Written by Jaime Bachtell-Shelbert, an Illinois-based holistic, plant based dietitian with a love for all things gut health.
Soybeans, a healthy part of a plant based diet, are part of the legume family. Soy is a nutrient-rich, plant-based protein that has many healthy benefits. Soy has become a controversial food, making it important to distinguish between whole, organic soy and conventional soy. Organic soy in its whole form, i.e. edamame, soy milk, tempeh, tofu, etc, has important health promoting properties. The protein content, isoflavones and fiber content in soy are significant to soy’s contribution to overall health. The association between soy intake and decreased cardiovascular disease risk is well documented by the American Heart Association.1
Organic, GMO-free Soy
Soy has become a controversial food, due to the mass conventional farming of soy. When consuming soy, it is important to purchase certified organic soy as the overwhelming majority of soy grown in the United States is genetically modified and sprayed with herbicides. Organic certification is an even higher standard than GMO-free, meaning all organic soy is GMO-free. When purchasing soy or soy products, make sure the soy is certified organic and thus also GMO-free.
One cup of edamame contains 8 grams of fiber and an impressive 17 grams of high quality, plant protein. Notably, soy is one of very few plant based foods containing all 9 essential amino acids making it a complete protein. Given these facts, soy foods in their whole form are a desirable substitute for animal protein which often contains high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol.
Vitamin & Mineral Content
Soy is also a good source of iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins. Calcium absorption in soy is similar to that of calcium in cow’s milk.2 The iron in soy is in the form of ferritin which contributes to its higher bioavailability and absorptive capacity.2
The fat in soy is predominantly the heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The polyunsaturated fat mostly consists of the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6- essential because we cannot manufacture these fats in our bodies.2 These essential fatty acids are important in maintaining cell structure, healthy nerve functioning and lipid metabolism.3 Further soy is naturally cholesterol free and low in saturated fat making it a heart healthy choice.
Rich in Isoflavones
The isoflavones in soy are bioactive compounds that are protective against hormone-related cancers (breast, endometrial, prostate), fight oxidative stress, improve glycemic control, alleviate menopausal symptoms and improve bone health. 4,5
Like most foods, the purest form of soy, whole soy, is less processed and preferable to soy isolate. Soy protein isolate is made by removing the protein from defatted soybean flakes. Soy isolate is often added to processed foods such as energy bars and protein shakes to increase the protein content. Whole soy is superior in nutrition to soy isolate as soy in its whole form confers the most health benefits.
Overall organic, whole soy is a healthy addition to a whole food, plant based diet.
Jaime is an Illinois-based holistic, plant based dietitian with a love for all things gut health. Find Jaime on social @whollynourishedrd on Instagram, and find information about her private practice, Wholly Nourished, on her website www.whollynourished.com.
Michele L. Seattle, WA
Judy H. Marblehead, MA