Is Soy Safe During Pregnancy?
I keep hearing from my friends that soy is bad during pregnancy. Is this true? What should I eat instead of soy?
This is a really tricky question to answer, specifically because there is so much of a soy controversy and because the information is anecdotal and can be hard to follow to the original source. Somehow, common nutritional knowledge has swayed in the direction of anti-soy.
Here's the thing though...
Soy is one of the oldest foods in the world, and people have been documented as having eaten it for at least 5,000 years. The people who typically consumed the most soy as their protein source are some of the healthiest in the world, and rarely develop degenerative diseases like cancers and heart disease.
However, what they ate then was whole, real soybeans, as well as fermented soybeans, which we call tempeh and natto today. Now, soybeans are made into everything under the sun, from rubber and oil to protein powder. Those refined, processed foods are simply not as healthy for you as eating the real thing.
Soy is also one of the most commonly genetically modified foods, and we just don't know what the future consequences of eating GMO foods is going to be since it's a new practice and therefore there aren't any long range studies on the risks. In addition, because the genetic modification changes the structure of the plant, those soybeans are heavily sprayed with a cocktail of different pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, and other chemicals.
When you hear people say that you shouldn't eat soy during pregnancy, they are usually referring to the connection with estrogen. Soy has phytoestrogens, which are plant-based compounds that work like estrogen in the body. Some studies show that phytoestrogens can change the hormonal balance in your body, but other studies disagree. Some doctors say that the estrogen levels in a pregnant woman's body are heightened already that a little bit of soy estrogen makes no difference, and others say that the estrogen in soy will spike your body's estrogen levels dangerously.
Another thing women worry about is the idea that eating soy during pregnancy can cause your male children to have hormonal problems, but that's an anecdote that is loosely linked to a very small study, and so it's unproven.
My opinion is that soy during pregnancy is perfectly healthy, as long as you are focused on whole soy products like tempeh, tofu, soybeans, and soymilk. Make sure to buy them organic and GMO-free, to avoid the chemicals and genetic modification, and avoid processed and highly refined products that come from soy.
If you want a veggie burger during pregnancy, I recommend opting for a bean and vegetable burger rather than a soy burger, again, unless it's organic, non-GMO and made with whole soybeans. There are tons of vegan milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream substitutes that have no soy in them whatsoever if you really want to eat them as replacements for non-vegan dairy products.
There are people who have legitimate allergies to soy, and there are some forms that you want to avoid. When doing google research, I recommend finding peer reviewed, scientific studies for information on soy because its research is currently very speculative and difficult to follow. Here's the mayo clinic's advice about soy during pregnancy.