Should You Be Eating Soy?

What’s the good word on soy? Well, it appears whole soy foods are much better for you than highly processed ones.

Soy has been a staple for centuries in Asia. Research shows that people who eat soy frequently reduce their risk for a number of chronic conditions, including some cancers, osteoporosis and heart disease.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has approved health claims concerning the role of soy protein in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. However, this appears to only be true if you consume four servings of soy daily.

There’s good news for women who eat soy. Research shows that menopausal women who consume soy for 12 weeks or more significantly reduced their incidence of hot flashes.

The headlines about soy are sometimes contradictory and often confusing.

To play it safe, we recommend you stick to the “real” unprocessed, fresh or fermented soy foods.

Those fake foods – the products that are loaded with sugar, additives and preservatives – can do a body harm.

The mighty soybean is one of the few non-animal sources of complete protein. What that means is that soybeans contain all the amino acids that humans must get from food.  According to, soybeans also provide fiber, iron and naturally occurring ALA omega-3 fatty acids. They’re low in saturated fat and, like all plant foods, they’re cholesterol free.

Although soybeans are the basis for many different food products, some so-called soy products don’t provide the same nutrition as whole soy foods. These products often include soy protein bars, soy chips or even soy burgers.

The good-for-you whole soy foods, meanwhile, include tofu, tempeh, miso and even soybeans, steamed in the shell – a snack known as edamame.

Be sure to read the ingredient label on soymilks and soy yogurts. You’ll find many are overly sweetened. Buy soymilk and soy yogurt that’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which keep your bones strong and help prevent osteoporosis.

Many health professionals urge consumers to steer clear of foods that might contain soy protein isolates, which are no more like real soy than a Pringle potato chip is like a baked potato. A whole potato is full of fiber, potassium and many other vitamins and minerals; a Pringle is a “potato-like” product, and contains dozens of different ingredients, including a litany of man-made ones.

Scientists and health professionals emphasize that there are most likely hundreds of protective compounds in soy foods. Therefore, your best move is to enjoy the natural taste and benefits of whole soy foods.

The FDA recommends our daily diet includes four servings of at least 6.25 grams of soy protein. That equates to a total of at least 25 grams of soy protein each day.

In order to enjoy the health benefits of soy, stick to foods that meet these criteria:

  • At least 6.25 grams of soy protein
  • Low fat (less than 3 grams)
  • Low saturated fat (less than 1 gram)
  • Low cholesterol (less than 20 milligrams)



Susan Burke March, MEd, RDN, CDE – Food, Nutrition, and Your Health columnist for


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