Let's Settle the Great Soy Debate — Is the Bean Actually Bad For You?

Plant-based diets and commitments like Meatless Mondays are on the rise, and for good reason. In addition to imparting several health benefits such as better heart health and clearer skin, reducing consumption of meat, and thereby lessening greenhouse gas emissions, can benefit the environment as well.

When reducing our intake of meat products, we often turn to soy, which comes in the forms of tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, natto, burgers, and other products. Soy is considered to be a great plant protein source, rich in vitamins and minerals, and an excellent source of essential amino acids.

However, many avoid incorporating soy into their diets. One of the reasons could be that, due to high levels of isoflavones, soy products may raise levels of estrogen in your body when consumed. A few studies have also been conducted that may link soy to cancer growth, poor semen quality, and lower testosterone levels in men.

So should we incorporate soy into our diets or stay away from it? We spoke with a few experts to find out.

First of all, not all forms of soy are created equal. According to Carolyn Mitchell, RDN, CNSC, a registered dietitian at Sharp Coronado Hospital, "Processed forms of soy, such as soy burgers, soy energy bars, and the highly processed frankensoy products, are not good choices because the processing strips away the nutrients. Additionally, foods like these are likely to have added sugars, fats, and refined flours."

"Processed soy contains phytoestrogens that mimic the body's natural estrogen, which leads to hormone imbalance in both men and women," according to certified holistic health coach and cofounder of Raw Generation, Jessica Rosen.

Emily Bartlett, holistic health expert with a degree in Chinese medicine, and cofounder of Real Plans, a meal-planning app that serves people with dietary restrictions, tells POPSUGAR that "the levels of phytoestrogen in soy are off the charts." Additionally, "much of the soy produced in the US today has been genetically modified in laboratories [and] has been found to get in the way of digestion and increase the risk for allergy."

Foods that are genetically modified "can be dangerous when consumed because they kill off good bacteria in the gut and damage the digestive system," according to registered dietitian and clinical nutritionist Nia Rennix.

Both Bartlett and Rennix agree that fermented soy is beneficial, with Rennix adding, "Fermenting a food increases the probiotics. Soy [food] like natto is extremely healthy because it is fermented and high in vitamin K2."

In addition to probiotics and vitamin K2, Melissa Halas-Liang, MA RDN CDE, media representative for the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (CAND), tells POPSUGAR, "Soy contains fiber, potassium, and magnesium, [which are] all important for heart health. Plus, magnesium is a mineral that is often low in the American diet and can play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes."

Although more research needs to be done on whether or not soy is good for us, it's important to read your labels and choose fermented, non-GMO, or organic whole-food sources of soy in moderation if you choose to incorporate it into your diet.