Stories

What’s the Deal with Soy?

Oct 26, 2020
Menu Monday

You may have heard rumors about soy foods causing breast cancer, but is that really the case? In this article, we will break down the basics of soy foods, their health benefits, and a few ways to enjoy!

So, what foods count as soy?

The soybean plant, native to Eastern Asia, is one that has been consumed for thousands of years. (1) When processed, it makes popular vegetarian protein alternatives including tofu, edamame, and tempeh. Soy milk is also a common dairy-free milk alternative. The plant can also be made into commonly-enjoyed Asian cuisine ingredients including soy sauce and miso paste. These add a salty, rich flavoring to many of our favorite dishes.

What’s the deal with soy and estrogen?

The nutrients called isoflavones that are found in soy have a similar chemical structure to estrogen, which is why it is called “phytoestrogen.” (2) Phyto is the prefix that means “plant.” However, just because it looks similar, doesn’t mean it’s the same. Humans share 50% of ourDNA with bananas, and 85% with dogs, but it doesn’t mean we’re even close to being either of those things! (3, 4) In summation, soy does not contain any estrogen. (2)

Why do people think soy causes cancer?

It’s been shown that increased levels of estrogen in the body can lead to certain types of cancer, but if we know soy doesn’t actually have estrogen, then it should not cause these cancers. (5) There have been studies using rodents, where their incidence of breast cancer increased with more soy intake. However, humans process soy differently than rodents, and the amount of isoflavones that the rodents took in, when extrapolated, is far more than any person could consume on a regular basis. (5)

Is soy okay to eat, and maybe even healthy?

Yes, very! Soy foods (tofu, edamame, soy milk) are typically a very healthy contribution to any diet. Soy has shown to actually reduce the risk of some cancers, including breast, prostate, and gastric cancers!(6, 7) Soy foods can also be a very helpful and delicious meat alternative to those wishing to reduce their intake of animal protein like beef and pork.

So how do I eat it?

Tofu: wrap the block in a towel and press with a heavy object for 15 minutes to reduce the moisture. Cube it, toss with olive oil and a mix of cumin, curry, salt, and pepper, and spread evenly onto a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 350*, or cook in a pan on medium-high heat until golden on all sides.

Edamame: purchase edamame pods frozen and heat them up for a nutrient-dense, filling snack. When still hot, I like to toss them with a tbsp of sesame oil, a sprinkle of salt, and red chili flakes. You can also buy them out of their pods, and mix them into salads.

Tempeh: this option is much meatier and has a satisfying nutty taste. Just like tofu, it can absorb the flavor of the ingredients in the dish, and is a great addition to salads or even tacos!

 

Enjoy this recipe from Love and Lemons for marinated baked tempeh.

Ingredients

  • 1 (8-ounce) package tempeh
  • ¼ cup tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

1. Cut the tempeh into cubes, place in a steamer basket, and set over a pot with 1-inch of water. Bring the water to a simmer, cover, and let steam for 10 minutes. This helps it become tender and ready to soak up more flavor from the marinade.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari, vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, sriracha, and several grinds of pepper. Place the tempeh in a shallow dish and pour the marinade on top to coat. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Arrange the cubes onto the baking sheet, reserving the excess marinade.

5. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush more of the marinade onto the cubes. Bake 10 more minutes or until the cubes are charred around the edges. Enjoy on salads or grain bowls.


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– Samantha Marks, RD, LDN

Registered Dietitian

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References:
1.    https://www.britannica.com/plant/soybean
2.    https://www.oncologynutrition.org/erfc/healthy-nutrition-now/foods/soy-and-breast-cancer
3.     https://sanogenetics.com/blog/are-we-genetically-similar-to-bananas-and-why-is-this-important-for-research-in-disease/
4.    https://genetics.thetech.org/ask-a-geneticist/human-seal-shared-dna#:~:text=It%20turns%20out%20that%20dogs,98%25%20we%20share%20with%20chimps.
5.    https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/soy-and-cancer-risk-our-experts-advice.html
6.    https://www.dana-farber.org/for-patients-and-families/care-and-treatment/support-services-and-amenities/nutrition-services/faqs/soy-and-cancer/
7.    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/185034Recipe:
Recipe: https://www.loveandlemons.com/tempeh/

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