Is soy healthy?

When discussing my new vegan lifestyle with my nutritionist, he said to totally avoid soy/products. Apparently, the results of processing soy are the culprits (i.e. tofu), possibly causing cancer and/or hormonal (estrogen) problems?

I don't know that I understood all he said, but thought I should ask you about it. I have been eating a lot of beans to provide my protein, but will it be enough, and exactly how much protein should I be concerned about getting, anyway?

Slingerlands, NY


Hi Susan - You have touched upon a topic that is the cause of much debate. I can only share my personal thoughts and opinions, along with a healthy dose of personal experience.

When I went veg back in 1994, I was pretty clueless about how to create ANYTHING (veg or not!) in the kitchen. My diet was focused on lots of vegetables, fruits and pasta. Pretty much the same foods over and over again. And it actually worked beautifully for me. I lost about 20 pounds almost overnight ("working out" was NOT in my vocabulary, but hubby Jeff and I did a ton of walking which likely contributed to my weight loss). I looked great and felt fabulous and energetic.

Then I discovered soy. Now, I thought tofu was sort of strange, so I didn't make it a lot. But when I did it was usually mixed up with veggies, or cooked into a quiche -- MAYBE once every two weeks.

But by 1998, I began to notice all the soy-based faux meats and cheeses in our natural foods store. I latched onto these products as though my life depended on it! They were just SO GOOD and really satisfied our tastebuds.

It wasn't unusual for me to have a glass of soymilk with breakfast (usually on cereal), a vegetarian ham sandwich with soy cheese for lunch, a tofu pot pie for dinner, and soy pudding for dessert. Ack!

Fast forward to 2005, when for the first time I realized that I had slowly but surely been gaining weight in my belly, butt and underneath my upper arms. It had happened so slowly, that I honestly hadn't even noticed. And in looking back at journals, I was able to see how much MORE I was able to accomplish in a day, comparatively speaking. My complexion, hair, and nails had become more dull and sad looking. My eyes just weren't as bright. I was depressed more often -- and I'm normally one of those sickeningly happy people (!). Something was definitely wrong.

And that's when I came across information about soy. As I said, this is a topic of fierce debate, so I'd like to state again that this is my personal experience, combined with my studies...

What I learned is that the soy topic is not black and white. Some soy foods are okay to eat, and some are not.

As a general rule, soy contains anti-nutrients and is a very difficult food to digest, overall.

But fermented soy such as tempeh contains beneficial bacteria and is actually easier to digest.

I think the confusion comes in because "soy" covers such a b-r-o-a-d range of products, from soy cheeses and faux meats to edamames to tofu to tempeh to miso and more! Make no doubt about it, soy is big business, and just as with any natural foods they can be made to be unhealthy. (Contrary to popular belief, the manufacturers of some of these soy foods MAY NOT have your best interests at heart).

Also, soybeans contain a large amount of plant estrogens. This is why soy is recommended to women who are going through menopause because the estrogen mimics their own depleting estrogen. So soy can be helpful in this instance.

But when we ingest soy products on a regular basis, we might create what's known as "estrogen dominance". I was surprised to discover that estrogen dominance can cause weight gain in the belly, butt, and underneath the upper arms in women (who are usually the ones most affected by estrogen dominance) -- the very areas I was having the most challenges. And to expand on this thought, these enlarged fatty tissues produce MORE estrogen which induce even more fat gain! Oy!

After removing soy meats, soy cheeses and other processed soy foods from my diet, for the most part and on a regular basis, I began to notice positive changes in myself. It certainly didn't happened overnight, but it DID happen. My weight slowly but surely returned to a normal and healthy weight for my height, and as a result my skin looks healthy and clear, my hair is thicker and shinier, my nails are stronger, my happiness and exuberance for life has returned.

Keep in mind, also, that these processed soy foods usually contain a lot of sodium. And eating too much can cause your body to retain water which can also lead to weight gain.

Of course, I do occasionally indulge in, say, a veggie pepperoni and soy cheese pizza, but nowadays processed soy is a treat instead of a main protein source.

Please note that some soy can be good for you. Tempeh and miso, which is fermented soy, is a regular part of my diet. Tofu is less regular, but I usually combine it with vegetables to ensure balance.

So here's my recommendation: Experiment on yourself. Remove ALL soy products from your diet for a period of 1 month, including the fermented stuff like tempeh. See if you notice a difference in yourself.

Keep a journal so you can keep track of your weight, measurements, emotions, etc. Then slowly but surely, and one at a time, add in first the fermented stuff and then the processed soy and see how you feel after the addition of each one. What feels good to you, may not feel good to me, and vice versa.

And have no fears. We really don't need these soy products to survive. There are MANY OTHER sources of protein, including beans, nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butters, veggies, grains and fruits -- basically everything else!

For a more detailed discussion about vegan protein, please visit the page on my site dedicated to this topic: Vegan Protein.

Hope this very long explanation has helped in some small way. :O)


Comments for Is soy healthy?

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I have the same question.
by: Anonymous

I am wondering the same thing. I would like to go vegan, but don't want to include processed soy in my diet. I have been reading a lot about processed soy being bad for you. What are examples of unprocessed soy and are they okay??

by: Sassy

Thanks for participating! Since I answered the original question after you posted, please let me know if you have more questions or need further clarification. :)

Soy in Moderation
by: Krista


I just want to say that soy is a very complicated subject....the bad rap about soy is more with the GMO issue, as well as the processed "meats" you see in stores. Watch out for processed snacks that sneak in soy powder, etc. (Also, don't be mislead by articles you read online, just focus on those with credible research studies!)

The key: to consume the least processed foods, strive for all natural, and eat everything in moderation/have a well balanced diet. This is good advice in general, not just for soy foods.

As a vegan, the main soy products I consume regularly include soy milk, tofu, and roasted unsalted soy nuts (a great source of protein and fiber). For non-dairy milk alternatives, soy milk is the most affordable and most available...otherwise it's hard to be thrifty vegan and completely avoid soy.

Just thought to let you know my thoughts on soy! As a graduate with a nutritional science degree, I thought the advice I learned in school would be helpful.


Soy is an allergen
by: Anonymous

Sassy thank you for your informative article. I have also removed ALL SOY PRODUCTS from our foods (I read all the labels carefully - not hard as I use very very few packaged products).
It was simple for me - as my stomach let me know very quickly that it was not digestible (for my system).
I noted that soy is sounding very strong warning bells for experts who had been extolling the virtues of soy products for children who could not use cow's milk and those products.
It would appear that soy is causing huge problems - the rise in allergic re-actions and their severity is increasing every year.
I have chemical sensitivity and look at everything I use, eat and put on my skin (as well as avoiding all sprays etc.) So over the years I have noted a lot of changes in the quality (or should I say the lack of it) in our foods.
And I can only suggest to avoid highly processed and GMO products - your body and your health will be better for it.
Cheers Peggy

Genetic differences
by: Amina

Sassy, my naturopath discourages adding soy to the diets of her non-Asian clients because her studies reveal that they generally lack the genes necessary for proper digestion of it. Have you heard of this point of view? That may explain why you, a Caucasian, had difficulty with soy products; whereas Asians thrive on it.


by: Amber

This was very helpful. I struggle with the trying to find the right foods to eat as a vegetarian.

Soy and gluten
by: Krista Foley

I have read and heard from my doctor that those who are gluten-intolerant can also be soy-intolerant. Soy is linked somehow to the gluten-impact, so I avoid soy as well. Sometimes I sneak in soy sauce (wheat free) once in a while, and it seems to make me feel bad afterwards. It's wonderful how many non-soy products there is available now - Daiya cheese, almond milk, etc...

Thank you!!
by: Nancy Tan

thank you very much for putting up this article! this literally saved my life as i noticed these funny things as well. i was over dosing on soy bean curd daily as my damn nutritionist insists that soy is ok!@ he even sold me genistein which i threw away today!

Soy to gain weight?
by: Anonymous

Great article, lots of good information! For someone who is trying to gain weight ( I am very tall and it's hard for me to gain weight) is soy milk a good option? I'm not a vegetarian so the only soy I would be consuming is just soy milk.

If I had say a glass a day, would it help me gain weight? Also do you think a glass a day would have an emotional toll on me like you mentioned you kept in your journal?

Also I'm 19 if that makes a difference--trying to gain a few extra pounds.

Thank you!

Try this...
by: Sassy

Hi there - I would say to just experiment. Every body is different. :)

Try drinking soy milk for a few weeks and see what you think. Keep a journal to keep track of how you feel, physically and emotionally.

Beyond that, try adding foods that contain healthy fats such as avocado, nut butters, and organic virgin olive oil (on fresh green leafy salads).

Hope this helps! XO

Soy good or bad comment
by: Anonymous

Thank you for this article.

I am generally of the belief that the more processed a food, the worse it is for you, even with many vegan foods such as soy (and bread - most are suitable for vegans).

My experience with soy was when my diet contained more of it (esp the faux meats), I did notice weight gain and after reading your article - under my arms and around my belly especially. I didn't really take note of how my weight was distributed till now - thank you for that!

Another disturbing thing I noticed was that these soy products tended to act much like contraceptive pills would in that it changed the length of my period, where it would only last about 3 days as opposed to the usual 5-6 days. My flow was severely reduced and I seemed to be somewhat less moody, with little to no PMS symptoms.

The water retention and weight gain led me to do some research of my own and I then stopped eating soy to see what the effect would be. It was like when you stop taking the pill - skin broke out uncontrollably (I never have skin problems), my cycle was a complete mess and suddenly jumped to lasting 7 days with plenty of spotting days after it should have ended.

Eventually everything settled down and went back to normal and now, like you, I view soy products as a treat, not a main source of nutrition.

an extra weight on it too I kept wondering if I should continue to eat so I bet everybody else and so I took it through a shake
by: AnonymousRebecca

I am so grateful for this article that you wrote I to experience the same thing it everybody that uses the shakes with soy and they all lost weight but not in their stomach and hips s but I just thought it was an isolated case now I know different and I to have increased in my hipsThe largest I've ever been so that's it that little feeling inside it keeps saying that's the reason is I was sigh was eating the same way now I know thank you very much this article was a God sent just at the right time thank you very much God bless you
Pastor Rebecca

Soy latte alternative ?
by: Koko

I've been vegan for the last 5 months, and I heavily depend on soy milk for coffee! So what's is a good tasty alternative for soy milk?

Alternative to soy milk
by: Sassy

Hi Koko! I like almond milk.

There are a lot of plant-based milks out there. Try a few until you find one you like. xo!

Great info!
by: Kelly

I loved your article and am so glad I found it. I had to run to an appointment today and was going through my closet trying to find SOMETHING to wear---nothing looks good on my body anymore. After trying several outfits, I finally had to slap something on and get going. I looked terrible and was disgusted, yet again, by the uncomfortable feeling around my expanded waistline. I kept wondering, "What happened? How did it happen?!" I've been thin most of my life and have *never* had a 'spare tire' or any weight around my middle, nor my hips/thighs. And never had difficulty finding things to wear. But slowly, there was a belly sticking out, saddlebags off my thighs and in my case, my bra size increased 1 cup. As I was driving home, still feeling the uncomfortable roll around my middle, I kept thinking, "When did this start? Is it just an inevitable part of getting older?" And then it hit me: It started when I went vegan and put a death grip on all the soy-based products that seemed to suddenly flood the market. The menu you described, Sassy, is virtually identical to the menu I've followed since converting to veganism (right down to the vegetable pot pie for dinner!). The thing is, I'd read the articles about soy, but didn't associate it to what was happening to my body. Oh, and in addition to the weight gain and bloating, I've also had thinning of my nails and terrible, terrible hair loss. I've also had strange up and down bouts of depression.

So, I came home from my appointment and googled 'veganism and belly fat' and your site popped up. Reading this article (and the comments of others), really opened my eyes. I'm sure now that what has happened to me is a result of adding tons of soy-based products to my diet. This is exciting information. I'm going to follow your suggestion and eliminate soy completely from my diet, keep a food journal, and see if/how things improve. Btw, I've read belly fat that is in the lower part of your belly is virtually impossible to get rid of, but at this point, I'd be happy to just reduce this bloating roll from around my waist. And get back to feeling and looking normal. Wow, it seemed so hopeless and now I have some hope!

Thanks again for your wonderful article. I'm going to bookmark this site so that I can keep up on other information you are sharing, based on your experience as a vegan. Thanks so much!

My experience with soy
by: Anonymous

Thank you so much for your entry. I started taking a soy supplement about a year and a half ago I take one a day. I did this because u started to notice changes in my body and became very moody. I figured I was starting to go through menapause. The supplements helped even out my moods and with fatigue but I also noticed the weight gain as you mentioned in my belly butt and arm and breasts. I've always been busty butt my friends are telling me I look like I've had them enlarged. I look ridiculous. You can imagine how uncomfortable this is. I am only 5'2. So they have become quite the burden to carry around. I have developed acne as well. I am disappointed because although the soy took care of my mood swings and has made me feel more balanced. Now I am suffering all of these other side effects which is depressing. What is an aging woman to do? I am 48 not 78 and I don't want to feel that way!! Ugh!

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