Soybeans often get a bad rap. Are they healthy or unhealthy? It’s complicated, and the arguments are ongoing, but let’s have a look at a few soy pros and cons….
- It’s high in protein, and is considered a ‘complete’ protein (containing all the essential amino acids), so it’s really useful for vegans.
- It’s rich in nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese (1).
- It can help to increase ‘good’ cholesterol, and lower ‘bad’, so it’s linked to heart health (2).
- It can help to fight obesity in some cases (3).
- It may help to fight breast cancer (4).
- It’s high in antinutrients such as phytates and lectins.
- It’s often genetically modified and/or highly processed, both of which reduce its health benefits.
- As it contains phytoestrogen, it can interfere with hormones.
East V West
Soy is widely used in many Asian countries, but it’s traditionally eaten in moderation. It’s also usually eaten in a fermented form, such as miso in Japan, or tempeh in Indonesia. Fermenting generally reduces antinutrients and enhances nutrients. Japanese women, for example, have very little trouble with hot flushes during menopause, which is thought to be linked to their intake of fermented soy (8). Fermented soy is a rich source of vitamin K2, which helps promote bone density and cardiovascular health.
In the West we use soy in a massive amount of highly processed foods, and are arguably getting more cons from it than pros. Refined soybean oil is widely used in packaged food, as it’s cheap to produce. It contains high levels of linoleic acid (LA) – a type of omega 6 – which can cause inflammation when taken in excess. It can also contain high levels of harmful trans-fats (9).
As vegans and vegetarians we also might consume large quantities of soy as a meat or dairy replacement. Commercially produced soy milk and tofu, while providing a good source of protein, may not be processed in such a way as to reduce antinutrients, and may also contain unhelpful additives.
Many people prefer to avoid soy altogether, due to its shady reputation, but on a plant-based diet it’s perhaps best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need as much variety as we can get, especially in protein sources.
So unless you have an intolerance to soy, or a medical reason to avoid it, we reckon it’s worth adding it to your diet:
- In moderation
- In organic (i.e. non-GMO) form
- In fermented form, such as miso, tempeh, soy yoghurt, and soy cheese
Got any tips or questions of your own about soy? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.