Employee & Community Health

Healthy eating for kids: Myth #3

9/6/2018 by Dr. Natalie Gentile and Kristine Penza, APRN, CNP

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With so many competing messages about the “best” way to eat, navigating the grocery aisles can be confusing. We all have the same goal: to provide our families with healthy meals and snacks. So it’s important to be equipped with the evidence supporting a well-balanced diet when you head to the supermarket.

Starting healthy habits in childhood leads to healthy habits in adulthood. When it comes to healthy eating, the focus is “the more whole foods, the better”. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes like dried peas, beans and soybeans.

In this series, we’re addressing several nutrition myths to help make healthy food choices less confusing.

Myth #3: Soy is bad for you

One type of food we hear a lot about in the news and on social media is soy. So what is it, and why should we work it into our family’s diet? Soy is a legume, like chickpeas and kidney beans. It’s found in products such as tofu, soymilk and tempeh; edamame is the fresh soybean pod. Soy is low in fat, contains no cholesterol and is high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. And it’s a great source of plant protein and fiber, both of which promote cardiovascular health, gut health and weight control. However, these benefits apply only to whole soy products, not partially hydrogenated soybean oil or other refined soybean oils used in processed foods. Reading food labels can help you steer clear of these oils.

Soybeans contain isoflavones, which are a type of phytoestrogen. Many people see the word “estrogen” in phytoestrogen and think that eating soy products causes development of feminine characteristics or even leads to breast cancer. That’s not the case. Soy phytoestrogens have a special property that acts like estrogen in some parts of the body (like helping reduce menopausal symptoms and protect bones) and anti-estrogen in others (like protecting breast and uterine tissues).

As dietary guidelines point more and more toward the beneficial effects of plant-based diets on our health, soy is a great plant protein option to mix into your weekly meal plan, and because it’s available in so many forms, it’s versatile for a wide variety of recipes. For an easy, tasty meal starter or snack, steam edamame and dip in soy sauce or hummus. When choosing soy products, look for organic or non-GMO, as well as products made from whole beans, not supplements. Legumes, including soybeans, add variety, texture and flavor to dishes from snacks to desserts.

Here are some ideas for incorporating them into your meals:

  • Adzuki beans (field peas or red beans): Soups, sweet bean paste, Japanese and Chinese dishes
  • Anasazi beans: Soups and Southwestern dishes; can be used in recipes that call for pinto beans
  • Black-eyed peas (cowpeas): Salads, casseroles, fritters and Southern dishes
  • Edamame: Snacks, salads, casseroles and rice dishes
  • Fava beans (broad beans): Stews and side dishes
  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas): Casseroles, hummus, minestrone soup, Spanish and Indian dishes
  • Lentils: Soups, stews, salads, side dishes and Indian dishes
  • Soy nuts: Snack or garnish for salads

Dr. Natalie Gentile is a provider in Employee and Community Health’s (ECH) department of Family Medicine. She is also a certified Lifestyle Medicine physician with key areas of interest in whole foods, plant-based nutrition and pediatric obesity.

Kristine Penza, APRN, CNP, is a Family Medicine nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic Express Care. Her interests include whole foods nutrition and functional medicine.