It seems as though there’s a new diet craze every couple of days: Low carb diets, vegan diets, gluten free diets, and even Paleo diets are now making the rounds. With the emphasis on defeating obesity and trying to eat healthier, many people have turned to foods like soy to try to improve their diets. You may have seen soy milk, tofu, or other soy-based products at your local grocery store and wondered: Is soy really healthy for you? Does soy milk contribute to weight gain? To answer these questions, it helps to look at what soy is and how it is used in different foods.
What Is Soy?
Soybeans, also known as glycine max, are a type of beans that are native to East Asia. According to a study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they are one of the most common crops grown in the United States. There are actually two different species of soybeans, but both are made mostly of soybean oil, water, protein, and some carbohydrates.
What Are The Benefits of Drinking Soy Milk?
Soybeans are popular as a food choice because they provide a lot of essential nutrients, such as proteins, essential omega-3 fatty acids, and healthy fats. They are also a convenient alternative to meat or lactose products for people who are vegetarian, vegan, or lactose intolerant. A range of soy products has emerged across the world, including tofu, soy paste, soy milk, miso, and even soy burgers.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, soybeans can help lower cholesterol and provide other health benefits. The American Cancer Society claims that eating soy products is not harmful and that their high level of phytic acid can help reduce inflammation and maybe even prevent cancer.
However, these are not the only benefits of soy. Some other advantages are shown below:
What Are The Possible Risks of Drinking Soy Milk?
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
- Regulates leptin levels (the “satiety” hormone) to promote fullness
- Provides beneficial proteins and antioxidants
However, although soy milk does have its benefits (such as those listed above), some studies also point to the drawbacks associated with consuming soy products. Many of these have to do with the fact that soy contains compounds called isoflavins that mimic the body’s naturally produced estrogen.
Thus, there is some concern that drinking soy milk could contribute to breast cancer growth or lead to unwanted side affects, such as hot flashes, hair loss, bloating, and weight gain. There have also been studies investigating soy’s relationship with a number of medical conditions, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, gout, hyperthyroidism, and cognitive impairment.
However, most studies investigating these claims have shown that there is not enough evidence to conclusively prove that consuming soy products has a dangerous effect on health. For instance, a 2010 study published in a journal by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine showed that eating soy protein or isoflavins had no effect on reproductive hormones in men and did not cause prostate cancer. On the other hand, studies of soy’s effects on cognitive functions have been mixed: Some studies suggest that it can lead to brain atrophy in rats, while others show no correlation between soy consumption and cognitive deterioration.
Eating soy has been linked to the following health problems:
So, Does Soy Milk Make You Fat, Or Not?
- May inhibit absorption of thyroid hormone
- May make conditions such as gout worse
- May trigger food intolerance or allergies, especially in young children
As with most things, the answer to this question is a little tricky and complicated. The answer: It depends. The evidence around the relationship between soy milk and weight gain is complex and hard to decipher. However, research has shown a few things to be true:
- There is no direct correlation between drinking soy milk and increased weight gain
- The fat content in a serving of soy milk is less than the fat content in a serving of cow’s milk. Soy milk tends to have around 2 to 4 grams of fat per serving, while cow’s milk has around 8 grams of fat per serving.
- Soy milk generally has more calories than cow’s milk– about 140 calories per serving, compared to about 90 to 130 calories in cow’s milk.
Soy can interfere with the production of thyroid hormone and lead to hyperthyroidism, which can lead to weight gain.
So, bottom line: In small amounts as part of a balanced diet, soy milk alone is not responsible for weight gain. It may promote hormonal weight gain by acting as estrogen, but otherwise has no effect.