We all know sugar is the devil and must be purged from our bodies, supermarket shelves and planet Earth as a whole, but if certain health professionals are to be believed, there could be a new public health enemy number one.
And it’ll probably come as a surprise to you.
Known as soy in the US, soya beans are legumes found in tofu, miso, edamame, tempeh and of course soya milk. Soya is also used to bulk out many processed foods such as burgers, sausages and lasagne, allowing manufacturers to claim high protein contents.
It’s found in about 60 to 70 per cent of supermarket products and is widely used in fast food eateries.
Soya is a good source of fibre and protein, so why are people increasingly cutting it out?
Actress Blake Lively hit the headlines last year when she revealed she’d cut soya out of her diet to get in shape for her role in The Shallows.
“Once you remove soy, you realise you’re eating no processed foods,” Lively told the Australian radio show The Kyle and Jackie O. “So that’s basically what I did. No processed foods and then working out.”
“[It] seems like, ‘Oh, that’s really easy to cut that out,’ but then you realise, there’s soy in everything. Like, everything you eat, there is soy in it. Even if it’s healthy, Whole Foods-organic stuff, there’s always soy in it.”
The health-conscious among us are used to checking nutrition labels to assess protein, fat, carbs and sugar content, but soya is an ingredient not many of us think to look for.
Many argue that we should though.
Soya can act like oestrogen which makes it harder to lose weight, if that’s what you’re trying to do – high levels of oestrogen can cause bloating and water retention.
There’s also the fact of the matter that by giving up soya, you’ll be cutting out the vast majority of processed foods (and a lot of sugar as a result).
A lot of supposedly healthy snacks (as well as obviously unhealthy ones) contain soya, so you’ll find you have a lot less on which to snack.
Cutting soya out could have quick results too: “After just five days of nixing soy, my clothes were noticeably looser,” Well + Good’s health editor Emily Laurence said.
But nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert explained to us that soy certainly does have health benefits:
“Soy is very controversial and depending who you ask you may get different answer but from a nutritional perspective, soy has some great benefits. Whole soy beans contain so much nutrition and they have to be eaten cooked, except the immature soybean which is called edamame.
“The downside is that they can contain some phytates which block some nutritional absorption but they are also linked to lowering the bad cholesterol.”
Six healthy breakfast recipes – in pictures
Lambert points out that in Asia, people have been eating soya for years, and they have one of the healthiest ageing populations in the world.
“Basically for every study that shows harm from soya or hormonal disruption, there is also a study showing benefits,” Lambert explains.
“Personally, sticking to fermented soy products like miso and some tasty edamame beans shouldn’t cause a problem to the body and there is no need to cut it out.”
As with everything, moderation is key. Having tofu a couple of times a week isn’t going to do anything drastic to your health.
“The jury is still out there on the effects soy can have on the endocrine function and the heavily processed soy milks on the market,” Lambert says. “I would always see a registered nutritionist or dietitian before cutting out a food group.”