Is Soy/Tofu Good or Bad for You?
You may not know this, but soy foods are controversial. Some people think tofu is abominable because of the way it tastes, but if you look around on the internet, there are sources that think it is evil and “life-endangering”. I had to investigate since I love tofu and don’t want to endanger my life. After all, I gave up Cheetos and processed foods (which I love much more than tofu) because they’re unhealthy. There’s no way I’m going to endanger my life over tofu.
Traditionally, foods made from soybeans – tofu, soy milk, miso, tempeh, etc. – have been considered low-fat, protein-rich health foods. However, if you search the web, you will find several articles that say soy is an unhealthy (if not downright evil) food. What’s up with that? Let’s look at the evidence on both sides. First, the facts:
Soy foods are considered good protein and calcium sources, so a lot of vegetarians and lactose-intolerant people turn to them for those nutrients. For a 3.5 oz serving (same size as a serving of meat), the organic tofu in my fridge provides 5 gm fat (7.5% DV or daily recommended value on a 2000 calorie diet), 10 gm protein (18.75% DV), 2.5 gm total carbohydrates (1.25% DV), 7.5% DV of calcium, 7.5% of DV iron, and 100 calories.
Why people are proponents of soy as a healthy food:
Non-meat protein and calcium source
Lowers LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), 2007 study from National Institute of Health and Nutrition, Tokyo, Japan
Isoflavones (compound in soy), reduces the risk of initial and recurring breast cancer, Wall Street Journal
Why people think soy is unhealthy:
It impairs thyroid function (unlike the others, there is some basis for this one – soy may impact you if you have a thyroid dysfunction – so avoid)
Unfermented soy prevents protein and nutritional absorption due to phytic acid and trypsin inhibitors
It causes mental degradation due to aluminum absorbed in soy
Phytoestrogens add hormones (plant version of the female hormone estrogen)
Weston A. Price and Dr. Mercola are main proponents of the soy is evil thinking. The studies above and Dr. Weil make these people seem wacko.
What to believe? I looked deep inside myself (not usually a source of answers), but I found some in my genetics. I am Taiwanese, and my people have been eating tofu, soy milk, and miso for centuries.
The anti-soy articles (like this one by Nourished Magazine which is particularly nuts) just don’t seem to have a grasp on reality. They often state:
Asians eat very little soy products (7 grams a day), and if so, it is always fermented. Have any of these people lived in an Asian home? Do they know any Asians? I happen to know a lot of Asians that I’m related to, but I know even more than that of all types. Soy products are pounded on a regular basis. Bowls of hot soy milk are served for breakfast in Taiwan. Koreans have stews that are tofu stews. No one I know has a tiny 7 grams a sitting. This is bogus.
Phytoestrogens will lower sperm count and feminize boys. And 100 gms of soy protein have the equivalent of one contraceptive pill. Last time I checked, Asia was being accused of overpopulation – China even enacted a one child rule. There doesn’t seem to be any low sperm count there. I don’t think a feminized male could have kids. And I dare you to use soy protein as a contraceptive (not really, that would just be stupid). If soy was superfeminizing, you would think that the average Asian women would have the figure of Pamela Anderson Lee (post-surgery). Riiiight. There are more real hormones fed to industrial cattle than the tiny amount of plant hormones in soy.
Soy causes Alzheimers and dementia, and causes you to die earlier. After centuries of eating lots of soy, there is no evidence of any of those things in Asia, and the population with the highest longevity is the Japanese.
So, after filtering the evidence through common sense and empirical evidence, MindfulEats will confidently say soy (femented or not) is good for you as long as you’re not allergic to it or have a thyroid disorder.
What to do – Eat Soy in Moderation
Some people should avoid soy. If you have a soy allergy, a thyroid disorder, iodine deficiency (very rare) or hate the taste, then avoid it. If your body doesn’t react well to it, avoid it. In terms of taste, I love tofu and can’t abide the taste of soy milk. My brother likes soy milk but can’t stand tofu.
Buy only organic and non-genetically modified (GMO) soy products. Actually, a food that is certified organic is not supposed to be GMO so you’re getting both. Soy is a large industrial crop that is heavily treated, which is why you want organic.
Soy products (except for edamame) are processed foods. So you may want to go light on them. The anti-soy contingent is generally ok with fermented soy foods like tempeh and miso, but they’re wacky.
Use soy as a protein source, but like everything else, make sure you not eating it to the exclusion of other foods. Eat a WIDE variety of whole foods to get a full range of nutrition.
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