Updated: Sep 2, 2022
There is so much controversy in the vegan and plant-based community about the consumption of soy products. Is it plant-based and vegan-friendly − absolutely! Is it a healthy alternative − not so much! If you are on this journey and your health is something you’re concerned about, this article is for you, especially if your go-to milk alternative is soy milk.
Although soybeans do have some health benefits, we must remember that most non-organic soy products are brimming with GMOs, causing less nutritional value and more toxic effects due to the chemicals involved in the genetic modification process (1). Soybeans contain compounds like phytate, which may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals crucial for vegan and plant-based dietary demands (2). These same anti-nutrient compounds may also cause digestive issues due to a reduction in the gut’s barrier functions resulting in inflammation that causes these digestive problems (3).
Risks of Consuming Soy Products
Despite all this information readily available online, if this isn’t enough to have you convinced, keep in mind that many people have an intolerance or sensitivity to soy and don’t even know it. A soy intolerance or sensitivity can present 30 minutes to 48 hours after consuming soy products and include symptoms such as:
Then, of course, there are soy allergies where people can have moderate to severe allergic reactions such as:
Tingling in the mouth
Hives, itching, or itchy, scaly skin (eczema)
Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, throat, or other body parts
Wheezing, a runny nose, or difficulty breathing
Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
Skin redness (flushing)
Difficulty breathing, caused by throat swelling
Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure
Dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness (5)
Soy Is Often Used As A Medication
Although many don’t seem to realize this, soy is used in a lot of over the counter medications and supplements you buy in the store and is used as a medication for ailments like:
High blood pressure
Symptoms of menopause
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
How does this work? Well, the active ingredients in soy are called isoflavones. Isoflavones changes in the body to phytoestrogens, which are similar to the hormone estrogen, which can result in either weaker estrogen or anti-estrogen activities due to the ability to bind to estrogen receptors (6).
According to WebMD, there are several interactions you may have to look out for with medications and consuming soy like:
Antibiotics are used to reduce harmful bacteria in the body. Antibiotics can also reduce friendly bacteria in the intestines. Friendly bacteria in the intestines seem to help increase the effectiveness of soy. By reducing the number of bacteria in the intestines, antibiotics might decrease the effectiveness of soy. But it is too soon to know if this interaction is a big concern (7).
Due to large amounts of soy, estrogen pills might have some of the same effects as estrogen hormones. But soy isn't as strong as estrogen pills. Taking soy along with estrogen pills might decrease the effects of estrogen pills. Some estrogen pills include conjugated equine estrogens (Premarin), ethinyl estradiol, and others (7).
Tamoxifen (Nolvadex) because some types of cancer are affected by hormones in the body. Estrogen-sensitive cancers are cancers that are affected by estrogen levels in the body. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex) is used to help treat and prevent these types of cancer. Soy also seems to affect estrogen levels in the body. By affecting estrogen in the body, soy might decrease the effectiveness of tamoxifen. Do not take soy if you are taking tamoxifen (7).
Warfarin (Coumadin) is used to slow blood clotting. Soy has been reported to decrease the effectiveness of warfarin. Reducing the effectiveness of warfarin might increase the risk of clotting. It is unclear why this interaction might occur. Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin might need to be changed (7).
Keep in mind; some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Soy might increase how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. But it is too soon to know if this interaction occurs in all people or how well the medication works. Some medications changed by the liver include carvedilol (Coreg), fluvastatin (Lescol), losartan (Cozaar), phenytoin (Dilantin), and many others (8).
Use Caution If You Have a Medical Condition
I suggest further researching before consuming soy if you have a medical condition, as some medical conditions may cause interactions and side effects. Some medical conditions you should be cautious about when consuming soy are:
Asthma. Those with asthma are suggested to avoid using soy products because they’re more likely to be allergic to soy hulls causing soy products to be one of their asthmatic triggers (9).
Cancer. Research shows that soy might “feed” certain breast cancers because it can act like estrogen, and healthcare providers recommend minimizing soy protein powders in the diets of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer (10).
Under-Active Thyroid (Hypothyroidism). There is concern that soy might make this condition worse, considering in most cases, hypothyroidism is treated with synthetic hormones, and soy can interfere with that. Many medical professionals recommend eating soy in moderation and limiting it several times a week (11).
Kidney Stones. There is some concern that soy products might increase the risk of kidney stones because they contain large amounts of chemicals called oxalates (12). Oxalates are the main ingredient in kidney stones (13).
Milk Allergy. Oddly enough, children who are allergic to cow's milk might also be sensitive to soy products (14), so it's suggested to use soy products with caution.
May Increase The Risk of Hypothyroidism
Researchers have studied the effect of soy phytoestrogen supplementation and hypothyroidism. One study found that supplementation of soy phytoestrogens at 16mg resulted in an increased risk of hypothyroidism by 3-fold (15).
May Cause High Levels of TSH
Research has found an association between soy consumption and serum thyroid-stimulating hormone concentrations. During one study, researchers concluded that high soy consumption led to an increase in TSH levels but only in the women participants - not men (16).
Alternative Names For Soy
According to Kids With Soy Allergies’ Soy Allergy Avoidance List, there are many hidden names for soy that those who are allergic, intolerant, sensitive, or simply cutting out should avoid, including:
Soy flour/soybean flour
Hydrolyzed soy protein (HSP)
Soy nut butter
Textured soy flour (TSF)
Textured soy protein (TSP)
Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
Soybean curd (17)
Soy Milk Alternatives
Oat milk is an incredible source of many vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Additionally, oat milk is an excellent source of B vitamins; it may lower cholesterol and is perfect for bone health. Furthermore, oat milk is naturally dairy-free, soy-free, and nut-free and can be gluten-free if you use gluten-free rolled oats to make it at home.
Almond milk is an incredible source of many vitamins, minerals, and fiber while remaining low in calories and carbohydrates. Additionally, almond milk is an excellent source of vitamin E and calcium; it may help with weight management, promote healthy skin, and support a healthy heart. Furthermore, almond milk is naturally dairy-free, soy-free, and gluten-free.
Hemp milk is an incredible source of many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and even healthy fats. Additionally, hemp milk is an excellent source of protein, iron, omega-3, and omega-6; it may promote skin health and protect against heart disease. Furthermore, hemp milk is naturally dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, and gluten-free.
Cashew milk is an incredible source of many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats. Additionally, hemp milk is an excellent source of protein, magnesium, iron, and potassium; it may boost heart health, and eye health, assist in blood clotting, improve blood sugar, and so much more. Furthermore, cashew milk is naturally dairy-free, soy-free, and gluten-free.
Flax milk is an incredible source of many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats. Additionally, flax milk is an excellent source of protein, fiber, and omega-3; it may benefit heart health, aid in weight loss, lower blood sugar, and more. Furthermore, flax milk is naturally dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, and gluten-free.