Beans, tofu, tempeh….oh my! I’m here to distill the truckloads of soy information coming at you daily. Is soy good? bad? neutral? who cares? Whether you’re into soy or not, there are many types of soy and many opinions about it. Read on for my simple take on this complex topic, soy warrior!
What is soy?
Soy is a plant! It looks like this —>
Soy has been around for thousands of years and is a traditional staple food of a lot of Eastern Asian cultures, like Japan. It can be eaten in a variety of different ways, as you will see below. It is a rich source of protein, phytoestrogens (mimic the role of estrogen in the body), omega 3 fats, iron, calcium, and isoflavones (anti-oxidants).
What are the disclaimers for soy?
There are a few key reasons why some people choose to avoid soy:
– Soy can be allergenic to some people, and therefore must be avoided.
– Soy is considered a phytoestrogen, which means it has plant-based properties that mimic estrogen in the body. This may be a great addition for women going through menopause, but it may not be ideal for individuals with hormone-sensitive cancers like breast or ovarian cancer. (**this is a hot debate topic….ask your MD for more info!**)
– Soy is one of the top genetically modified crops. We are not sure of the long-term effects of GM crops so just be aware of this. Lots of companies are offering non-GMO soy products (“Silk” brand has the non-GMO logo on it! yay!)
I’m into soy….what next?
If you’re a soy lover, here are my suggestions:
– Choose organic, non-GMO soy products. Look for the non-GMO logo to ensure that the soy you are consuming is not from genetically modified fields. This goes for soybean oil, soybeans, soy milk, etc.
– Choose fermented soy. Fermenting is a traditional process using bacteria or yeast to partially digested the proteins and sugars in a food in order to increase shelf life. The benefits of fermentation include: improved digestability (no more gas!), improved absorption, more bio-available vitamins and minerals, natural probiotics, decreased phytic acid content, increased enzymes, and more.
Types of soy
Soy milk – made by soaking soybeans then blending the paste with water. Be aware of the other ingredients on your carton of soymilk – many contain carrageenan (a seaweed that some people cannot tolerate) or cane sugar to sweeten.
Tempeh – fermented soybeans squished into a block. It smells weird, but is delicious. It holds flavour well and will absorb whatever cooking ingredients you use with it. Tons of vegetarian restaurants use marinated tempeh in place of bacon and meat.
Natto – a fermented soybean goo. It is one of the highest natural food sources of vitamin K2 to help with calcium absorption, AND is a source of “nattokinase” which is an enzyme that helps break down proteins in the body. It also has lots of neat research behind it for helping dissolve scar tissue, blood clots and reduce internal inflammation.
Miso – a fermented soybean paste. Naturally high in probiotics. Super delicious and salty, it adds that 5th taste ‘umami’ savoury flavour to dishes.
Tofu – basically solid soymilk. It’s the cheese of the vegetarian community – made by coagulating soymilk into solid blocks and straining off the liquid. Not a fermented food, but still offers lots of protein. Absorbs flavour well and is used in tons of recipes for entrées and desserts alike (check out this peanut butter banana protein pudding recipe for inspiration)
Edamame – this is the ‘raw’ soybean still in it’s pod. It is usually boiled or steamed and then eaten. You can find frozen edamame beans at the grocery store.
Soy sauce – soysauce is traditionally made of fermented soybeans, salt, wheat and water. Check brands to ensure you aren’t getting “salt-sauce” with a hint of soy 🙂 (FYI – there are gluten-free soy sauces available from the brand San-J)