldn’t believe what a difference it made.

I never really ate much soy to begin with, so it wasn’t hard to cut it out. If anything, I eat more of it now haha. Only because when I get a take away coffee (which is rare – no more than once per week) I choose soy milk over dairy. I could never not have soy sauce on my sushi either!

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I have you to thank, Tara, for opening my eyes about the dangers of soy…up until we discussed it properly, I just brushed it off as BS ;)! I’m so glad that your client benefited from cutting out soy- only gives me hope :)!

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Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl March 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm

This debate drives me crazy. I never know what to think about it! As of right now, I try to follow the mantra of “everything in moderation!”

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm

“Everything in moderation, including moderation”–> no truer words were ever spoken 🙂

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Kym March 11, 2013 at 10:39 pm

I’ve been hearing a lot about this debate lately too and funny enough, I was also reading another blog post this morning about how the internet is a double edged sword. It can either help you or many things more complicated and confusing for you. Haha! You’re right in that you should know both sides of the story and then decide on your own. It’s kind of like meat for me – there are so many debates about meat, i’ve read and watched documentaries on it, at the end of the day, I decided that i still like meat but i’m a bit more picky now about what KIND of meat I eat. As for soy, I will always love tofu… but i just have it in moderation now. 🙂

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Like you I really enjoy meat but try to be cautious about the sources I opt for. Although I don’t limit myself to just organic meat, I will always opt for it if it’s available…no matter how much more expensive it might be!

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Katy March 11, 2013 at 10:57 pm

I love tofu too but I only eat it in moderation. I can’t give it up 100% though.

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Khushboo March 11, 2013 at 11:13 pm

I’m okay with not eating it at home but I do love the tofu at Japanese & Chinese restaurants- yum!

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Brittany March 11, 2013 at 11:46 pm

For me I treat soy like I treat chocolate..everything in moderation! I try to stay away from the fake meats, but I do eat them on occasion. If soy is inside something I’ll still eat it! I think with everything out there two sides are going to be talked about. I like soy, I LOVE tofu, and I think in moderation it’s all good!

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Khushboo March 12, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Now now- more chocolate can only be a good thing ;)!

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Katie @ peacebeme March 11, 2013 at 11:51 pm

I used to drink a glass of soy milk every day, but now I limit my soy consumption to once a week.

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Khushboo March 12, 2013 at 1:23 pm

What milk do you drink now?

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Honey What's Cooking March 12, 2013 at 2:54 am

My dad actually asked me if tofu was bad for you this weekend. So weird. ANd I told him I’ve heard that it isn’t great, but all things in moderation. I did encourage him and my mom to eat organic tofu though. Do you think organic tofu is an issue too? And would it go thru those aluminum tanks? That’s scary!
Everything leads to cancer these days, it’s my biggest fear. and more and more people are getting it and it’s always someone you know. Regardless I do enjoy tofu as well, just in moderation.

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Khushboo March 12, 2013 at 1:25 pm

From what I’ve heard, organic tofu is meant to be better but I guess we can never really tell. Especially given the number of cancer cases which are coming up, I am all the more inclined to be cautious about my consumption!

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Jess March 12, 2013 at 7:20 am

I know it is a tough one. I don’t know what to think. I try to follow your rules too basically. It is such a convenient vegetarian protein though!

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Khushboo March 12, 2013 at 1:25 pm

As much as I love chickpeas and quinoa, I miss the protein hit from soy!

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Anita Mohan March 12, 2013 at 8:58 pm

I have been waiting for someone to write about soy effects because although I enjoy it as a great source of protein, I have also been aware of its supposed detrimental effects. I’m with you and try to eat unprocessed and natural forms of soy when I do have it. My doctor told me years ago to try and limit it as I have hypothyroid symptoms and do take birth control (where estrogen interference come into play.) I’m not sure If I have noticed a big difference since cutting down on it, but I will never cut it out completely. I did notice that I didn’t get extremely cold hands and feet as much, but that could be more the effects of my thyroid medication. It’s great to be aware of these effects so that individuals can respond in a way that works for them like you said (individual circumstance). Tempeh, edamame, and tofu are still among my protein princesses haha.

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Khushboo March 13, 2013 at 10:47 am

You raised a good point about soy & birth control. I used to take birth control a while back for hormonal issues and wish I realised the danger of pumping so much artificial estrogen (i.e. from the pill & soy) in my body at the same time!

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Alexis @ Hummusapien March 12, 2013 at 11:51 pm

I agree with you about the harmful effects of the heavily processed soy in many of our foods today…soy protein isolate in protein bars, soy flour, soy oil, and TVP. I stick to organic tofu, tempeh, edamame and organic soymilk here and there in my coffee. I drink almond milk primarily so I don’t have too much soy in my diet and I try to stick to tofu/tempeh twice a week. That said, I ADORE tofu and tempeh and I think they’re a fabulous healthy addition to any diet. It’s when the reliance is on the heavily processed products that it becomes unhealthy. I actually just had a graduate class lecture on the benefits of soy regarding preventing breast cancer in young girls. Thanks for outlining this debate!

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Khushboo March 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

It’s scary to think that soy has became as prevalent in packaged foods as HFCS once was!!

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Allie March 13, 2013 at 12:48 am

I love soy–but like everything, go figure: Moderation. Which is hard on a vegetarian diet, since it’s easy to just toss some soy product/drink in with every meal, and suddenly, boom, soy five times a day. But what food isn’t bad for you if you eat it over and over at every meal? So soy a couple times a week? I will eat it, and I will enjoy it.

And you’re so right, no fake milk goes as well with hot drinks as soy. As much as I love my almond milk, it just can’t take the heat (har har, PUN).

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Khushboo March 13, 2013 at 10:49 am

Haha I always appreciate an a pun thrown in ever so sleekly 🙂

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table March 13, 2013 at 1:31 am

I really like soy (tofu, tempeh, TVP, etc), but I don’t eat a ton of it. I probably have 2-3 servings a week, mostly in the form of TVP. If I have more than one serving in a day my stomach is NOT happy.

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Khushboo March 13, 2013 at 10:51 am

Nothing like a bad stomach to remind you when you’ve had your soy quota for the day ;)!

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Ameena March 13, 2013 at 8:53 am

The varying stories about soy confuse me…but the fact that my skin looks 10 X better now that I avoid soy completely? I feel like there’s a reason behind all the negativity and so I don’t eat it at all.

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Khushboo March 13, 2013 at 10:54 am

Fortunately my skin has never been affected by soy but I can definitely see how it could…glad that you’ve noticed a positive difference after cutting it out! Do you also stay away completely from all foods containing soy lecithin (e.g. certain chocolates)?

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Sara @ Nourish and Flourish March 13, 2013 at 10:01 am

Oh, the big debate! Your approach to eating soy echoes mine to a “T”–I enjoy it in moderation, but keep tabs on my usage. I really enjoy tofu, and couldn’t imagine eating sushi without soy sauce! Also, since my body doesn’t handle cow’s milk well, I always ask for soy at Starbucks, but drink almond milk at home.

Back in my vegan days, when soy was heralded as a wonder food (and companies were marketing its health benefits like crazy), I ate it in excessive amounts. Tofu for lunch; tempeh for dinner; soy protein bars for snacks; soy pudding for dessert; soy milk in my coffee–it was soy overload! You can imagine the panic attack I had when I began reading studies that suggested that it could be dangerous. It just goes to show that consuming *any* food in excess probably isn’t a good idea!

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Khushboo March 13, 2013 at 10:54 am

Between u and me, I’m banking on Starbucks introducing almond milk as an option in the near future…they’re quite savvy with keeping up with the trends :)!

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Nishita March 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I am pretty much anti-soy these days. I already have a thyroid imbalance. I feel that some of the soy-based protein shakes that I was drinking post-workout may have aggravated that imbalance further, so better safe than sorry for me.

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Khushboo March 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm

I dread to imagine how much my earlier soy intake probably encouraged my hormonal imbalance…here’s hoping cutting back will work wonders!!

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Sonal March 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I’m so glad that you wrote about this because my trainer actually told me how terrible soy was for you when i mentioned how much I enjoy soya milk! Apparently the oestrogenic properties of soya also cause more fat tobe deposited around the waist and thighs (great..!). I usually have soya milk in oatmeal and in the green monsters – Maybe its time to switch to almond milk full time? But ofcourse when sushi comes into the picture, there has tobe soya sauce! 🙂

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Khushboo March 13, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Is almond milk easily available in Gibralter? If so, I can’t recommend switching to it enough- I love the stuff now! I’ve actually been making almond milk at home as it’s not available in Mumbai…very quick & easy too!

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Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets March 13, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Hoenstly, I don’t eat enough soy (that I know of) one way or the other for me to get caught up in the great soy debate, but I do know all good things in moderation. It also seems to be me that our food processes are a huge reason why otherwise healthy foods have become the opposite. Maybe it’s not the food, but rather what we do to it. Hmmm.
One more thing, and this is a secret…I don’t get the whole protein thing; I think most people get plenty of it naturally. Unless you are trying to turn into a beefcake, I don’t see the need to ramp up protein intake. You never hear about people getting sick from lack of protein, but you do hear about illnesses linked to lack of vitamins or other nutrients. Aren’t you glad you asked about protein…oh wait, you didn’t. Oops.

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Khushboo March 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

I agree about the protein obsession that has gained so much popularity! Although I do try and ensure my meals include a source of protein, a few meals without much protein isn’t the end of the world!

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Picky Nicky March 18, 2013 at 6:39 am

And the second one of your posts I read is just as awesome 😀
I’m actually allergic to soy so………… no tofu, no cliff bars, no soy sauce .. 🙁 its crazy how many foods have soy, actually… I have a hard time buying tortillas or bread, and most granola bars and cereals contain soy oil. I even have to watch out with products that contain “vegetable oil” because they often include soy oil.. and restaurants are a nightmare 9/10 times I’ll get an allergic reaction from restaurant food 🙁

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Khushboo March 18, 2013 at 9:05 am

Aww no I’m sorry you get an allergic from soy-containing foods…it’s shocking just how many foods contain some form of it!

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