Nutritional Information for Soy

Soy foods have been part of the Asian diet for centuries. Traditional soy foods include edamame (fresh green soybeans), miso, tofu, and tempeh (fermented soybean protein). Although newer to the U.S., soy foods have gained in popularity. You can now find soymilk and soy yogurt at many grocery stores. Though commonly thought of as a food with “estrogen-like” effects due to its phytoestrogen (“phyto” = plant) properties called isoflavones, soy is actually a healthful food with great anti-cancer potential. Isoflavones, saponins, phenolic acids, and phytic acid are just a few of the compounds being studied for their anti-cancer effects.

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Benefits of Soy

Cancer Prevention Benefits

The isoflavones found in soy have been known to target cancer cells. Men eating more soy foods have been found to have less odds of developing prostate cancer. In China, men with above average blood levels of genistein, a major type of isoflavone, were shown to have 70% less odds of getting prostate cancer. A meta-analysis of over 15 studies looking at soy intake and prostate cancer risk found that those eating more soy foods had a 26% lower prostate cancer risk. And this was not a lot of soy, at most a serving a day, which, equals about 1 cup of fortified soymilk, a 1/2 cup of tofu, or a 1/2 cup of cooked soybeans.

Asian populations seem to have better protection against prostate cancer from eating soy. It may be because in the U.S. men rarely eat it, making them a harder population to study. Although more research is needed, currently soy remains a safe and healthful food for men. Having a greater ratio of plant protein versus animal protein is highly advised as a strategy to prevent cancer.  Whole grains, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, edamame, beans, lentils and peanut butter are all great sources of plant protein. Oh, and don’t forget broccoli, pound for pound it has more protein than steak!

Some research suggests soy and isoflavone intake may help lower the risk of stomach and digestive cancers. For women, eating soyfoods during adolescence may reduce the risk of breast cancer from occurring as an adult. Soy products may also reduce the risk of recurrence and mortality for women previously treated for breast cancer. It doesn’t matter the type of breast cancer (hormone or non-hormone related) extensive research has confirmed that soy foods are safe and healthful for breast cancer survivors. Some of the ways by which soy products contribute to decreased cancer risk include the ability of genistein, a type of isoflavone, to increase what’s known as apoptosis, programmed cell death (where the body senses something foreign and essentially blows itself up before it causes more harm). Genistein appears to reduce cell proliferation and blood vessel growth. It has also been shown to modify sex hormones in beneficial ways. Plus, like all plant foods, soy has strong antioxidants that help fight against cancer.

Caution: When used in large amounts, soy protein concentrates and isolates have been shown to increase insulin-like growth factor I, a hormone thought to boost cancer risk. This is an effect also seen with dairy products, suggesting that traditional soy foods should be favored over soy protein concentrates and isolates (e.g., pills and powders). Choose whole soy foods, such as edamame, tofu, soymilk, tempeh and miso instead.

Men's Health Benefits

Diets centered around plants foods like soy offer more fiber and antioxidants. In some cases, plant-based diets can double a person’s fiber intake and triple their lycopene (a kind of antioxidant) intake. This kind of diet rich in fiber and antioxidants not only protects against cancer but essentially every chronic disease that exists. Take heart disease and hypertension for example. Dr. David Jenkins is a well-established researcher from the University of Toronto known for inventing the glycemic index, an indicator of how individual foods increase blood sugar. He also designed a Dietary Portfolio for Lowering Cholesterol using soy foods as a main component, along with nuts and plenty of fibrous food. Dr. Jenkins and his team has found that soy foods and plant compounds work to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Dietary intervention in some cases work better than leading statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs. When isolating certain soy products in intervention trials, men eating a soy probiotic yogurt/drink with added isoflavones was shown to help reduce cholesterol and improve antioxidants properties.

Dietary patterns of vegetables, fruits, and legumes including soy may reduce hip fracture risk. Soy food intake may also help prevent kidney disease.

A meta-analysis looking at more than 50 treatment groups, showed that neither soy products nor isoflavone supplements from soy affect testosterone levels in men. Other research provides evidence of no connection between men eating soy and infertility or reproductive concerns.

Ways to Use Soy

  • Add edamame or baked tofu to salads and stir-frys.
  • Try noodles made from edamame.
  • Enjoy edamame in their pods for a tasty afternoon snack or appetizer.
  • Make edamame hummus.
  • Add silken tofu to smoothies or make into creamy sauces.
  • Silken tofu can be made into sweet desserts by blending with foods such as cacao powder, dates, bananas.
  • Use silken tofu to replace creamers in pie fillings, such as pumpkin pie.
  • Try a tofu scramble rather than scrambled eggs or use tofu for the base of a quiche rather than eggs.
  • Make Tofu Ricotta by mixing tofu with lemon juice, nutritional yeast, garlic, and Italian spices.
  • Sauté, broil, or grill tofu with spices/ marinades and use in place of chicken or beef in recipes.
  • Try a soy-based yogurt or use soy yogurt in recipes that call for yogurt.
  • Use ground tempeh in tacos/ burritos, casseroles, or sloppy joe’s in place of beef.
  • Swap in unsweetened soy milk in recipes that call for cow’s milk.
  • Try miso soup or use miso for salad dressings.
Resources for Soy

American Institute for Cancer Research:

“Foods that Fight Cancer” from AICR: Soy

Nutrition Facts:

Physicians Committee:

USDA Nutrient Database: Edamame

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