Soybeans have been cultivated and eaten as food for centuries. The soybean is an incredibly diverse plant and is used to make a wide variety of foods from milk, sauces, cheeses, and protein sources.  Soybeans have all nine essential amino acids. This makes soy a complete source of protein and common addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Conflicting Perspectives

As tasty as soy products can be, there is conflicting evidence around the health benefits of soy.  There is some evidence that it is beneficial for cholesterol and preventative for heart disease. There is also some evidence soy can affect your hormones.  Soy is a phytoestrogen (a plant-based estrogen). This means that it can mimic the effects of the female hormone, estrogen. Soy contains estrogen-like compounds called isoflavones. This can be good or bad… good if you are a hormonal female needing some estrogen support, but very bad if you have cancer in your body responding to estrogen.  The effects of soy phytoestrogens are controversial. Scientific studies are not clear on the effects of phytoestrogens in women, men, and people with cancer. Please ask your doctor is soy is safe for you.

Soy and GMO

Sadly, soybeans are one of the most genetically engineered crops in our country (about 95%), so if you do happen to eat soy, it is essential to eat organic.

Soy and its derivatives are very common in processed foods.  May food additives contain soy, so removing it from your diet can be tricky! Check out our article on soy alternatives here.

How Fermentation Can Help

While cultures have been eating soy as a key component of their diet for centuries, they almost always ferment it first. This is a critical process of breaking down the protein to make it more digestible by the human body. In 1913, the USDA handbook named soy as an industrial product and not as a food.  The bean portion of the soy that we eat in its unfermented form (tofu, soymilk, edamame) can be toxic to the body. So if you are learning of a new soy intolerance, don’t worry, you are not alone!

Lastly, if you have a thyroid condition, soy may not be for you. Some doctors believe that eating high amounts of soy can contribute to hypothyroidism.

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