All About Soy Products: Are They Healthy? How Can I Use Them?


Have you seen soy and soy products in the grocery store but are unsure about what they are, if they are nutritious, and how to prepare or cook them? Soy is a plant that produces beans that can be made into a wide variety of foods, such as soy beverages, tempeh and tofu. Soy and soy products have become more popular due to claims of their health benefits, their use in many foods and recipes, including vegetarian and vegan diet choices. Read on to learn more about how to use soy and how it may benefit your health.

Soy and nutrition

There’s a reason why soy is so popular with people who eat vegetarian or vegan– it’s a great source of high quality protein. The quality of the protein in soy is similar to that found in meat, milk and eggs. It is considered a complete protein and contains the essential amino acids your body needs. This is one reason why soy products are often used as alternatives to meat.
Soy is also an excellent source of iron. Our bodies use iron to carry oxygen to muscles and tissues. Like other plant-based sources of iron, we don’t absorb the iron in soy as well as the iron from animal sources. However, we can absorb the iron in soy products better if we eat our soy with some foods that are rich in vitamin C, like citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli. Vitamin C helps our bodies to use iron more effectively.
Other key nutrients found in soy products include fibre, calcium, zinc, B vitamins and isoflavones (an antioxidant). For example, edamame beans are high in fibre, while firm tofu is a good source of calcium.

Soy and health

Canada’s Food Guide suggests that we eat plant-based proteins more often. Soy-based meals can help you to meet this goal. Here are some ideas:
  • Substitute tofu for the ground meat you’d normally use in chilli, tacos or spaghetti sauce.
  • Add steamed soybeans such as edamame to salads or soups, or eat them straight from their pods as a nutritious snack.
  • Add cubed tofu to stir-fries and soups. 
  • Blend soft (silken) tofu or soy yogurt with fruit and ice for a thick and protein-rich breakfast smoothie.
  • Grill some soy-based burgers at your next barbeque.
  • Grill tempeh with a little barbeque sauce and add to your next sandwich. 

There are some specific benefits of eating soy foods. Here is what we know:

  • Heart Health – A diet high in soy foods may help lower cholesterol. Replacing meat with sources of plant-based proteins is also  heart healthy as plant-based proteins, like soy, are high in fibre and lower in saturated fat. 
  • Breast cancer – High intakes of soy foods (not soy supplements) may help reduce the risk of breast cancer, but the exact amount is not known.  More research is needed.

Popular soy foods

Tofu (soybean curd): Tofu is a soft-cheese like food that comes in a variety of textures. Firmer tofu is used for grilling, soups and stir-fries, while softer versions can be blended or pureed into smoothies, mousses and dips. While naturally very bland, tofu is so versatile because it will absorb the flavours of the foods or sauces it is cooked with.  The nutritional value of tofu will vary so always read the label.  Tip: before cooking, pat your firm tofu dry with paper towel or press your tofu to help it absorb more flavour. 
Soy beverages: This is made from soybeans that have been soaked, ground, and strained to produce a fluid called soybean milk. It is a great source of high quality protein and B vitamins. Many soy beverages are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and are popular substitutes for individuals who cannot tolerate cow’s milk. The soybean milk is also used to make cheese, yogurt and frozen desserts for people with a lactose intolerance or who are vegan. When choosing a soy beverage, read the label and look for varieties that are plain with no added sugar. 
Soybeans: Soybeans come in yellow, black and brown varieties. They are rich sources of protein and fibre. Dry soybeans need to be soaked overnight and then cooked before using. Add them to soups, stews and sauces, or roast them in the oven for a tasty snack.
Edamame (green soybeans): These are soybeans that are harvested when they are still young. Edamame are rich in protein and fibre. Look for shelled or whole pod edamame in the frozen food section of your grocery store. After boiling, add them to soups, salads or eat them from the pod as a snack.
Tempeh: It is a chunky and tender soybean cake with a smoky or nutty flavour. Tempeh is often marinated and then grilled. Add it to soups, casseroles, sandwiches or chillies.
Miso: Usually found in a paste form, miso is made from soybeans, grains (usually rice) and salt. Miso can be used to flavour soups, sauces and marinades. Miso can be high in sodium (salt) so compare labels and choose varieties with less sodium when possible. 
Soy protein products: These meat substitutes are usually made from soybeans, tofu and other ingredients. Popular ones are those that can be used instead of hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages. The nutritional value of these products can vary widely, so always read and compare labels. Look for varieties with less sodium and saturated fat and more fibre. 
Soy sauce: This is made from fermented soybeans. It is used as a condiment to flavour dishes. It is often high in sodium and doesn’t have the nutritional benefits of other soy products. Compare labels and look for varieties that have less sodium. 

Sources of soy protein:

Soy Product

Serving Size

Amount of Soy Protein


½ cup

16 grams

Roasted soybeans

1/4 cup

15 grams


1/2 cup

11 grams

Fortified soy beverage

1 cup

10 grams


1/2 cup

10 grams

Black cooked soybeans

1/2 cup

9 grams


1 tablespoon

2 grams

Recipes to try:

Sweet Chilli Tofu Stir-Fry
Tofu Vegetable Soup
Banana Nut Smoothie
Sweet and Crunchy Carrot Salad

How can a dietitian help?

If you are interested in learning more about how soy foods effect your health, how much to include in your diet, and how to choose the most nutritious options, a dietitian can help! Adietitian will give you personalized advice based on your lifestyle, medical history, culture, goals and more. Connect with a dietitian today

Bottom line

Soy foods can be a nutritious addition to your diet. They are high in protein, fibre, iron, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants. Choose unprocessed soy foods more often, like soybeans, edamame and tofu. Compare labels of other soy-based foods and choose ones with lower sodium, added sugar and saturated fat. 

You may also be interested in:

What are the Benefits of Eating More Plant-Based Foods
All About Tofu
Facts on Soluble Fibre

This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.  Latest version was reviewed and updated in January 2023.

Last Update – September 20, 2023

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