Soybeans are legumes, such as peas, beans and lentils. They are one of the world's most important crops. Soybeans are consumed many different ways including edamame (young green soybeans), soy milk, soy nuts, soy yogurt, soy cheese, tempeh, miso, tofu and in a variety of meat substitutes such as veggie burgers. 

According to Registered Dietitian David Grotto, author of 101 Foods That Can Save Your Life, compared with other legumes, soy contains the most protein. Whole soy products, such as edamame, are high in fiber. Soy contains B vitamins, copper, magnesium, iron (especially fermented soy products such as tempeh and miso), and calcium. Soy milk is usually fortified with calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 and many soy-based meat substitutes are fortified with vitamin B12. Soy is rich in phytonutrients (isoflavones) that may help prevent certain types of cancer and heart disease and also may improve bone density. Also, fermented soy foods like miso and tempeh have healthy bacteria like that found in yogurt. 

According to the Soy Foods Council, some of the potential beneficial health effects of soy include:

  • Reducing risk of heart disease. According to the FDA's health claims, eating 25 grams of soy protein per day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Soy shows great promise in reducing the risk of certain cancers including breast (especially when included during childhood and adolescence) and prostate cancer.
  • Evidence suggests that isoflavones in soybeans may reduce bone loss in post-menopausal women, and relieve menopausal symptoms.
  • Soy is lactose-free and gluten-free, which is beneficial for those who follow lactose-or gluten-free diets.
  • Ongoing research indicates that soy foods may help people with diabetes control their blood sugar and lower their risk of complications of the disease, like kidney disorders.

Including soy into your diet has never been easier. Frozen edamame, frozen meat substitutes, soy milk, tofu, soy nuts are readily available at the grocery store.  Specialty stores carry treats such as dark chocolate covered edamame. Japanese restaurants offer many dishes containing soy, including miso soup, steamed edamame and tofu dishes. Even some fast food restaurants offer veggie burgers on their menus.

In her book, Stealth Health, Registered Dietitian Evelyn Tribole offers these tips to sneak soy into your meals:

  • Add half pureed tofu to part-skim ricotta cheese to use in lasagna or manicotti recipes.
  • Puree tofu and add it to creamy desserts such as custard or cheesecake.
  • Try calcium-fortified soy milk in your favorite pudding recipe.
  • Add meatless, soy-based meat crumbles (found in the frozen food section of the grocery store) to recipes using ground beef, such as meatloaf and tacos.
  • Top your salad with roasted soy nuts.

But is soy safe for breast cancer survivors? According to the American Dietetic Association, soy foods are okay in moderation, but isoflavone supplements are not recommended. Each person should consult their own doctor for individualized advice. 



101 Foods That Could Save Your Life by David Grotto, RD, LDN,  Bantam Books, NY 2008

Stealth Health by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD.  Penguin Books, NY 1998