There is so much controversy out there about soy. Even medical professionals have vastly different views on soy. It’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not true when there is so much contradictory information out there.
So, I wanted to share with you my thoughts on soy. Based on all my research and education, this is the information I found to be true.
Eat it ORGANIC or don’t eat it at all
Only eat soy if it is organic and non-GMO. Conventionally grown soybeans (meaning non-organic) are grown with herbicides and pesticides and often genetically modified. The soybean plant readily absorbs these herbicides and pesticides. If you eat soy non-organic, you will also be readily absorbing those herbicides and pesticides into your body. Herbicides and pesticides are literally created to kill cells. So by eating soy that is rich in herbicides and pesticides, you are directly inviting something into your body that is going to create inflammation and kill your own cells. YIKES! Look for soy to be organic and non-GMO before you put it into your grocery cart.
Whole foods > Processed Foods
The best way to eat soy is in its whole form, such as soybeans or edamame. When we start looking at processed forms of soy, they often contain a lot of added and inflammatory ingredients. Examples of these processed forms of soy are soy milk, tofu, miso, natto, soy sauce and tempeh. That’s not to say you can’t eat soy in these forms. Just look at the ingredient list and if you see ingredients you can’t pronounce, added sugars, carrageenan, or natural/artificial flavors, then don’t eat it. Here are a few brands of soy products that I like based on their ingredient list: Miso Master Organic Miso, Trader Joes Brand Organic Soy Milk, House Foods Organic Tofu. There are many more out there, this is just a small list of organic soy products I like the ingredient list of.
Nutritious and Delicious
Soy is nutrient dense. It contains a great macronutrient profile being rich in protein, has a good ratio of healthy fats, contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, and contains a decent amount of carbohydrates to fuel our body while also balancing your blood sugars. Unlike most other plants, soy is considered a complete protein, meaning it gives us all 9 essential amino acids (essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein that our body itself cannot create). Micronutrient wise, it contains potassium, vitamin K1, folate, copper, manganese, phosphorus, calcium, vitamin B1, molybdenum and magnesium. Soybeans also contain isoflavones which makes it a wonderful antioxidant reducing inflammation in your body.
Benefits of Soy
Along with being a nutritious powerhouse, soy has been studied to have significant health benefits.
- Lowers LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. This helps to keep our blood vessels healthy to prevent cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
- Helps support a healthy gut microbiome by feeding the good bacteria in our intestines
- Balances estrogen levels
- Reduces menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes/irritability, and vaginal dryness
- Supports healthy bones
- Improves memory and overall cognitive functions
- May reduce the risk of both prostate and breast cancer
Phytoestrogens to the Rescue
For estrogen to create any effect in the body, it needs to first bind to its receptor. These estrogen receptors in your body can be bound by ENDogenous estrogen (estrogen your body creates), EXogenous estrogens found in birth control pills and IUDs, xenoestrogens (basically fake, harmful estrogens found in our environment), and phytoestrogens (found in some plants). Once bound, these different forms of estrogen create a varying degree of an estrogen response. For example, ENDogenous estrogens bind to estrogen receptors and creates a medium estrogen response. EXogenous estrogens, either from birth control measures or xenoestrogens, create a higher, more harmful estrogen response. On the other hand, phytoestrogens create a lower estrogen response.
So, if you have a high level of estrogen in your body, are exposed to a lot of xenoestrogens (which most of us are), or are on a hormonal birth control, you likely have a high estrogen response in your body. To help dampen that estrogen response down, we can eat foods rich in phytoestrogens. These phytoestrogens bind to your estrogen receptors, decreasing the ability for all other forms of estrogen to bind, which ultimately creates less of an estrogen response.
On the flip side, if you have low estrogen in your body (maybe you are post-menopausal or have ovarian insufficiency), phytoestrogens are also helpful! In this scenario, there is too little estrogen in the body that not all the estrogen receptors can be bound. This means there are empty receptors which means there is less of an estrogen response. If you eat phytoestrogens, these phytoestrogens come in and bind to the empty receptor. What would have been no estrogen response from that estrogen receptor is at least now a low estrogen response in the body.
Hopefully that all made sense!
So what foods are rich in phytoestrogens? Soy, flax seeds, and legumes/lentils are our main dietary source of phytoestrogens. Eating any of these foods will help to decrease your estrogen response if you have excess estrogens in your body OR will help increase your estrogen response if you have a low amount of estrogens in your body.
Need some recipe ideas to get the ball rolling with adding soy into your life? I got you! Here are a few of my favorites: