A guest post from Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD of Street Smart Nutrition
Soy foods have so much to offer! As a registered dietitian, I regularly include them in my meals and recipes while encouraging my clients and their families to do the same. And with April being Soy Foods Month, it’s a great time to shine the spotlight on soy foods and the benefits they can bring.
Some of the most familiar forms of soy foods include tofu, edamame, soymilk, and tempeh. Soy protein is also becoming more popular thanks to soy in plant-based protein powders and plant-based meat alternatives.
Soy Food Nutrients
Soy foods are a good source of plant-based protein1 and, depending on the soy food, may provide other important nutrients such as:
- B vitamins, potassium, and magnesium: these vitamins and minerals play important roles in our bodies and are essential for overall health and wellbeing.
- Fiber: Most Americans don’t eat the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber (or more!) per day. A one half-cup serving of shelled edamame provides 4 grams of fiber, and a serving of tempeh provides 4 to 9 grams depending on the brand and preparation.
- Soy isoflavones: Soy foods are one of the best dietary sources of this unique type of phytonutrient. Soy isoflavones may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain types of cancer like breast or prostate cancer.1
The Benefits of Eating Soy
There are benefits to eating soy foods more often at any age. Here are some potential benefits at key points in your lifespan:
- There may be long-term benefits for reducing the risk of breast cancer in women and girls by eating soy foods during childhood and adolescence.2,3
- Teenagers, young adults, and athletes of all levels can support increases in muscle mass and strength by eating adequate protein, including the plant-based protein from soy foods. This can support optimal recovery and performance.
- That same muscle-building benefit applies to older adults as well who can benefit from adding resistance training to preserve lean muscle mass, bone density, and mobility. It can be more difficult to build muscle mass in our older years, but eating enough protein can help support better aging.
- The soy isoflavones in soy foods have been studied extensively, especially in the area of chronic disease prevention for heart disease and osteoporosis. They are also associated with a reduced risk for certain cancers including breast, prostate,4 and colon.
- The calcium found in fortified soymilk and calcium-set tofu can help maintain bone health, which can be especially helpful for post-menopausal women or anyone with a family history of osteoporosis. Women experiencing menopause may also benefit from eating more soy foods because soy isoflavones may reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes.5
As you can see, there are numerous benefits to including soy foods in your diet no matter your age. There is more research being done to explore other potential benefits of soy foods, such as a link between soy foods isoflavone consumption and cognitive decline and dementia,1 but more research is needed.
What about Soy Allergy?
With such a big focus on soy foods during Soy Foods Month in April, it’s worth mentioning an important caveat about allergies. If you have a soy allergy you should avoid soy foods or soy protein in your diet. Soy is ranked among the most common allergens and by law, must be disclosed on food packaging and labels. However, highly refined soybean oil can be an option for people with soy allergies because it will not cause an allergic reaction.6
Although the list of the “Big 9” allergens makes up about 90% of food allergies, soy protein is the least allergenic food on the list (besides sesame).7 According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, about 1% of young children are allergic to soy and an estimated 70% of them will outgrow it by age 10.8
You should follow your pediatrician’s recommendations for introducing potential allergens or about starting solid foods to babies and young children.
First Foods: Soy Food Options
Here are some soy foods that can be an excellent “first food” for soy protein exposures starting at 6 months of age:
- Silken or extra soft tofu, which can be served alone or blended with pureed foods like fruits or vegetables.
- Pureed edamame, which can be shelled and steamed to avoid a choking hazard.
- Soy yogurt, which can also be served alone or blended with a favorite fruit puree.
With these facts in mind, I hope you feel confident exploring the delicious world of soy foods! They’re versatile, easy to prepare, and rank among the most affordable protein sources in the grocery store.
If you haven’t already started including more soy in your meals and snacks, it’s never too late to start! You will find plenty of recipe inspiration under the recipes tab at SoyConnection.com. You can also learn more about how soy foods are grown, sustainability topics, and myths vs. facts about soy foods. Cheers to more fearlessly nourishing meals as you celebrate Soy Foods Month!
- Messina, Mark, et al. “The Health Effects of Soy: A Reference Guide for Health Professionals.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 25 July 2022, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2022.970364/full#B2.
- Messina M, Hilakivi-Clarke L. Early intake appears to be the key to the proposed protective effects of soy intake against breast cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2009;61(6):792-798. doi:10.1080/01635580903285015
- Korde LA, Wu AH, Fears T, et al. Childhood soy intake and breast cancer risk in Asian American women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009;18(4):1050-1059. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-08-0405
- Applegate CC, Rowles JL, Ranard KM, Jeon S, Erdman JW. Soy consumption and the risk of prostate cancer: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients. (2018) 10:40. doi: 10.3390/nu10010040
- Taku K, Melby MK, Kronenberg F, Kurzer MS, Messina M. Extracted or synthesized soybean isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flash frequency and severity: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Menopause. (2012) 19:776–90. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3182410159
- Approaches to Establish Thresholds for Major Food Allergens and for Gluten in Food.” U.S. Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/files/food/published/Approaches-to-EstablishThresholds-for-Major-Food-Allergens-and-for-Gluten-in-Food.pdf. March 2006. II. Food Allergy; E,2:Food Ingredients.
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Food allergies: What you need to know. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved February 27, 2023, from https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/food-allergies-what-you-need-know
- Savage, J.H., et al. “The natural history of soy allergy.” J Allergy Clin Immunol, 2010. 125(3): p. 683-686.