Vegans have to eat a lot of soy products, and soy is bad.
Many vegans and vegetarians get flak for eating soy. For good reason, over the years many rumors have been spread about soy products and many conflicting studies have been done. However, what most people don’t know is that many of these are funded by the meat and dairy industry, contain outdated research, or have crazy study parameters. The truth is soy is quite good for you (in moderation like everything else)!
Soy & Estrogen:
The biggest rumor about soy is that it contains estrogen. This is true! Except it contains what’s called ‘phytoestrogens’. This is estrogen produced by plants and popular to contrary belief it will not affect your hormones or “make you grow man boobs”. Phytoestrogens are also present in many other plant foods such as lentils, flaxseeds, oats, barley, sesame seeds and more. The phytoestrogen in soy products is confused with animal estrogen found in products like cow’s milk. The reason why we hear so much about the “estrogen” in soy and not other plant products (like flaxseeds for example) is because the meat and dairy industry saw their sales decline from soy substitutes (such as tofu, soy milk and even soy yogurt).
Most current research will say that any study showing soy is bad is either misrepresented by an industry to favour their own product or out dated. Currently there is only 1 study showing negative effects of soy. This was a ‘self-reported study’ which rats were given the equivalent of 14+ servings of soy. This may not even be possible for humans. However, if it was, over 14 servings of any food would have negative effects. For example, no doctor would recommend someone to have over 14 servings of carrots in one day.
Benefits of Soy:
Not only is soy a good source of protein, iron and calcium, it has also proven to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, regulate cell growth and reduce cancer rates specifically stomach cancer and breast cancer. In fact, Asian countries (known for eating lots of tofu, edamame, miso and tempeh) have the lowest breast cancer rates in the world!
I could go on about the benefits of soy but to learn more about the benefits of soy products check out these articles:
Choosing Healthy Soy Products:
Soy is a product that is heavily affected by pesticides, so when buying soy products, it is best to buy organic and non-GMO. (Note, I do not say this about a lot of things, I am also on a budget)! Most soy products are these days and are relatively inexpensive.
The purest form of soy is a whole soybean otherwise known as edamame. I buy mine shelled and frozen at the grocery store and put them on everything!
Fermented soy products
Also great to eat, most commonly found in tempeh and miso paste. Not only do you get the benefits of soy, but also the healthy probiotics that come in the fermentation products. These can be found at any Asian supermarket, the international aisle of your grocery store or at a health food store.
Note on miso: Although miso is believed to be high in salt, studies show it actually has no effect on cholesterol. This is because the carcinogenic effects of the sodium are balanced out by the anticarcinogenic effects of soy.
Minimally Processed Soy Products
For example: tofu and soy milk. Even though these products loose about half the nutrition in processing, soy is considered so healthy that these products still have many benefits! For example, tofu has been linked to a 50% reduction in stomach cancer.
When buying soy milk and tofu:
Look for brands with little to no additives. When buying soy milk in particular, try to look for unsweetened. My favourite brands are Natura and Eden Organic (made from just soy beans and water)! Tofu is pretty standard across the board and just contains soy beans, water, and a calcium and magnesium binder. However, I have seen tofu at a health food store made from natural binders.
There are many vegetarian products made from soy derivatives such as veggie burgers, vegan cheese, and protein powders. These are so highly processed they do not contain the nutritional benefits of soy. Additionally, they contain many additives which make the products unhealthy. Although you do not need to avoid these products completely, it is not recommended you include them in your everyday diet.
I enjoy soy products 3-5 times a week! Mostly tempeh, tofu, edamame as well as miso and tamari when I make soups and sauces. Soy milk is my go-to milk of choice for tea, oatmeal, smoothies etc. This is because I like the extra protein (vs. almond or coconut), I also find it has the best texture, taste and is made with the least additives.
I eat highly processed soy products such as veggie burgers and vegan cheese when I go out to eat or to a friend’s bbq. They are a nice treat, however I would feel sick if I had them all the time. Just as non-vegans don’t eat processed foods such as McDonald’s every day, vegans don’t need to eat the equivalent.