Clearing Up the Confusion over the Safety of Soy

Edamame salad (photo credit: Dea Bee)

Edamame salad (photo credit: Dea Bee)

In today’s world of soaring profits for the food industry, the stakes are extremely high. The rise of the soy products market threatens the traditional meat and dairy markets by providing the health conscious consumer with a brilliant solution: a product that is high in complete protein and other nutrients yet very low in fat and devoid of cholesterol. What’s more, it’s “cruelty-free” and has a modest environmental footprint relative to its meat and dairy predecessors.

To make matters worse it can be manufactured into every conceivable meat or dairy substitute one can think of and with often stellar results. Toffuti is so confident it’s soy-based cream cheese is better than the real thing, it’s actually the name of the product, “Better Than Cream Cheese!” WholeSoy‘s organic blueberry yogurt easily rivals any other traditional yogurt in its class for taste and texture.

Soy products are often cheaper than the meat and dairy products they replace and can easily be found in organic form at any major grocery store. So why are so many people concerned about the safety of soy? Ted Nordquist, soy dairy pioneer and CEO of WholeSoy, explained to me the other day that industrial production of soy which uses biotechnology and processing methods undermine the reputation of soy as a whole. On the other hand, whole soy products that use the whole bean and not some soy isolate are those that are safe and beneficial to our health.

The battle over the hearts and minds of consumers is still being fought. Everyone you talk to has heard some disparaging study about soy. Some have heard that the phytoestrogens in soy lead to hormone disruption. Others rail against the use of the solvent hexane to extract the oil from the soy bean. Is this a conspiracy of science funded by the meat and dairy industries to scare consumers away from soy? Maybe partially. But the fact is, few of us will take the time to critically evaluate the sources of these studies.

In my journey to find solid facts about soy safety, I found, a soy industry association web site that has gone to great lengths to disseminate science-based information on all things soy. While shies away from any criticism of industrial soy production (due to the fact that its members include such agribusiness giants as ADM), its page devoted to safety addresses almost every major safety concern and supports its claims with credible, peer-reviewed sources. The key safety facts are the following:

Soy as a regular part of the diet can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Soy isoflavones can prevent certain cancers, reduce bone loss and strengthen arteries.

Isoflavones in soyfoods have no significant effects on hormone levels in men or women.

Soyfoods are safe for the developing fetus.

Women who eat soyfoods have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.

No studies demonstrate a link between eating soy and breast cancer recurrence or tumor growth in humans.

Soyfoods protect against thyroid cancer and have no effect on thyroid function in healthy people.

For complete details see the safety page at

If you are still concerned about soy safety, stick to organic soy only for three very important reasons: organic soy products are not genetically modified, not processed with hexane and are made from whole soy, not isolates or by-products.

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  1. Thanks for tackling this difficult question. I’ve spent the past few months learning about soy, and unfortunately, it is problematic in many ways.

    In response to some of your information above, is not a reliable source on soy. Just as you mentioned, its members include those associated with ADM and, if you do a quick search, Monsanto. (Check out the name of the room where the National Soybean Research Laboratory meets!

    Additionally, the American Heart Association changed their position on soy in 2006:
    (“In its new statement, the AHA said it found no benefit for soy protein or isoflavones in lowering LDL cholesterol, improving HDL or triglycerides, or lowering of blood pressure.”)

    Soy is questionable, at best, especially the processed additives that are in much of our food today. It is used as a filler, much like HFCS, and most of it is GMO. In fact, genetically modified (GM) soyi s grown on 91% of US soybean fields. Americans eat more soy on a daily basis than the Chinese and Japanese do, and the forms that we are consuming are not traditional or healthy, according to Michael Pollan. Likewise, as you mentioned, soy has been linked in research to hormone disruption, as well as the sharp increase in allergies in the US.

    If you’re interested, please visit my page at

    Thanks for bringing attention to an important topic. I think that it needs to be discussed – my hope is that we learn about soy from those who do not have corporate interests.

    • Thanks for your informative response. We’ll check out your resources and perhaps follow up to do a story from your side of things.

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