Soy…are you for? or against?

You can put “soy” in the same category as “politics and religion” when talking about controversial conversation.

I knew soy was a hot-button issue when I wrote my post about “Little Boys Developing Breasts and the Soy Controversy”.  But lately, I’ve had so much misinformation and twisted truth thrown in my face, I thought it was time to re-visit the issue and get some input from a world-renown expert on the subject, Dr T Colin Campbell.

Dr Campbell, who grew up on a dairy farm, has spent much time researching the benefits of a plant-based diet.  He was one of the lead scientists in a study set up by Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine in 1983.  The study looked at lifestyle and disease mortality characteristics of 65 rural Chinese countries and paved the way for the current “plant-based diet informational age”.  He is also one of the creators of the popular documentary, Forks over Knives that follows sick individuals through their journey to health by adopting a plant-based diet.

His book “The China Study” (#25 on Amazon’s book sale list) looks at evidence supporting the fact that most illness and diseases can be linked to what you eat and that a poor diet plays a pivotal role in the progression of not only heart disease, but also diabetes, autoimmune diseases (i.e. rheumatoid arthritis) and cancer.   It was “The China Study” that inspired President Bill Clinton to adopt a plant-based diet when he underwent a heart procedure for clogged arteries. He said that “after (examining) 25 years of evidence” he adopted a plant-based diet that is keeping him healthy and has allowed him to lose over 20 pounds.


Cool beans!

So about the soy…

When we talk about soy, you have to be very specific.  Starting with the basic soy bean, it is just that: a legume.  But the magical thing about this legume is that it is one of the few plants that contain essential amino acids (perfect protein) in the amounts that our bodies need to survive.  The protein profile for soybeans is very similar to that of meat, milk and egg protein.

So what’s the problem?

The problem comes with processing.  Modern manufacturing loves to process.  They take something good, grind it, heat it, separate it, kick the crap out of it, and pull out only the parts they need.  When this processing is done to the soybean, you get soy isolates–just the isolated protein..or worse hydrolyzed soy protein (MSG’s brother).   You can find soy isolates in just about any food on the grocery shelf. Body builders buy it by the barrel in powdered form, and if your energy bar says “high in protein”,  they’re using soy isolates. And soybeans that manufacturers are using to make the soy isolates are all GMO, or genetically modified and sprayed to the bejezes with pesticides.   90% of all soy products used in the US are GMO.  (soybeans were the first GMO mass produced crop in the mid 1990’s) Tofu and soy milk fall into this category as well (unless it says “non-GMO Organic”).  If you are reading labels (and you should be) you should look for, and avoid anything that says “soy isolate” or “TVP” (textured vegetable protein) in the ingredients.  At the bottom of the label, if it says “this product contains soy”, unless you are buying soy sauce or miso, they mean soy isolates.

Another problem with soy is in the “plant estrogens” they contain.  The soy products don’t contain the female hormone estrogen per se, but the substances in the soy plant can bind with estrogen receptors.  This is the reason for the controversy having to do with breast and ovarian cancer and soy consumption (that’s a book’s worth of discussion right there) and parents hesitating to give it to their young boys (and girls for that matter).

The Asian diet is considered extremely healthy.  Let’s look at how the Asians eat soy.  Typical Asian diets include fermented soy in the form of miso, tempeh, and natto.  Fermenting means allowing the substance to age along with microorganisms.  This process makes the soy easier to digest and more beneficial health-wise.  When Asians eat tofu (which is not fermented), it’s a small slice in soup, or a small amount with veggies.  They don’t eat massive “soy burgers” and they don’t drink soy milk on a regular basis and they certainly don’t mix powdered soy isolate shakes!

I am lucky enough to have a sister who is lucky enough to occasionally work with Dr Campbell and I thought it would be interesting to hear what he had to say about soy.

Dr Campbell brings up the fact that in the 1970’s, when he was doing research in the Philippines, they were looking for an inexpensive, plentiful substitute for meat and dairy protein for the poor of that country and looked into using soy.  The soy industry was not nearly as big as it is today, and when the dairy industry got involved, they “shut down” Dr Campbell and put a halt to the process.

(In my experience over the last 5 years in doing my own personal research on plant-based diets, I find the most violent and adamant opposition to any plant-based diet, and to Dr Campbell himself, comes from the paid bloggers that write for the beef and dairy counsels.  There is big money to be lost by the beef and dairy industry if people start wising up, changing their diets, and feeling better. One ad was so totally stupid it shows the dairy industry’s desperation.)

Dr Campbell said that soybeans in their whole form (in soups, or as edamame) are fine occasionally,  but he would not recommend anyone drink glasses of soy milk, especially kids.  He recommends rice milk first, then almond milk instead of cows milk. It’s not the inclusion of the soy milk, it’s the exclusion of the dairy that is the main health factor here.

Those looking to soy for protein in their diet to sub out for meat, should also know there is protein in everything you eat and eating “consciously” including whole plant-based foods will provide one with the perfect amount of protein intake.  High protein foods, while not necessary to include, are simple to include in your diet and consist of nuts, seeds, quinoa (nature’s other perfect protein), beans and legumes.

Table 2: Protein Content of Selected Vegan Foods
Tempeh 1 cup 41
Seitan 3 ounces 31
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 29
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 18
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 15
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 13
Veggie burger 1 patty 13
Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup 12
Veggie baked beans 1 cup 12
Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup 12
Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup 11
Tofu, firm 4 ounces 11
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 10
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 9
Tofu, regular 4 ounces 9
Bagel 1 med.
(3 oz)
Peas, cooked 1 cup 9
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), cooked 1/2 cup 8
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp 8
Veggie dog 1 link 8
Spaghetti, cooked 1 cup 8
Almonds 1/4 cup 8
Soy milk, commercial, plain 1 cup 7
Soy yogurt, plain 6 ounces 6
Bulgur, cooked 1 cup 6
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 6
Whole wheat bread 2 slices 5
Cashews 1/4 cup 5
Almond butter 2 Tbsp 5
Brown rice, cooked 1 cup 5
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 5
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 4
Potato 1 med.
(6 oz)

It should be noted that 8% of your calorie intake should come from protein.  It just so happens, that most plant-based foods contain an average of 8% protein in their caloric make up.  A perfect plan!

I love what Julieanna Hever, MS,RD,CPT says in her book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant Based Nutrition:

Often the first question herbivores hear when someone discovers their diet is (plant-based) is “Where do you get your protein?”  My favorite response is “The same place gorillas, elephants, water buffalo, and horses get theirs!”

The bottom line:

  • soy is not the fountain of youth, but used properly it can compliment your healthy diet.  New studies actually find that eating 1-2 servings of whole soy (that’s soy beans or fermented soy) can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by 25% across the board…ER+ and ER- whether on Tamoxifen or not! Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jul;96(1):123-32
  • include whole organic soy beans or fermented choices (tempeh, miso) of soy in small portions
  • limit soy intake of any kind to no more than 1-2 serving/day
  • avoid drinking glasses (over 8oz) of soymilk
  • avoid soy protein isolates and hydrolyzed soy in processed foods (better yet, just avoid processed foods) by reading labels

Please feel free to comment. I love to share ideas and opinions!

The China Study   by Dr T Colin Campbell

The T Colin Campbell Foundation – great info on disease prevention and recipes

Wonderfully easy miso soup recipe

Categories: diet, health, health and wellness, healthy living blogs, vegan diet, vegetarian diet

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

26 replies

  1. Not every process is evil in the wolrd that we live in.
    Soy is fine when we speak about soybean,edamame,soy milk,natto,tempeh,miso,tofu even tvp (occasionally).As about SPI (soy protein isolate) it is NOTHING more than the protein of soy in its purest form without the phytic acid,lectins etc ready for faster absorption after a physical training for example.I am a vegan amateur bodybuilder and i include soy foods in my diet among with some supplements and there is not a single study out there showing,a bat outcome from a REGULAR occasionally consumption of a soy protein supplement.On the contrary.

    As for the isoflavones they are molecules similar to estrogens with WEAK BENEFICIAL estrogenic OR ANTIestrogenic activity in the human body.It has to do with the a and b receptors for estrogens.They are also strong antioxidants with plenty of benefits.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment! I agree with everything you said except for the soy protein isolate. Isolated soy protein is harmful due to the chemical process of the isolation and the concentrated protein containing the phytoestrogens. I would strongly recommend everyone to steer clear of products containing these soy protein isolates and avoid soy protein powder and supplements.

      As a vegan body builder, you should check out pea protein and pine nuts. My buddy D Anthony Evans is a vegan body builder and many time cancer survivor and builds massive muscles with just that along with a whole food plant-based diet. Soy protein powder is not needed. Check him out:

    • Hi and thanks for this article. I am switching to a whole food plant based diet (WFPBD) and am looking to see what to use instead of dairy milk. I put milk in my cereal (healthy, whole grain of course) and on my oatmeal too. I’m looking to see if Soy Milk is the right thing. One thing I like is that the soy milk that I buy is fortified with vitamin B12 and D2. I don’t think I’m getting B12 anywhere else. I have read The China Study and also The Campbell Plan. What is confusing me is that I don’t see them saying anywhere your points above:

      – include whole organic soy beans or fermented choices (tempeh, miso) of soy in small portions
      – limit soy intake of any kind to no more than 1-2 serving/day
      – avoid drinking glasses (over 8oz) of soy milk

      This implies that there is something wrong with soy itself. The only things I read in the Campbell Plan page 57-58 is to avoid eating too much refined soy products. “You can eat edamame or any whole soy bean as much as you want”, the caution is on tofu although a little is OK a couple times a week. This contradicts some of your points. I understand the hesitance on refined products, but isn’t almond milk as an example also refined? The book also says to not worry about all the Phytoestrogen “pizzazz”. It seems like they fully support eating as much unprocessed soy beans as you like, provided you eat an overall balanced WFPBD.

      Looking at the Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies (CNS) web site it says this:

      “Milk: Milk substitutes abound in major grocery stores as well as natural food stores. There are many varieties and flavors of non-dairy milks that are made from soy, rice, almond, hemp, etc. These milks can be used in cereals, tea or coffee, and in both baking and cooking. They come in both regular and low-fat versions, as well as sweetened and unsweetened. Try different ones until you find your favorite and remember to read the nutrition label for ingredients.”

      I have not seen the points in your bullets anywhere from the books or the CNS site. Did you interview Dr Campbell for your article and get that verbally? I am left still confused. I was hoping to find that Soy milk is fine and I will get my D and B12 vitamins that way. Please help.

      • Mike:
        First CONGRATS on trying to eat more whole food plant-based! You will soon see the benefits of eating this way and you will start look great and feeling great.
        Now to your points:
        First let me say I respect Dr Campbell a great deal. What he and his family, Nelson, Kim etc, are doing is really bringing plant-based diets to everyone and allowing them to see that this IS possible and it’s easy!
        Here is one place where I disagree (just a hair) on The Campbell Plan. I seriously think they use too much tofu in their recipes and suggestions. I purchased the Plant-Pure Nation cookbook and the The China Study cookbook and there is tofu in 75% of the recipes. Tofu…even organic tofu…is processed. It is different than eating the whole soy bean, and if you’re eating GMO tofu (anything that is not organic) than you are getting a boatload of pesticides as well as the effects from the GMO plant. When we look at the intake of tofu from Asian countries, they eat literally a sliver in soups or stirfrys. They don’t eat cubes of marinated tofu in a big pile or use a block to make a tofu scramble. There is 100% absolutely nothing wrong with “soy”, but the word “soy” can mean so many different things I avoid using it without tagging it either soy beans, miso, tempeh, soy milk….and such because it is SO DIFFERENT.
        When I was doing research for my book, Dr Campbell and I did exchange e-mails where he said “I would not advocate drinking big tall glasses of soy milk”. Soy milk that is processed in a factory, even organic soy milk, is still processed and chemicals and additives are needed to keep the milk a consistent flavor, consistency and expiration date.
        Here are the ingredients of Silk Soymilk:
        Soymilk (Filtered Water, Soybeans), Cane Sugar, Contains 2% or less of: Vitamin & Mineral Blend (Tricalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2, Riboflavin [B2], Vitamin B12), Sea Salt, Natural Flavor, Gellan Gum.
        SUGAR is the next ingredient next to soybeans. You should be trying to get sugar out of your life… The minerals added are fine….”natural flavor” can be anything from apple juice concentrate to beaver anal expressions….and do you really need gellan gum?
        The fact is soy DOES contain genistein among other components that have an impact (albeit good or “bad”) and it’s intake should be limited. yes, too much of a good thing is not good. When soybeans are processed into milk, you can drink about 4 servings without even knowing it. if you drink that with a tofu burger, and then eat some soy beans on your salad, that really is too much, and it’s not healthy…it’s just not.
        Based on what I know from the lectures, professionals and books I’ve read, I would not advocate eating “as much edamame as you want”. I love edamame and love to eat organic edamame when I can, but I would not feel good about eating 5 cups a day every day…even if that’s what I wanted.

        To the next point, yes almond milk is refined and I’ll have to re-look at this post, because since I wrote it I do not buy anything from a carton anymore. It’s too easy to make my own almond milk at home…and for a fraction of the cost.
        See this video:
        I stopped using carton almond milk when i found out how bad carageenan is for your gut… for cooking, I still use pure organic coconut milk (with no added anything)

        As far as Vitamin D and B12:
        The only way to know if you’re getting enough vitamin D is to get your blood tested. Although there are many articles out there that say serum Vitamin D doesn’t mean anything, all the naturopathic and integrative medicine doctors I’ve spoken to still advocate keeping your serum Vitamin D level around 75 ng/dl. You will never get this amount from drinking ANY kind of milk.
        As far as vitamin B12 goes, everyone…and I mean everyone…vegan or not should be taking a B12 supplement. Get the methanocobalamin (not cyanocobalamin) as it is absorbed more naturally. Even if you get a blood test that says your B12 is fine, there is no way to know if your nerve tissue (that’s where the B12 is used) is getting enough. So you could have a normal B12 blood level, but still not be getting enough to help the nervous system function normally. You can’t OD on B12. I take 5000 mcg methycobalamin daily and 4000 IU Vitmain D with 400 mh K2 as MK-7….among other things.

        I hope that answers some of your questions. I love that you are questioning things, because that is how you will determine what will work for you. I’ve been eating plant-based for 9 years now and I am still adjusting my diet…adding and subtracting things as I learn about them. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning! Which is a good thing!
        Please let me know if you have any other questions. I’m including the lesson on Vitamin B12 from my cancer survivorship website too.
        Thanks again and keep it up!! 🙂!cancer-nutrition-lesson-13/c23hb

        • Susan, I appreciate your advice, I am being more careful with soy now. The article on B12 was also helpful. I am taking a 5000 mcg methylcobalamin tablet weekly now. I know what you mean about continually learning about nutrition. Speaking of that, do you have an opinion on sprouts? I have heard that broc sprouts are very healthy and pack a huge amount of nutrition. Do you recommend them? Are they as good as purported?

        • Yes!! Absolutely! But you must grow your own organiclly and it’s very easy. Broccoli sprouts have concentrated sulfurophane which kills cancer stem cells. I highly recommend them! Google “sprout people” and you’ll find a great learning site. I grow mine in mason jars. Send me an email and I can send you instructions. If you click on the Mountain Rose Herbs link on the right side of the blog, that’s where I get my organic sprouting seeds

  2. I am finding it hard to know what to give my 2 yr old son to drink. He is largely vegan, like me, and doesn’t have any dairy at all. I had been giving him soy milk, as advice in the UK is that rice milk and almond milks are not nutritionally adequate as a dairy alternative (not sure what that means) but reading this, I shouldn’t be giving him soy milk every day. Also, the UK Food Standards Agency advises against giving young children rice milk as the inorganic arsenic levels are too high.

    I don’t give him sugar so he can’t have juice but there must be more to life than water! For now he still gets a bit of breast milk but that won’t be for much longer. I’ve been using fortified milks as they are so useful for getting calcium and vitamins into toddlers who while mostly enthusiastic about food inevitably go through phases where they don’t eat particularly widely.

    I’d really appreciate your thoughts.

    • I can give my opinion for what it’s worth, but for more specific info I would ask a naturopath. For toddlers not drinking cows milk, fortified soy milk is recommended up to the age of 3. Then there is no need for any “milk product” as long as they are eating a balanced whole food plant-based diet. Here is a great resource for moms. The problem with soy is when it is consumed in large amounts as kids and well into their teens. As long as your kids are getting a balanced whole plant-based foods (Not “junk” vegan foods like chips)then they will be fine. Toddlers are often getting enough calories and it’s a common misconception that they aren’t.
      Hey, there’s nothing wrong with water! You are assuming your child is “bored” with it, but that may just be your thinking not his. I agree with you not giving him cupfulls of juice, but you may want to put just a spoonful of juice(nothing added) in the water to give it a different “flavor” if it makes you feel better 🙂
      Stay strong against the naysayers who will try to tell you your diet choices are wrong. I’ve come across many who told me that my kids “needed” meat (My kids didn’t have any red meat or chicken growing up…until they could rebel as teens) but they couldn’t tell me why.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. First of all I have to say thank you! Since I have watch Forks over knives, I wanted to change my diet as a plant based one, my surgeon also recomended to me…I’m a breast cancer stage 4 suvivor. I started a research over the internet and I was so confused about the soy milk and tofu, because some webs says soy it’s good for and some the opposite. You just have explain it so nice and simple that right now I have a better understanding!

    • Thanks Shei. And congrats on taking charge of your diet and your life! Soy still a developing story, (and because of the financial implications, a heavily influenced one)and i think you’ll hear lots more. Unfortunately, most doctors are not “up to date” on their nutritional education and are still advocating staying away from all soy forever, which in my opinion is ridiculous. I even had one woman tell me her doctor said she couldn’t use the lip balm I developed because it has soy bean oil in it (the hormonal properties are only in the protein of course)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and good luck to you!

  4. It’s a pity that soy is so bad for us humans – I used to use this once a day in my morning cereal but had to stop it though after I got informed of this information myself. Soy is just so much more creamier than normal milk 🙂

  5. My clients struggle to understand at times why I want them to come off Soy and only have it in small amounts, GM free, and organic. This is a really informative piece about it – thanks Debs.

  6. Great post Susan…very informative and well written. I did not include soy products in my cancer-fighting diet because of the estrogen factor. I assume from this article that you are vegetarian? I have not gone there YET, but I eat no red meat, and very little of other meats. I eat a lot of plants, beans, lentils, etc. Were you vegetarian b.c (before cancer)?
    Cancer Warrior

    • Thanks for your comment! I am vegan-ish (I can’t seem to kick my love for a well-grilled piece of salmon a couple of times a month) No dairy, no meat of any kind, nothing artificial, no HFCS, nothing hydrogenated and I limit any food that is white (white rice, white potatoes, white bread, white pasta etc)
      Being a cardiac nurse, I always followed a low fat, no red meat lots of veggies diet, but after my diagnosis I became much more aware because I started informing myself and doing research.
      Making a drastic change in your diet takes time. Once you realize how great you feel, you will want to keep going. I always had terrible joint pain and joint issues, but since giving up dairy, I’ve been pain free.

      • I am slowly making the transition. I jumped in kinda quick with the veggie juice and had stomach cramps akin to early labor. So I am easing myself in to it with berry smoothies laced with sprouts and cucumbers. I also love grilled salmon, and it is fresh and plentyful here where I live in the North Atlantic. Dare I ask….alcohol??? I had no prob eliminating sugar from my diet, but wine is my vice:(
        Cancer Warrior

        • I am actually allergic to alcohol (the irish in me lights my face and chest up with hives like a mutant Christmas tree) but I truly believe that moderate (no more than 2) wine above all other alcohols is fine….now true “whole foodies” will disagree, but your happiness is important too!
          The cardiologist I worked for actually lectured on the “French Paradox” (how the French all smoke eat cheese, but their rates of heart disease is low) and how red wine helps your heart.

        • Phew, that’s a relief….no more than two bottles for me from now on….OH, you probably meant two glasses:( Seriously though, I know I have to make major life style changes, but I also know that I am more likely to be successful if I take it slow. Something you said in one of your posts really resonated with me, it was about making changes that you can live with. Like if brocolli makes you physically ill, don’t eat the stuff. Makes sense. I find your blog the best resource I have yet come across on this stuff. It is both educational and entertaining. Keep Blogging!
          Cancer Warrior

        • Thanks! That’s a real compliment coming from you! You’re the queen…I’m just a jester in your court!

  7. Very informative … opened my eyes to a few things about soy milk and other soy based products I was not aware of. Thanks!


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