Soy good or soy bad?

Edamame with fleur de sel

Edamame with fleur de sel

There is a lot of confusion out there about soy and whether it is good or bad for you. Does it cause cancer? Does it increase estrogen, which may be boosting female traits in men? Or is it a healthy food that has been part of the human diet, especially in Asia, for centuries?

Well the answer is definitely the latter! Whole and fermented soy foods like edamame, tofu, tempeh and miso are absolutely healthy foods that you can include in your diet regularly. Soy protein has been studied for its cholesterol-lowering properties. Not to mention it's a great plant-source of protein that can replace protein from red meat (which, in excess,  is known to be carcinogenic and increases heart disease risk).

So what about these phytoestrogens we hear so much about? Yes, they are present in soy. But they're also present in numerous plant foods (e.g. flax) and we know that eating mostly plants is always better for us. The only time these plant-estrogens are problematic is if you have estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer. Otherwise, they likely have a protective effect as they can bind to estrogen receptors in our body and displace the actual hormone.

Phytoestrogens vary by soy food. They become much more concentrated in a processed soy product called soy protein isolate. This is found in soy-based protein powders as well as some of the vegetarian 'deli meats'. These are not products to consume regularly as they are ultra processed, but they may fit in as a treat now and again (e.g. veggie dogs on the campfire).

The other concern with soy is the abundance of soybean oil in our processed foods and the amount of soy fed to our farmed animals. Soybean oil is high in omega 6 which may contribute to increased inflammation in our bodies. To limit it, eat more fresh foods cooked at home, instead of eating out or relying on ultra processed packaged foods. Finally there is concern about soy and GMO. It is true that most of the soy grown in North America is genetically modified. If this is a concern, simply buy organic edamame, which prohibits genetic modification. Most edamame I see in the stores is labeled GMO-free.

Hopefully that's cleared up some of the confusion and left you with the message that eating whole and fermented soy regularly is good for you. Check out my earlier blog post on Baked Tofu for a delicious protein source to add to any salad, stir fry or simply to snack on. Stay tuned for a post on tempeh! Miso can be consumed in soup of course, but also makes an earthy addition to sauces or dressings. But what I'm showing today is how easy it is to add edamame into your life, not just when you're out for sushi.

Edamame (or whole soy beans) is available in the freezer section of your local grocery store. It can come pre-shelled and be used like any other bean--add to soups, rice bowls, salads, pasta. What I love though is buying them in the pods. They make a quick and satisfying snack but can also be a fun appetizer or a part of a dinner.

We like to do 'market dinners', something my husband grew up enjoying after Saturday morning visits to St. Lawrence Market in Toronto with his family. They'd buy cheese, bread, veggies, nuts, maybe a pate and put out a spread for dinner where everyone can try a bit of what's new and a lot of what they like. We've continued this tradition with our family, whether we can visit a Farmer's market or just pretending we did. The staples are definitely the artisan bread and cheeses but I also like to have a lot of veggie dishes, like roasted or sauteed mushrooms (think garlic & white wine!), kale chips, sliced summer tomatoes with basil, buffalo cauliflower (like wings, but healthy!). It's also nice to have one or two hot dishes (not to mention some plant protein) to accompany the cold or room temperature ones. This is where edamame comes in...



1 package edamame

Coarse salt (or fleur de sel)


Follow the instructions on the package, which should say something like "add edamame to a pot of boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes". Drain then sprinkle lightly with salt. Enjoy! Oh and for those of you who are new to edamame, you suck the beans out of the pods and discard the shells.

Could that be any easier?

Nutrition Facts for 150 g (1/2 package): Cals 92; Fat 3 g (Sat fat 0.3 g); Carb 7 g; Fibre 3 g; Sugar 1 g; Protein 8 g; Vit C 13%. Sodium will depend on how much salt you add.

By Nicole Fetterly, RD (aka the Bean Queen)