As a registered dietitian, as a vegan, and as a human who eats food, I love soy! If you’re unfamiliar with soy foods or have heard confusing information about them, you’re not alone. Some folks didn’t grow up eating soy foods (myself included) and fear the unknown, while others have been misled by false information about the health effects of soy.
I’m here to share with you the top reasons that I love soy and feed it to my family daily! And no, this post is not sponsored by the soy industry or any food brand.
First things first, we need to clear the air on some common soy myths.
- No, soy does not cause breast cancer. In fact, soy consumption early in life decreases breast cancer risk.
- No, soy does not cause “feminization” in men. Men don’t get “man boobs” or slow sperm from consuming soy.
- No, soy does not harm thyroid health. Inadequate iodine intake is the key nutritional factor in thyroid health.
Now let’s get to the good stuff! This could be an entire series of blog posts but I’ll keep it concise and share what I see as the top reasons soy is a wonderful food!
Soy Foods Have a Rich Cultural History
Before going further, first let’s acknowledge that soy foods are not a white-people-wellness-culture thing. Though stereotypes about soy eaters abound, the origins of soy foods are actually in ancient China, several thousand years ago (the actual date is unclear — I’ve seen as early as 7000 BCE). Soybeans didn’t come to the United States until the late 1700s.
People in Eastern Asia have been consuming soy foods for millenia. There is a myth that folks in Asia consume small amounts of soy and it is mostly fermented, but that isn’t true. Research shows that the amount and type of soy foods consumed in modern day Asia varies by country. Popular soy foods include soy milk, tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso and natto.
Soy is an Excellent Source of Protein
One reason that soy has been an important staple in traditional Asian diets is due to its rich protein content. Soy is known as a “complete protein” because it contains ample amounts of all nine amino acids that are essential for humans.
Protein content of select soy foods:
- 1 cup cubed tempeh: 30 grams protein
- 1 cup cubed firm tofu: 20 grams protein
- 1 cup shelled edamame: 13 grams protein
- 1 cup soy milk: 7 grams protein
Soy is a bean, and beans are a part of a larger group of foods called legumes. Legumes are the go-to foods for vegans to get plenty of protein as well as the amino acid lysine, which is lacking in most other plant foods.
Read my blog post about plant protein to learn more about this critical nutrient and how to get enough.
Soy Foods are Versatile
There are different types of soy foods and virtually endless ways to prepare them! Soy foods can fit in at every meal and snack of the day. Tofu scramble, soy yogurt parfait, tempeh kebabs, miso soup, tofu quiche, soy milk smoothie, soy-based burgers, soy-based chick’n patties, TVP taco meat, soy milk ice cream, barbecue soy curls, silken tofu chocolate mousse… there truly is a soy food for every flavor, palate, cuisine and occasion. Unless, of course, you’re allergic to soy. And for that, I am so sorry. But for real though, a soy allergy is the only reason to avoid soy!
My response to someone who says they don’t like tofu is, “How was it prepared?” Tofu is a blank slate ready for marinating, baking, roasting, frying, grilling, blending and more. Some folks are a big proponent of freezing tofu and then thawing it to get a spongier texture, and others are fans of shredding tofu to get away from the standard cubes and rectangles. Just search the internet for “tofu recipe” and see the world of creativity and deliciousness! And that’s just for tofu – we haven’t even touched on the other soy foods.
Here’s a tip: follow Asian vegan recipe developers and food bloggers! No hate on the non-Asian vegans and American-style tofu recipes, but there is a whole world we’re missing out on if we aren’t learning from folks whose cuisine has celebrated around soy for thousands of years.
Many Soy Foods are Inexpensive
Protein foods can be pretty expensive, particularly those that come from animals. And that’s even accounting for the fact that meat is subsidized by the government and costs less than it actually should.
The good news is that many soy foods are pretty affordable! As grocery prices rise, sticking to plant-based options can help keep your food budget in check.
In my area, a block of tofu costs $2 and provides 3 servings. You can find a block of tempeh for under $4 which provides about 2.5 servings. Texturized vegetable protein, also known as TVP, is shelf-stable and you can get a bag of 15 servings for under $5. A bag of shelled frozen edamame costs $2 and provides 4 servings. A half gallon of soy milk costs $3-$4 and provides 8 servings.
Some more processed soy foods, like soy burgers, nuggets, yogurts, ice creams, etc. may cost more money per serving. Though you can find a pack of 4-pack of Boca burgers for under $4 so they may not be as expensive as you think!
Soy Consumption is Linked with Positive Health Outcomes
Not only is it not true that soy is harmful, but soy is actually healthful! I won’t attempt to summarize the science on soy here (did you know it’s one of the most researched foods?). But I will call special attention to heart health and breast cancer risk.
Soy foods are linked with lower risk of heart disease. Scientists theorize it’s the isoflavones in soy, among other healthful components, that have a particularly protective effect on the cardiovascular system.
There’s a myth that eating soy causes breast cancer, when in fact, the opposite is true! Consumption of soy early in life is linked with a significantly decreased breast cancer risk. And if you didn’t grow up eating soy, that’s OK too. Consuming soy later in life is also linked with decreased risk of breast cancer.
Have questions about soy? SoyConnection has a whole list of myths to bust.
Prefer to take a deeper dive into the science on soy? Head to the plethora of information over at VeganHealth.org.
Want to discuss soy with a registered dietitian? Apply to work with us!
My Family’s Favorite Ways to Enjoy Soy
Soy is a staple in our family and my daughter has been consuming soy since she was 6 months old! She gobbles up plain raw tofu but also enjoys it cooked. Our fridge always has tofu, tempeh, miso and soy milk in it! And we keep edamame in our freezer and TVP in our pantry. Here are some of the main ways we enjoy soy foods.
My go-to way to make a goes-with-anything baked tofu is nooch tofu!
The quickest way to prepare it is to toss pressed, cubed tofu in a mixing bowl with olive oil, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, salt and pepper. I bake it at 400°F for about 20 minutes. Everyone in my family gobbles it up!
We always keep a few blocks of tofu on hand for nooch tofu.
Now that my daughter is a toddler and she’s consuming less breast milk, we also offer her calcium-fortified soy milk.
Soy milk is the ideal plant milk for vegan kiddos because it contains ample protein and fat.
I also love soy milk in my lattes! It’s the creamiest and foams up great, especially if using the “barista” variety.
For information about how soy fits into the diets of vegan babies, toddlers and kids, I highly recommend the resources and courses from my dietitian colleague over at Vegan Kids Nutrition! (If you purchase any of her products using my affiliate link, I will earn a commission).
A super tasty and easy way we love to eat tempeh is buffalo tempeh!
First I like to steam my tempeh to gently cook it and open it up to receive more flavor.
Then I pan-fry it until golden and coat it in buffalo sauce. At the end I sprinkle on some nooch – I just love the pairing of tangy and spicy buffalo sauce with umami-rich nutritional yeast! The nooch also gives the sauce more of a texture to really stick to the tempeh.
We enjoy buffalo tempeh on salads, over grains and greens, and in wraps!
Edamame is a staple in our freezer and my daughter loves eating it plain.
It’s so easy to heat up and toss into salads (here’s a fave of mine!), noodle dishes, stir-fries, fried rice, etc.
My husband also loves getting the steamed in-shell edamame from restaurants and dunking it in soy sauce. Double soy!
Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP)
We keep TVP on hand to add extra protein and texture to soups and stews, taco meat, and vegan “Sloppy Joe’s.”
TVP is essentially dried soy flour. It’s shelf-stable and can be rehydrated and used in all the ways!
What are your favorite soy foods and ways to prepare them?