As SHAPE’s Weight Loss Coach, I recently did a story on what I eat in a typical day. Some readers were surprised that I had eaten soy at both lunch and dinner, thinking that it wasn’t a healthy choice. The funny thing is, I hadn’t even realized I consumed it twice. Perhaps that is because I view soy as just another healthy protein option, same as I would fish, chicken, or beans.
Unfortunately in today’s world there is so much information easily available that it is sometimes hard to decipher facts from fiction. So is the case with soy. Whether it's good for you or not seems to be a recurring question.
As a registered dietitian, it is important for me to stay abreast of all emerging research. Honestly sometimes that can get difficult, but nonetheless I do try. So my choice to recommend soy as part of a healthy diet is based on the science presented to me, not my own personal bias.
According to the FDA, 25 grams of soy protein in a daily diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can help reduce total and LDL cholesterol that is moderately high to high. Besides improving cholesterol levels, research will support that soy protein may provide positive results for people with high blood pressure, and protect bone health and bone mass. Studies have also suggested that women who eat more soy foods have a lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who eat less soy foods and that is safe for woman with a history of breast cancer to consume soy. Furthermore, since soy is high in both protein and fiber, which causes satiety, some research has concluded that it may help promote weight loss.
I think some confusion comes into play with soy protein isolates. What are they? Soy protein isolate is the protein component of soy, which is extracted. Yes it is a processed food, but not all “processing” is negative. For example, yogurt, milk, and brown rice are all “processed,” but they don’t include a long list of ingredients that are hard to pronounce. Isoflavones found in soy foods are thought to contribute to many of the protective health effects and most isolates do have less than whole soy foods, but they still have significant amounts.
I think the bottom line here is if you enjoy soy, eat it as part of a well-balanced diet and stop worrying about its safety. But remember, more is not necessarily better, and stay away from supplements since that is one area that science does not conclusively support.