Food Myths Nutrition

Should You Be Eating Soy?

organic soy

Does soy cause cancer? Will soy cause my little boy to grow breasts? Aren’t soybeans genetically modified? Should I stop drinking soy milk?

These are questions I hear a lot. And for good reason. Soy is frequently in the news, but what’s said about it always seems to change.

The truth is: whether soy is healthy or not depends on what kind of soy you’re eating, how often you eat it and what the rest of your diet looks like.

Here are some answers to common questions about soy.

What soy products are healthiest?

When it comes to soybeans (and most other foods, for that matter), the less processed the better.  Whole soybeans, or products made from whole soybeans, are widely regarded as healthy.  Aim to get your soy fix from edamame (whole soybeans), soy milk (buy the kind that has “whole soybeans” near the top of the ingredients list) and tofu.  Other foods with soy derivatives — like protein bars, fake meat, some veggie burgers, high-protein cereals and snack foods — are highly processed and have so much other stuff added to them that they are no longer healthy.

What is soy protein isolate?

Soy protein isolate is a soy derivative that’s often used to make meatless “meats,” protein bars, and some protein shakes and smoothies. It’s also added to many packaged, processed foods. lt’s these processed soy products that have been linked to undesirable health outcomes like increased body estrogen. Limit your intake of processed soy-containing foods. (These aren’t usually good for you anyway).

How much soy is OK?

Health experts suggest that 1-2 servings of whole soy (edamame, tofu or soy milk) per day is healthy for most people, especially if it’s used as an alternative to fatty meat or other animal protein.  This amount may also help to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Is it worth buying organic soy?

About 85 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified.  As of now, we don’t know whether eating GM soybeans is safe or not. If you’re not up for being the food industry’s guinea pig, go organic. By definition, organic soybeans are never genetically modified, and have been grown without the use of pesticides or other toxic chemicals.

Is soy milk healthier than cow’s milk?

Milk is healthy primarily because of it’s naturally-occurring protein and calcium content.  Soy milk also has protein (6-7g per cup, as opposed to 9-10g per cup of skim cow’s milk) and is fortified with calcium, so it’s a healthy choice for those who can’t have dairy.  If you do choose to drink soy milk, buy the unsweetened variety or one that’s lower in sugar (6 grams or less per serving).  Here is a chart of milk vs. milk alternatives so you can compare all the options. In my opinion, soy milk is a much better choice than almond, rice, hemp, grain or other milks (which offer little nutritional value).

Does soy increase the risk of breast cancer?

In short: no.  The science here is mixed, as some studies have concluded that soy is beneficial for preventing breast cancer, while others have shown a relationship between eating lots of (processed) soy and an increased risk.  One thing is for sure though – eating whole soy foods instead of processed or fatty meats, is a healthy choice.  As with anything, eat real, whole soy products, and do so as part of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

You Might Also Like...


  • Aisling @ Sunny Side Uo
    July 31, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks for this. It can be a bit confusing!

  • Megan (The Lyons' Share)
    August 2, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Thank you for spelling this out so clearly! I’m always amazed by the polarizing studies I read about the benefits and/ or detriments of soy. Just found your blog from KathEats, and it looks amazing!

  • Cynthia
    August 2, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I have always enjoyed eating soy and your post answered some of the questions I have about it. I was wondering if you had any information concerning soy in the diets of women going through menopause.

    Thank you for the post!

  • Bridget Robinson
    August 3, 2013 at 9:40 am

    This was a GREAT article that I really enjoyed. You totally hit all my questions about soy on the mark!! I can’t wait for my soy lattes again soon, until then my almond milk is a treat!

Leave a Reply