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Soy, Should You Eat It?

April 21, 2015 by Adrienne Ngai, Registered Dietitian

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Soy, Should You Eat It?

Soy foods have become increasingly popular. Most grocery stores feature a variety of soy foods and beverages, ranging from traditional tofu and soy beverage to a growing selection of plant-based meat alternatives like veggie “hot dogs” and veggie “ground meat”. What do these soy-based foods do for our health?

What’s So Good About Soy?

Soy is a legume (bean) and comes from soybean plants. Soybeans are rich in protein. A serving of cooked soy beans (175mL or ¾ cup) has as much protein as a serving of cooked meat (125mL or ½ cup) and contains healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats). Canada’s Food Guide recommends having meat alternatives such as tofu and soy beans more often.

If you don’t drink cow’s milk, fortified soy beverage is its best alternative. Look for unsweetened soy beverages that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. These can be substituted for cow’s milk for adults and children 2 years and older.

What About Soy and Your Health?

  • Soy and cardiovascular health: Replacing meat with plant-based proteins, such as soy, may help to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Soy and cancer prevention: Eating soy foods hasn’t been shown to prevent cancer, but there is strong evidence that eating a plant-based diet does. Eating soy as replacement for animal foods can be one way to eat more plant-based foods. Learn more about soy and cancer here.
  • Soy and children’s health: If breast feeding isn’t possible, cow’s milk formula is the standard breast milk substitute for healthy term infants. Soy-based infant formula can be used for infants who cannot consume dairy-based products. Click here to learn more about feeding.
  • Soy and men’s health: Soy contains estrogen-like compounds but these have not been shown to impact hormone levels in men who consume soy foods. Studies are ongoing about whether eating or drinking soy has a role in reducing the risk of prostate cancer or if there are benefits to men after a prostate cancer diagnosis.
  • Soy and women’s health: Soy foods can be enjoyed by women. They have not been show to increase the risk of breast cancer and are also safe to eat in moderation after a breast cancer diagnosis.
  • Soy and bone health: Eating calcium and vitamin D rich foods, including fortified soy foods, and exercising (running, walking, or doing aerobics) can help protect against osteoporosis. There is not enough research to conclude that eating soy foods alone improves bone health.

Not Sure How to Add Soy to Your Diet…Use These Tips:

  • Drink unsweetened fortified soy beverage. One cup (250 mL) of fortified soy beverage is one plant-based Food Guide serving of milk and alternatives. Replace the milk in your cereal with soy beverage, make a fruit smoothie, or use it in soups and sauces.
  • Eat tofu. Tofu is made from soy beverage. A serving (175mL or ¾ cup) counts as one Food Guide serving of meat and alternatives. Substitute firm tofu for meat in stir-fried dishes. Try this sweet chili tofu stir-fry recipe tonight. You can steam soft and firm tofu with shrimp to make a delicious dish to serve over brown rice. Check out the recipe here.
  • Try edamame. These are young soybeans that are still in the pod. A serving of edamame (125 mL or ½ cup) is one protein rich Food Guide vegetable and fruit serving. Look for edamame in the frozen section of the grocery store. You can boil or steam edamame and eat them as a snack, add them to salads, or enjoy as a side to your meal. Try edamame as an alternative to green peas in your recipes.
  • Cook with soybeans. Soybeans come in yellow, black, or brown colours. They are rich in protein and fibre. A serving of cooked soybeans (175 mL or ¾ cup) is one Food Guide serving of meat and alternatives. Soak dry soybeans overnight before cooking or look for them in the can and simply rinse before adding to your favourite recipes. Add them to soups, stews, or roast them for a crispy snack.
  • Try tempeh. Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that has a smoky or nutty flavour. A serving (175mL or ¾ cup) counts as one Food Guide serving of meat and alternatives. Add tempeh to soups, curries or chilies. You can find tempeh in the refrigeration section of your grocery store.

Can you think of ways you can add soy to your diet? Work in some soy to make a meatless meal or make veggie burgers to celebrate meatless Monday.

Related blogs

Meatless Meals on the BBQ
Veggie Burgers for Meatless Monday

Recommended resources

EatRight Ontario: The Scoop on Soy
Dietitians of Canada: What are the health benefits of soy?


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