The scoop on soy

June 19, 2013

Soybeans are a protein-rich legume that are a staple in the diet of Asian and Indonesian cultures. These cultures tend to use soy in moderation in cooking. In typical North American fashion, when researchers grabbed onto the idea that soy was helping those cultures to live longer, healthier lives - we North Americans thought - the more, the better, and while we're at it, let's play with nature and genetically-modify it too. Genetically-modified soybeans carry with them a whole host of their own problems - such as increased allergenicity and sensitvity.

Another concern that has been raised about soy is that "it contains estrogen". This is not an accurate statement at all. Soy, being a plant, does not and cannot contain estrogen. It can however have a weak estrogen-like effect in our bodies. This effect, when used gently, can provide benefits to health in many hormone-influenced conditions. It can, on the other hand, when used in excess in certain conditions or before puberty, also cause hormonal imbalance which can lead to other problems. 


Tips for healthy soy use:

  • choose non-genetically modified soy products only
  • choose organic soy products
  • use soy in moderation as a source of protein, not as a food consumed everyday, this is especially important in children before puberty
  • if you have a hormone-based condition - talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about whether soy is a safe option for you
  • if you experience negative symptoms when eating soy - don't eat it!

Eating soy:

Soy can be consumed in a variety of ways: as soymilk, as steamed fresh beans - called Edamame, as tofu or tempeh. Below is a decription and some tips about choosing, marinating and cooking tofu and tempeh. 



Tofu is made from soymilk, which is coagulated and then pressed into cakes. Tofu comes in different consistencies: firm or soft, as well as silken, which is custard-like. It can be purchased fresh usually floating in water in a plastic tub. Silken tofu is usually sold in tetra packs. Many stores also sell “pressed” tofu, which is packaged in vacuum-sealed plastic. Pressed tofu is firmer and chewier than “fresh” tofu - some describe this as more chicken textured. Look for the expiration dates on the packages. Tofu itself is fairly bland, but will absorb flavour when marinated. It can be added to most dishes when you want to give a dish a protein boost. Tofu is an excellent source of protein and calcium for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Contains 10g of protein per 100g of tofu. Cooked soybeans contain 13.5g of protein per 100g of cooked beans.



Tempeh has a firm texture and a distinctive mushroom-like flavor. It is made by the controlled fermentation of whole soybeans and formed into cakes. It is a staple food in Indonesia, where the tempeh is made at home and served in a wide variety of dishes. You can buy tempeh that has been made from only soybeans, or from soybeans fermented with rice, barley or other grains. Tempeh is usually purchased refrigerated or frozen and can be stored in the freezer for several months, or in the refrigerator for about ten days. A little mold on the surface is harmless.

Tempeh needs to be cooked before eating. Before marinating tempeh, poach it in boiling water for about 5 minutes. This increases the ease with which is absorbs marinade and improves the digestibility. You do not need to precook the tempeh if you are simmering it in a stew or chili. After poaching, marinate tempeh, then bake, broil or grill it. Serve large pieces in a sandwich, smaller chunks on kabobs, and bite-sized pieces on toothpicks for an appetizer. Crumble or slice tempeh and use in recipes where you would use ground beef or small chunks of meat. Try substituting tempeh for tofu in stir-fries, stews, and casseroles.


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