Humans have been eating soy beans for almost 5000 years. The soybean is high in protein. The quality of protein from soy equals that of protein from animal foods.
Soy in your diet can lower cholesterol. Many research studies support this claim. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agrees that 25 grams per day of soy protein may reduce the risk of heart disease. Health benefits of soy products may be due to their high levels of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, minerals, vitamins, and low saturated fat content.
Isoflavones that occur naturally in soy product may play a part in preventing some hormone-related cancers. Eating a diet that has a moderate amount of soy prior to adulthood may lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women. However, the intake of soy in women who are postmenopausal or already have cancer remains unclear. Whole soy in products like tofu, soy milk and edamame is preferable to processed soy such as the soy protein isolates that are found in many snack products.
Using isoflavone supplements in food or pills in prevention or treatment of cancer is not recommended. However, these supplements may ease menopause symptoms such as hot flashes.
Not all soy protein products contain the same amount of protein. The following list ranks the protein content of some common soy foods. Highest protein items are at the top of the list.
- Soy protein isolate (added to many soy food products, including soy sausage patties and soybean burgers)
- Soy flour
- Whole soybeans
- Soy milk
To find out about protein content in a soy-based food:
- Check the Nutrition Facts label to see the percentage of soy protein.
- Also look at the list of ingredients. If a product contains isolated soy protein (or soy protein isolate), the protein content should be fairly high.
- Some products also list how many grams of soy protein are in one serving of the product.
Note: There is a difference between soy supplements in the form of tablets or capsules and soy protein products. Most soy supplements are made of concentrated soy isoflavones. These substances may help relieve symptoms of menopause. However, there is not enough evidence to support soy isoflavones for other health purposes, such as lowering cholesterol.
People who are not allergic to soy do not have serious side effects from eating these foods. Mild side effects may include stomach aches, constipation, and diarrhea.
Soybeans also contain a natural substance called purine. Large amounts of purines can make gout worse. People with gout should not eat a lot of soy products.
In adults, 25 grams per day of soy protein may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Soy foods and soy-based infant formula are often used for children. No studies have shown whether isolated soy protein or isoflavone supplements are useful or safe for this group. Therefore, isolated soy products are not recommended for children at this time.
Mackay D. Soy isoflavones and other constituents. In: Pizzorno JE, Murray MT eds. Textbook of natural medicine. 4th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 124.
Sacks FM, Lichtenstein A, Van Horn L, Harris W, Kris-Etherton P, Winston M. Soy protein, isoflavones, and cardiovascular health: an American Heart Association Science Advisory for professionals from the Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006 Feb 21;113(7):1034-44. Epub 2006 Jan 17. PMID: 16418439 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16418439.
Taku K, Melby MK, Kronenberg F, Kurzer MS, Messina M. Extracted or synthesized soybean isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flash frequency and severity: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Menopause. 2012 Jul;19(7):776-90. PMID: 22433977 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22433977.
Reviewed By: Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.