Soy: Healthy or Harmful?

Soy is a pretty controversial food – many people believe it’s super healthy with a wide array of potential benefits, while others say that it poses risks to health and should be avoided. Let’s examine some evidence. 

One concern people have is that soy products are linked to a higher risk of cancer. This idea came from the processed soy that is found in certain snack foods, which contain something called soy isoflavones. A high consumption of this can disrupt hormone levels, which in turn could increase the risk of cancer. 

Recent studies have found that unprocessed soy doesn’t increase the risk of cancer, and in fact it could help to protect against some kinds of cancer when consumed in high quantities.  

Another potential benefit of soy is that when consumed in small quantities along with IVF treatment, it could help to further improve fertility in women. 

Interestingly, some studies have also shown that eating soy instead of meat could have positive benefits for the heart. This is because it lowers saturated fat intake and boosts fiber intake, as well as potentially lowering bad cholesterol. 

Should everyone eat soy? No, there are a few instances where it’s best to avoid it. If you’ve been diagnosed with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer at any point, it’s best to limit or avoid your soy intake. Also, if you’re on medication for an underactive thyroid, consuming soy could interfere with the body’s absorption of the medication, so it’s advisable to limit it. 

Do all types of soy come with the same benefits? No. As mentioned above, processed soy snacks such as imitation meat, soy bars, yogurts or protein powders usually contain soy protein isolates, so they don’t have the nutritional benefits that unprocessed soy such as tofu, tempeh, miso and edamame contain.