I keep hearing from friends and family that I should not be feeding my children soy foods. Is there any truth to their concern?
Oy, the great soy debate. There is reason for concern related to soy, but probably not for the reasons your friends and family think, but we will get to that in a minute. As far as human health is concerned, there is a great deal of confusion about this bean—no thanks to misinformation that is often spread by industries opposed to plant-based and vegan diets.
Soy foods can be great sources of nutrients like protein and calcium, so they are often staples in our pantries. Much of the fear-mongering revolves around one main component in soy: isoflavones—also known as phytoestrogens. Whoa—did I say estrogens?! Man boobs, here we come! I joke because of the fact that human estrogens and plant estrogens are not the same. They are just not. And if we are going to speak about the fears that men’s bodies will become “feminized” with soy consumption, or that their semen will be less robust, that is simply not true. The few studies (out of thousands) that the naysayers cling to are ill-designed science projects in which men were consuming equivalents of upwards of 20 servings of soy per day. Seriously? And if it wasn’t men being overfed soy in the studies, then it was animals, which are ineffective subjects given that species metabolize soy in different ways.
In terms of breast cancer, there is actually data to suggest soy consumption in childhood can have protective effects later in life. Other studies show an association between soy food intake and improved outcomes in those individuals diagnosed with breast cancer. In addition to the “soy is going to give you breast cancer” statements I hear, “soy is going to destroy your thyroid” is another. While it is true that if you have been diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism, you will need to be more aware of your soy intake, the majority of us need not be concerned.
So, am I worried about consuming soy? Nope. Based on the vast amount of research that exists, I am comfortable recommending 2-3 servings of soy foods per day—where a serving equals 1 cup of soy milk or ½ cup of tofu, tempeh, or edamame. Our diets should not rely heavily on one food to begin with—so if you are eating soy as your sole protein source day in and out, well, that is problematic. We need variety to encourage the intake of all the nutrients our bodies need. Here’s a list of great, non-soy protein sources to help round out your diet: https://www.generationveggie.org/everyday-nutrition-soy-sensitivity/.
Lastly, my point of concern for soy is that it is one of the top three crops grown in this country under an industrial agricultural complex—roughly 74 million acres per the USDA. The vast majority of this soy is GMO-based, which is another debatable issue, that goes to animal feed and soybean oil production, used in many processed foods. Monoculture agriculture (growing only a few main crops) is troubling for many reasons, including increased risk of fragility and decreased biodiversity within our food system. If we really want to talk about soy, let’s talk about its ubiquitous use within farm animals and the thousands of processed products on the market shelves that, more than likely, your friends and family are eating. In the meantime, you can feel good about feeding your children soy as part of a balanced diet.
Disclaimer: Although Anya Todd, R.D. and Kara Rienzo, R.D.N. are registered dietitians, the nutrition content provided on GenerationVeggie.org is for educational and informational purposes only. Any or all changes to your diet and lifestyle should always first be discussed with your professional healthcare providers. GenerationVeggie.org assumes no responsibility or liability for any consequences resulting directly or indirectly from any action or inaction you take based on the information found on or material linked to on this website.
Posted in Advice Columns, Everyday Nutrition