Soy along with a variety of legumes and other plant based foods can be part of a healthy kids’ diet. Soybeans are in the pea family and provide high quality protein. Soy contains zero cholesterol (since it is a plant food), is low in saturated fat, and is a good source of fiber, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins. As part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, soy may reduce the risk of heart disease. Soy contains polyphenols called isoflavones, a type of phytochemical. Genistein, daidzein, and glycitein are types of isoflavones abundant in soy, but found in smaller quantities also in other foods (1,2). Some of these phytochemicals may help protect against cancer.
It’s such a versatile food and can be made into soy milk, flour, powder, tempeh, miso, tofu, soy sauce, textured soy protein, vegetarian meat and cheese replacements. Highly processed soy, like soy sauce, does not contain isoflavones (a type of beneficial phytochemical). Also, many overly processed soy “meats” may be lower in phytochemicals. Sometimes you’ll see soy added to processed foods like sausages, chicken nuggets, or deli meats -this doesn’t make these foods healthier. Try to choose soy in its closer to nature forms, like the ones listed below.
If you’re concerned about genetically modified foods (GMOs), choose organic soy, which is never genetically modified. You can also choose foods labeled non-GMO soy. Some store brands, like Trader Joe’s, are GMO free.
Don’t get confused when you hear that soy contains phytoestrogens -these are plant substances, not steroids. Isoflavones are also called phytoestrogens because of how they behave in the body. They do have a similar structure to human estrogen and can bind to the human estrogen receptor. Because phytoestrogens can bind to estrogen receptor sites they can “replace” some of your own estrogen with less potent plant phytoestrogens. This action might reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer! However, most Americans don’t eat enough soy to reap the health benefits -and therefore we get less isoflavones per day compared to typical Asian diets. A typical American eats only 1-3 mg of isoflavones per day, compared to the 30-60 mg per day that is typical in Asian diets (3). Including soy in your child’s diet may lower the risk of cancer later, so try to include soy in your family’s diet weekly. To read more about soy and other research related to cancer, see foods that fight cancer.
If you haven’t liked soy foods in the past, don’t let your food biases affect your kids’ tastes exposure. I’ve seen toddlers ask for plain tofu right out of the fridge, watched teens love spring rolls with baked tofu or eat roasted soy nuts as snack food. Give soy a second look!
Here are 10 ways to enjoy soy: