In recent years, the amount of vegan proteins on the market has rapidly increased. Most of these companies use soy as a main source of protein. Unfortunately, there are many reasons the soy used in these protein shakes is unhealthy and can be harmful to your body.
Most of the soy grown in the US is made into soybean oil, by extracting the fat content. Soybean meal, or what remains after the fat is extracted, is about 50% protein. Most soybean meal is used to feed livestock but can be sold as isolated soy protein after it gets processed and bleached.
The USDA reported in 2014 that over 90% of soybeans in the US are genetically modified (and many of those plants are sprayed with Roundup pesticides), which can negatively impact your health.
So is soy bad for you? Soybeans themselves are not bad for you. In fact, they have many health benefits when you consume the whole bean. Soybeans are low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin C, and folate. They are also a good source of fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and thiamin. There are some studies that suggest that eating soy can decrease the likelihood of developing some cancers, thyroid disease or heart problems.
The issue lies in the highly processed foods such as fake meat, soy yogurts, and soy protein powders. Unfortunately, most of these highly processed products are stripped of many significant nutritional values and contain a variety of added sugars and artificial ingredients. (See the helpful graphic below for more information on how these processed foods are made). If you’re going to buy any of these products, you should always look at the label. Try to look for minimal ingredients and a non-GMO stamp.
When shopping for soy products, find less processed foods such as tofu, tempeh, miso, or edamame. Tofu has added health benefits because it contains omega-3 fatty acids that can decrease inflammation in the body. Edamame contains 8 grams of protein in just half a cup. Miso and tempeh contain B vitamins and other minerals that contribute to a well-balanced diet. These foods also tend to contain less or no added flavors, sugars, sodium, or fats.
Soy can have many health benefits but it is important to be aware of which soy products are highly processed. Even soy products that are not highly processed may contain added ingredients or GMOs. Always read labels and make informed decisions accordingly.