You may have heard about soy foods in the news, including claims that soy prevents diseases such as cancer and heart disease. So what's the story on soy?
Soy, a versatile bean, is found in foods like soy milk, soy sauce, miso (soybean paste), tempeh (which is kind of like a soy cake), and tofu. Soy is also sometimes added to foods like breads, cereals, and meat products, and used as a meat substitute in vegetarian products such as soy burgers and soy hot dogs.
Foods that contain whole soy are a good source of protein for vegetarians and vegans because they provide all the amino acids — a type of nutrient — that people need to stay healthy. (People who eat meat get all their essential amino acids from animal products.)
Many Americans have added more soy to their diets because of increased availability and scientific studies that have shown that soy may offer health benefits, including lowering blood cholesterol and reducing the risk of certain cancers.
Past research suggested that soy protein could significantly lower levels of LDL cholesterol. But when the American Heart Association (AHA) reviewed the latest research, they concluded soy does not directly influence heart health.
The real health benefits of soy might lie in its nutritional content and the fact that people often use soy foods as a replacement for less-healthy foods. Soy foods are a great source of protein and contain other important nutrients, such as fiber, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Foods containing soy protein are also a healthy alternative to meats and other animal products that contain cholesterol and saturated fat.
Soy milk, soy burgers, and soy snacks are available in many supermarkets and specialty stores. When selecting soy foods, be sure to check food labels to be sure that the food is a good source of soy protein and is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and added sugar.
If you're interested in eating more soy, introduce it into your diet gradually. And remember that the key to good health is to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods without focusing too much on any one food.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2012
|American Heart Association This group is dedicated to providing education and information on fighting heart disease and stroke. Contact the American Heart Association at: American Heart Association|
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|Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.|
|Vegetarian Resource Group This site offers recipes, nutrition information, and lots more for vegetarians and anyone looking to eat less meat.|
|United Soybean Board The United Soybean Board offers tips and recipes for preparing soy foods.|
|Vitamins and Minerals Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that the body needs to work properly. They boost the immune system, promote normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs.|
|How Can a Vegetarian Get Protein? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Figuring Out Fat and Calories From all you hear, you'd think fat and calories are really bad for you, but we all need a certain amount of them in our diets. Find out the truth about fat and calories.|
|Becoming a Vegetarian People choose vegetarianism for a variety of reasons. This article describes different types of vegetarianism and provides advice on ways for vegetarians to get all the nutrients they need.|
|What Is Cholesterol? Before you start chomping on those cheese fries or that greasy burger, you might want to take a closer look at whether you're getting too much cholesterol.|
|Vegan Food Guide A vegan doesn't consume any animal-derived foods or use animal products or byproducts, and eats only plant-based foods.|
|Food Labels Look at any packaged food and you'll see the food label. This nutrition facts label gives the lowdown on everything from calories to cholesterol. Read more about food labels.|
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