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Confused about Soy Protein?

June 13, 2008

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Soy can be a confusing, almost controversial food in the nutrition world. Health food stores carry it, but that doesn’t always mean it’s good for you. Soybeans are a great source of protein, but they are also difficult to digest because most forms are highly processed. Many vegetarians rely too heavily on this food for protein and consume large quantities. Soy milk, soy dogs, tofu and others can be tasty, but eat them in moderation and experiment with other protein-rich foods.

Instead of tofu with your stir-fry every night, try edamame (the whole soybean), which is easier to assimilate than other soy products. A lot of the soy products available are hard to digest because they are made from highly processed soy isolates instead of using the whole food. Try experimenting with traditional and fermented forms of soy products like tempeh and miso. Most traditional soy products were actually fermented. This process helps digestion by starting to breakdown the food before it enters your mouth.

Tofu is a non fermented traditional way for eating soy, but it was always consumed as a small side dish, not as the main feature of a meal.

Most people do not realize that soy, second to wheat, is one of the most common allergens. Research shows that genistein (a chemical found in soy), may damage fertility, especially in men. Some suggest that soy isoflavones may increase estrogen activity for women and decrease negative menopausal symptoms, but others link estrogen activity to a higher chance of developing breast cancer. These varying results suggest that the jury is still out. So check in with your own body. How does it react to soy?

About the author

Joshua Rosenthal is the Founder and Director of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. He has worked in the nutrition field for more than 25 years, teaching at the school alongside health leaders including Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra and Barry Sears. At Integrative Nutrition students are trained as Health Coaches, receiving the holistic nutrition education necessary for them go out into the world and help others improve their health and happiness.