The Scoop on Soy


Have you seen soy and soy products in the grocery store but are unsure about what they are 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 and tofu.  Soy and soy products have become more popular due to claims of their health benefits, their use in vegetarian diets and our increased exposure to Asian foods. 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 vegetarians– 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. This is one reason why soy products are often used as meat alternatives.

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 we would 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, bell peppers and broccoli. Vitamin C helps our bodies to use iron more effectively.

Other nutrients found in soy products are fibre, calcium, zinc and B vitamins. For example, edamame beans are high in fibre, while firm tofu is a good source of calcium.

Soy and health

Soy is a source of isoflavones, a phytonutrient. Isoflavones are believed to affect how our bodies use the hormone estrogen. There has been a lot of research on how isoflavones may impact our health, but so far the results of the research are still unclear.

Here is what we do know:

Heart Health – Adding more soy rich foods to your diet may be helpful in controlling blood pressure, reducing blood cholesterol and improving vascular function. 

Menopause – A few servings of soy rich foods each day may help to reduce some of the symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes.

Breast cancer – The research on whether soy helps to prevent breast cancer is unclear. Include soy foods as part of a healthy diet, but taking soy supplements is not recommended.

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 it is cooked with.  The nutritional value of tofu will vary so always read the label.  

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 be used to make cheese, yogurt and frozen desserts for people with a lactose intolerance or who are vegan.

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: This is a popular Indonesian food. 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 or chillies.

Miso: Usually found in a paste form, miso is made from soybeans, grains (usually rice) and salt. Popular in Japanese cooking, miso can be used to flavour soups, sauces and marinades. 

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 the label.

Soy sauce: This is made from fermented soy beans. It is used as a condiment to flavour Asian dishes. It is high in sodium and doesn’t have the nutritional benefits of other soy products.

Sources of soy protein:

Soy Product

Serving Size

Amount of Soy Protein


½ cup

16 grams

Roasted soybeans

¼ cup

15 grams


½ cup

11 grams

Fortified soy beverage

1 cup

10 grams


½ cup

10 grams

Black cooked soybeans

½ cup

9 grams


1 tablespoon

2 grams  

The bottom line

The new Canada’s Food Guide suggests that we aim to eat meat alternatives 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 soy beans such as edamame to salads or soups, or eat them straight from their pods as a healthy snack.
  • Add cubed tofu to Asian 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 and hot dogs at your next barbeque.

Try these recipes:

Sweet Chilli Tofu Stir-Fry

Tofu Vegetable Soup

Banana Nut Smoothie

Last Update – January 10, 2018

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