Ask A Dietician: Is Soy Milk *Actually* Bad For You?

 
Soy help me, God...

Soy help me, God...

Need to broaden your knowledge of good food versus bad fear-mongering? You've come to the right place. It's "Ask A Dietician" time.

"I’m a pretty chill person but nothing pisses me off more than an internet guru holding detox teas, dishing out bullshit advice," says our dietician Alexandra Reed.

And she's right. It's never a good idea to leave your nutrition knowledge in the hands of Instagram influencers or celebrities. What you need (and deserve) are evidence-based answers from a registered dietician or healthcare provider.

And in that spirit, we'd like to get the educational ball rolling with another installment of "Ask A Dietician." This time, we're tackling reader questions around consuming soy, allergies and trying to get pregnant.

Got a question for our anti-food cop, Alexandra Reed? Just fill out this form.

It seems like so many people are talking trash about soy lately. But I love tofu and soy milk is my jam :( Is it actually bad for you?

— Soy Hungry 

Soy is definitely a confusing nutrient. Rightfully so, since soy such is a mixed bag. Research has been done showing it has both beneficial and adverse effects. Nothing can ever be simple, right?

First, soy is a high quality protein, almost equivalent to the quality of animal protein, and that is why it become popularized as a go-to ingredient in plant-based foods and snacks. It does have beneficial characteristics. Soy protein is well known for lowering cholesterol and reducing risk of heart disease, due to its high content of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, and low saturated fat content.

As far as adverse effects, soy consumption and cancer "risk vs. prevention" is something I get drilled a lot about. For pre-menopausal women and breast cancer survivors, soy consumption is demonstrated to be protective against breast cancer. However, there are adverse effects shown in postmenopausal women within the breast, thyroid, and uterus but these are still unclear. So for women in their prime, I would advise being conscious of soy consumption.

My two cents? Consume protein from a variety of sources and avoid relying on soy as a sole source of protein, especially for my plant-based babes. There is some evidence that individuals consuming excessive soy increases circulating, cancer promoting IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) at levels comparable to those who eat meat.

Unfortunately, soy protein isolate is heavily used in processed artificial meat products (soybean-based “sausage” and “meat” patties). Focus on consuming soy in its least processed forms—edamame and tempeh—and keep it to a goal of about 3-5 servings a day. Your soy milk and tofu are minimally processed so these are also pretty good choices.

As I mentioned, don’t forget about variety! You can find plenty of plant-based protein in whole grains, lentils, nuts, seeds, and beans. Check out some of the highest sources of non-animal proteins here.

I recently found out I’m mildly-to-medium allergic to a bunch of foods (egg whites, wheat, most nuts and sesame and more). But I’m not experiencing any adverse reactions, as far as I know. Do I really need to stop eating these things?

— Allergy Annoyed 

Ugh, I am sorry to hear that. There are various reactions associated with food allergies. Reactions can involve the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, and the skin, all ranging from mild to severe. It’s important to note that having a mild reaction once doesn’t mean you are not at risk of having a severe reactions on the next ingestion.

So, to answer your question, even if you aren’t covered in hives or experiencing anaphylaxis doesn’t mean you aren’t having mild reactions internally. Again, having a mild reaction now doesn’t mean this will be true with for future reactions. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT), it is important to stay aware of these reactions:

  • Itchy mouth
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain
  • Hives (welts) and itchy rashes
  • Persistent eczema
  • Tightening of the throat, trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing
  • Sneezing, hoarseness, nasal congestion
  • Drop in blood pressure, fainting, weak pulse.

Mild stomach discomfort could actually be an allergic reaction to food. It’s not always extreme or severe. Since you have positively tested for several food allergies, I would advise avoiding these foods for your own safety. This is an important time to work one-on-one with a dietitian specializing in food allergies, to help navigate these critical dietary changes. This isn't something you should have to do on your own.

Do not freight, you are not alone. You might have heard of The Big-8 allergens. These are comprised of eggs, fish, soy beans, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, eggs, and crustacean shellfish. These foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies. Luckily, plenty of companies out there have your back. Brands like The Pink Bakery and Enjoy Life Foods provide allergy friendly products, free from the Big-8 allergies.

My advice is to follow up with your doctor and dietitian to work out the allergies you have developed later on in life. Be sure to ask if there is a common characteristic among your new allergies. Are you allergic to a certain compound or it is all of these items separately? Good luck.

I’m trying to get pregnant. Are there any foods that will help get my baby-making gear ready? Are there any foods I should try and avoid?

— Baby Cravin'

That is so exciting! Congrats on your procreation efforts and expanding your family. The goal of pre-pregnancy nutrition is to start preparing your body to create another human. NBD, right? But it’s actually pretty straight forward.

Start taking pre-natal vitamins now to cover all of the vital nutrient needs for you and your future baby. Make sure your vitamins include a folic acid, iron, and calcium, since these are key to prepare your body for needs of the fetus. Folic acid is especially beneficial within 28 days after conception (when many women do not even realize they are pregnant). So be sure to start your pre-natal multi-vitamins now and consume foods high in folic acid like dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and fortified cereals.

Calcium is also a key nutrient—it helps keep your bones strong and develop the skeleton of the fetus. And don’t worry, milk isn’t the only thing with calcium. There should be a great deal in your multi-vitamins but dark leafy greens, broccoli, and legumes are great sources of calcium.

Also, incorporate iron-rich foods like spinach, leafy greens, and beans (see the trend here)? Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy so get in the habit of loading up now!

In terms of what you should avoid, alcohol for starters. This seems obvious but it’s best to cut back while you are trying to get pregnant, since you never know when conception will occur. I also recommend reading The Fertility Dieta book about a study of the same name conducted by Harvard researchers in 2007. They looked at women with ovulatory infertility and had them follow a pretty simple, but balanced diet.

Just a quick summary of their findings: A diet higher in monounsaturated fats (plant-based fats like avocados and olive oil), less animal protein, and more high-fiber, carbohydrate-rich foods was said to increase fertility in subjects of the study.

Overall, focus on your vitamins and ensuring you have a pretty balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals. Think of it this way, you are about to become your baby’s multi-vitamin and ultimate source of nutrition. So treat yourself well during this magical time!

Alexandra Reed is a registered dietician and nutrition coach.

Before making any changes to your diet or nutrition plan, be sure to personally consult with your doctor or a registered dietician/healthcare provider first.

Words: Alexandra Reed