When it comes to soy, you’ll find several opinions about it. Here are some of the things you may hear and my intent is to put them into perspective.
I will start with edamame, the whole soybean in its natural state.
As a legume, edamame has the same overall benefits of other beans, containing a good amount of fiber, iron, folate and protein. Manganese is another key nutrient in soy, since ½ cup of edamame contributes to more than half of our daily needs of this trace mineral, which is necessary for strong bones and helpful in alleviating PMS-related cramps and mood swings.
On the other hand, soy also contains a high concentration of phytoestrogen, a plant chemical with a similar structure to estrogen produced by our bodies. When we eat foods that are rich in these compounds, they compete with stronger forms of estrogen, and the phytoestrogen from soy can have either estrogenic or antiestrogenic action.
It is true that soy is not the easiest food to digest. For this reason, consuming fermented soy products such as tempeh, miso and tamari sauce is the best option. That is the way it has been consumed for over a thousand years in Japan. Besides easing on the digestion of soy, the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients. As with other legumes, soy has a substance called phytic acid that binds to minerals such as iron and zinc, making it harder for the body to absorb them, which is not the case with fermented soy. Lactic acid fermentation is able to break down most of phytic acid, so you can enjoy all the benefits without worrying about possible downsides. Fermentation also turns off much of soy's goitrogens which may be an issue in cases of low thyroid function. Additionally, you can pair soy with iodine rich food such as seaweed.
As is with every food, soy should be completely avoided in cases of allergies and for babies.
So, when buying soy products, here are a few things to look out for:
Wholefoods or minimally processed foods are always the best option: edamame, tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari sauce.
Soy protein powder: choose minimally processed, without additives and if possible, fermented.
Always buy certified organic or products displaying the non-GMO seal.
Read ingredients in packaged foods and avoid highly processed soy products, such as vegetable oil. Even when organic, the processing either depletes the nutritional value of the food or favours one nutrient in detriment of others, changing the balance in the food at its natural state.
Here’s one of my family’s favourite soy recipes: Brussels sprouts with miso sauce, a healthy way of adding flavour to an otherwise dull veggie.
Brussels sprouts with miso sauce
Time: 20 min. Yield: 2 people
- 350 g. Brussel sprouts
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 3-4 tbsp unpasteurized miso
- Cut all Brussel sprouts in half and take out the stem. Discard the outer leaves if brownish.
- Put the olive oil to a large frying pan and heat on medium. Add the Brussel sprouts. Cover and let cook for 2 minutes.
- Stir well. Add the vinegar, cover and let cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until the vegetable starts getting tender and brownish.
- Add the miso, stirring well to spread the paste and mix it among the sprouts. Lower the heat and cook covered for another 5 minutes.
- By adding the miso in the end and cooking at a lower temperature, at least part of the good bacteria is preserved, so you benefit not only from increased bioavailability of nutrients and easier digestion, but from some additional good bacteria in your gut.