Is soy healthy for kids to eat? What are the benefits of feeding soy to kids, and are there downsides? Here’s what you need to know about soy foods for kids.
With all of the noise on the internet surrounding soy, deciphering the truth about feeding soy foods to kids becomes easily confusing.
While evidence has been mixed, and often non-specific around soy for kids, we believe there’s enough research to answer whether soy is healthy for kids, what benefits it may offer, and the best soy foods for children.
Is soy healthy?
Soy foods – such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk – are made from soy beans.
Soy beans contain a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. They’re also a great source of important micronutrients, such as iron and calcium.
One cup (240 ml) of unsweetened plain soy milk offers*:
- 80 calories
- 7 grams of protein
- 4 grams of fat
- 3 grams of carbohydrates
- 2 grams of dietary fiber
- Vitamin B12: 120% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Riboflavin: 30% of the DV
- Calcium: 20% of the DV
- Vitamin D: 15% of the DV
- Folate: 10% of the DV
- Magnesium: 8% of the DV
- Potassium: 7% of the DV
- Iron: 6% of the DV
*Note that the nutritional composition of soy milk can vary based on the brand and flavor.
Health effects of soy
In addition to being a great source of nutrition for kids, certain plant compounds in soy have been found to offer numerous other health benefits.
Soy and cancer
Isoflavones in soy have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. These compounds are structurally similar to the hormone estrogen, and can bind to the body’s estrogen receptors.
This is where much of the confusion around soy comes into play. Many people falsely believe that, because of this similarity to estrogen, soy foods have similar effects to hormone-driven cancers, like breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer.
To put it plainly, this is simply not the case. Soy isoflavones act differently in the body, binding to estrogen receptors-Beta, which results in anti-cancer activity that inhibits cell growth.
Studies have found that a moderate lifetime intake of soy foods, especially beginning in childhood, appears to be protective against breast cancer in adulthood.
On the other hand, high dairy and meat consumption as kids has been associated with a higher risk for certain cancers in adulthood.
Soy and reproductive health
Many people wonder whether eating soy foods during childhood will cause unhealthy reproductive growth – again, because of the confusion around estrogen-like isoflavones.
However, studies have found that babies who consume soy formula do not experience any adverse or abnormal reproductive outcomes, compared to babies fed milk-derived formula.
While more research is needed, the majority of evidence shows no difference in reproductive outcomes – like sex hormone levels and age of puberty onset – between soy-fed and dairy-fed babies.
Soy and fertility
The fears around eating soy foods causing infertility stemmed from an animal study on sheep.
Research among humans has shown that soy consumption may actually have positive effects on fertility.
A 2015 prospective cohort study found that soy food intake was positively associated with the likelihood of having successful live births among women undergoing assisted reproductive technologies, like IVF.
For more detailed information around the health benefits of soy, what the research says, and our recommendations, check out our full video on this topic below.
Should kids eat soy?
While more research is needed specifically on soy foods for children to give clear recommendations, the information we do currently have suggests that soy is absolutely healthy and appropriate to feed kids.
The benefits of eating soy foods regularly far outweigh any potential downsides.
Therefore, we recommend incorporating soy foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk regularly in your family’s diet.
How much soy should your child be eating? We feel comfortable recommending at least one, if not a few, servings of soy foods per day as part of a healthy diet.
One serving of soy foods looks like the following:
- 1 cup of soy milk
- 1/2 cup tofu
- 1/2 cup tempeh
- 1/2 cup edamame (soy beans)
For ideas regarding how to introduce tofu to kids, see this post.
Is soy healthy for kids to eat? Based on current evidence, the answer is yes. With the known benefits of feeding soy to kids – and minimal evidence of downsides – we recommend regularly incorporating soy foods for kids, like tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk.
Chime in: What soy foods does your family eat, and how do you like to prepare them? Do you have other questions about soy foods for kids?
If you like this post, check out some of our others: