Soy has traditionally been used in Japanese and other Asian cuisines as a condiment, but people now include soy as a main part of their meals because it is loaded with protein, healthy fat, and immune-enhancing properties. As well, soy has also been added to many commercial products including milk, cheese, and other packaged foods as a stabilizer or enhancer.
Soy foods recently became part of a healthy-foods craze, and some people, vegetarian and otherwise, will purchase anything and everything with soy in it, believing they are on the path to health. That’s the North American way of thinking: if having a little of something is good, then more must be better! However, this is not the case when the soy used in a food is non-organic, genetically modified, and so removed from its original form that it is no longer really a food at all.
So it is not so much that soy in general is bad for you, but rather that we are consuming too much of it or choosing the wrong types. Healthy eating is all about moderation and choosing the right products. If we look at the traditional fermented forms of soy — instead of a slab of soy chicken or textured vegetable protein (TVP) — and choose to eat them in moderation, we can actually enjoy soy foods as they are meant to be enjoyed: as a condiment, garnish or accent to a meal.
Listed below are healthy soy products that you can start to include in your diet because they have been fermented and are organic. These are the types of soy that were traditionally used in ancient cultures and are still available today! Note, however, that although I am recommending healthy sources of soy, they should still be enjoyed in moderation. Be careful not to over-consume these items either or else you will still run into the health imbalances that other forms of soy can cause. Balance is key, and that goes for every type of food!
1. Tempeh: This is a fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavour. Enjoy it in stir fries, on sandwiches, ground up into “burgers” or just as is!
2. Miso: Miso is a fermented soybean paste with a salty flavor and a texture similar to almond butter. Make miso soup, put it in a salad dressing or marinade.
3. Natto: Popular in Japan, this is made from fermented soybeans and has a sticky texture and strong, cheese-like flavor.
4. Tamari: Also known as braggs or nama shoyu, tamari is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans, salt and enzymes. Tamari is the modern, healthy version of soy sauce, so be sure to kick out the Kikkoman. It is pure, gives great flavour, and is also often low-sodium and wheat-free! This is great in salad dressings, sauces, marinades.
5. Edamame: These whole soybeans are on the list even though they are not fermented, but rather left in their natural form. Be sure to also buy these organic. They make an excellent snack with some sea salt — or you can buy them shelled, add them into a salad or cooked vegetable dish.
6. Tofu: I put this at the end of the list because I believe that it should be enjoyed very moderately (as little as once or twice a month) — and even then only if you buy the right kind. Sprouted tofu is the best kind of tofu — really, you should only buy tofu when sprouted. While tofu cannot be fermented, since it would no longer be in its whole form, sprouting makes it more digestible and increases its nutritional value. Tofu needs to be cooked and can then be enjoyed in stir fries, sandwiches, salads and soups, or pureed or blended into dips.
I want to mention an incredible company that actually takes their soy seriously. Wild Wood Organics has a wide array of products, but I will keep it simple and recommend that you stick with their tempeh and sprouted tofu. Soy yogurt and soy milk are still packaged, processed versions of soy food that I believe should be avoided. Rice milk and coconut yogurt are much higher on the healthy food chain, so choose wisely.
Veggie pad Thai
2 tbsp coconut vinegar (or rice vinegar)
5 tbsp coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
4 tbsp coconut nectar (or maple syrup)
2 tbsp almond butter
3 tbsp grapeseed oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp ginger, grated
2 cups of yams, cut into thin chunks
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 bunch of kale, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 block of tempeh (or sprouted tofu), cut into cubes
1/2 cup sprouted mung beans
1 package of brown rice or vermicelli noodles
1. In a small bowl, combine the coconut vinegar, aminos, and nectar, almond butter and 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil. Set aside.
2. In a wok, sauté the tofu, garlic, ginger, scallions, and yams in 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil for several minutes, stirring to prevent them from sticking.
3. When yams are soft, stir in the broccoli and allow to soften.
4. Pour the sauce and the kelp noodles into the wok, stir to combine and cover for a few minutes to meld together.
5. Add in the chopped kale and allow to wilt for a few minutes, while still remaining green.
Marni Wasserman is a culinary nutritionist in Toronto whose philosophy is stemmed around whole foods. She is dedicated to providing balanced lifestyle choices through natural foods. Using passion and experience, she strives to educate individuals on how everyday eating can be simple and delicious.