Soy: How Healthy Is It?

by in Healthy Tips, March 16, 2009


Soy doesn’t just mean edamame and tofu — it’s also in a variety of foods that you might not be aware of. Learn more about the different forms of soy and why some may be better for you than others.

Forms of Soy
Soybeans (or edamame) are good plain or can be transformed with minimal processing into soy milk, soy sauce, tofu, miso paste (a savory fermented soy product) and tempeh (a tasty and hearty patty made from compressed soy beans). These forms are full of healthy plant protein and a variety of other nutrients (more nutrition info below).

When soy undergoes extreme processing, however, it loses many of its healthy qualities. Food companies often use these soy products as cheap fillers for processed foods. You might find these fillers in everything from frozen dinners to cereals to ice cream to even hamburgers. You can identify these highly processed forms of soy by checking labels for “soy protein isolate,” “soy protein concentrate,” “hydrolyzed plant protein” and “textured soy protein.” Though they do provide some protein, all the other nutrients that soy is famous for have been stripped away.

Some Soy Controversies
Some of the major concerns surrounding soy have to do with phytoestrogens, naturally existing compounds found in soy that are similar in structure to the animal hormone, estrogen. Some women have started eating more soy to help combat menopause symptoms and avoid taking hormone-replacement medications. On the flip side, there is concern that too much soy could promote tumor growth (while other studies say it may, in fact, do the opposite). It’s worth noting that many cultures enjoy soy as a major staple in their diet with little or no evidence of dangerous side effects.

Since there has been a lot of conflicting research about the risk of eating soy, your best bet is to enjoy various forms of soy in moderation. Another good thing is to choose organic soy products. Non-organic soy products may come from genetically modified plants (and nobody really knows how long-term consumption of these may affect health).

Nutritional Info
Soy products offer a healthy dose of protein, especially for people that don’t eat meat or fish. A cup of edamame has less than 200 calories, 17 grams of protein, a third of your daily fiber needs — plus, a host of vitamins and minerals. Soy products are also sources of both omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Potential health benefits associated with soy include lowering cholesterol, reducing risk of heart disease and prevention of osteoporosis and certain types of cancer.

It’s still unclear if the compounds found is soy are directly responsible for health benefits; however, it is clear that you can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by replacing some of the foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat with soy products, which contain neither.

Healthy Soy Recipes
Don’t be afraid of tofu. It’s extremely mild so you can really add the flavor to it. Marinate extra-firm tofu and roast it until golden (my fave) or sauté or grill it. Creamy and light, silken tofu makes fabulous low-calorie dips for chips or fresh vegetables. Soy milk makes a great smoothie; you can also use it to make baked goods and creamy desserts such as rice pudding. Add slices of hearty tempeh to stir-fry or use tempeh how you would grilled meat in sandwiches or wraps.

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