Soyfoods in Asia: How Much Do People Really Eat?

Soyfoods in Asia: How Much Do People Really Eat?

By | 2011-03-01T10:23:26+00:00 March 1st, 2011|Tags: |83 Comments
Way back in the fall, when I reviewed The Vegetarian Myth, I promised to follow-up with some perspective on the controversies surrounding soyfoods. I know that Jack Norris is working on a fairly comprehensive overview of this topic which will hopefully be available soon. I’ll be adding some information to my website as well. For now, I wanted to look at the important issue of soy consumption in Asia.  It’s an area of some confusion since a common belief is that Asians consume only small amounts of soy—sort of condiment-style—and that they consume mostly fermented soy products like miso and tempeh. Based on the research, though, neither of these assumptions is true.
The confusion about how much soy Asians consume is based partly on a simple mathematical misunderstanding. In studies of intake, findings are sometimes expressed as the amount of soy protein that people consume—which is different from the total amount of soy food in their diets. For example, according to surveys in Japan, older adults consume around 10 grams of soy protein per day, which is the amount of protein in about 1 to 1 ½ servings of traditional soyfoods. Because a number of authors have misunderstood the relationship between soy protein and soyfood, they’ve greatly underestimated the amount of soy in Japanese diets.
Information about soy intake in Asia comes from a number of different resources including studies designed to examine the effects of diet on health, Japan’s National Nutrition Survey, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The most important of these are the studies designed to look at diet and disease relationships because many of them evaluated soy intake comprehensively. That is, they recorded frequency, and amounts of all types of soy products consumed using validated dietary intake instruments.
The results show a fairly wide range of intake among different countries and even within populations. While average Japanese intake is 1 to 1 ½ servings, the surveys reveal that the upper range among older Japanese—who would be expected to eat a more traditional diet—is about 3 servings of soyfoods per day.
It’s much harder to determine soy intake in China because diets vary greatly across regions. The most extensive data are available for  Shanghai where large studies of health habits include dietary data from close to 100,000 adult men and women. Average intake in Shanghai is a little bit higher than in Japan. But the range of intake is extensive and a large number of the adults in these studies—as many as 15 to 20 percent of the men and 10 percent of the women—consumed 2 to 3 servings of soyfoods per day.
With the exception of Hong Kong, there isn’t quite as much data on soy intake in other countries and regions. But, the available findings suggest that, compared to Japan and Shanghai, soy consumption is much lower in Hong Kong and Thailand, about the same in Indonesia, and a bit higher in North Korea.  
And contrary to popular opinion, the soy products regularly consumed in these countries are not all—or even mostly—fermented. In Japan, about half of soy consumption comes from the fermented food miso and natto and half comes from tofu and dried soybeans. In Shanghai, most of the soyfoods consumed are unfermented, with tofu and soymilk making the biggest contributions. In fact, even in Indonesia, where tempeh is a revered national food, unfermented soy products like tofu account for around half of soy intake.
Soyfoods have been consumed in China for at least 1,500 years and in Japan for 1,000 years. The evidence shows that soyfoods—both unfermented and fermented—continue to be a significant part of traditional Asian diets. There is no reason why western vegans can’t include these foods in meals as well.


  1. beforewisdom March 1, 2011 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Great post, as usual.   Whenever I have heard the point " but Asians don't consume a lot of soy"  I always wonder how those people know that.   Asia is a big place, with many different countries, environments, cultures and people.

    People interested in this subject might be interested in this write up I did on my blog of a similar article debunking this point:

    FWIW, Asians I have met who I have repeated this point to look at me like I am nuts

    • Sara March 29, 2014 at 1:42 am - Reply

      My husband lived in Japan for 6 years and he can confirm first-hand that people consume a LOT of tofu and soy milk. The idea that they only eat fermented soy is rubbish. They eat a lot of miso and soy sauce, sure, but he hadn’t even heard of tempeh, despite assertions from poorly informed pontificators that Asians eat it all the time rather than tofu. Tofu is a major staple in many Asian diets.

  2. […] Full Article […]

  3. Nicole March 1, 2011 at 7:27 pm - Reply

    Maybe it's a consequence of growing up in a city with a large Asian population, but I've always been confused about claims that Asians don't eat a lot of soy products since that's not been my first-hand observation.
    Your post really drives home the fact that soy doesn't necessarily cause some of the health concerns anti-soy proponents claim it does.  If amounts of soy consumption in some areas is even higher than previously thought, and the people who consume these soy foods enjoy good health, then the claims like "soy making boys gay" looks even more outrageous than ever.

  4. Marisa March 2, 2011 at 7:51 am - Reply

    Thank you for this important post! Actually, aside from having heard about those crazy anti-soy campaigns, I was curious why exactly they were accusing soy of being dangerous.  The following page came up quite high in search engines and is operating on many of the false assumptions you debunked in your post: 
    It has a very unprofessional tone and quotes Nina Planck (which is already a bad enough sign for me to want to dismiss it immediately), but I was wondering if you could recommend any good sources that directly counter the above article's accusations regarding thyroid problems and increased risk of breast cancer.  I'd like to be able to respond well to these arguements and arm myself with information in favor of soy. 
    Thank you again for your great blog! 

    • Ginny Messina March 2, 2011 at 9:53 am - Reply

      Marisa, I would check out the articles on Jack’s website for the best information about soy. He’s going to have some extensive updated information there soon, too.

  5. Jennifer March 2, 2011 at 10:01 am - Reply

    Ahhh, THANK YOU!  Your blog is saving my sanity.

  6. Robert March 2, 2011 at 10:43 am - Reply

    I guess YMMV then because my experience over the years from working with Asians, Chinese in particular, is that soy plays a very minor role in their diet. There were regional differences, as one might expect. For example, I've noticed that the Chinese from northern provinces tend to eat more meat and wheat products. Dumplings with pork are common. Having spent some time in one of the largest Chinatowns in Canada (in Vancouver) I was somewhat surprised at how they tend to favour meat. Vegetable consumption was still high but soy was minimal. As far as studies are concerned, I've found studies pro and con. As far as I'm concerned and at this stage of my life I don't feel the need to make a test case of myself. I avoid soy because I'm not convinced that it is safe, particularly for young children and people over 50, plus there are so many other foods to choose from so why take unnecessary chances? If you want to take the soy industry at its word then that's your choice. I'm leary of self-serving, industries, organizations and individuals with financial interests telling me soy is safe to eat. People rave about the "healthy Asians" and jump to conclusions that soy is a factor. Asians also consume a lot of white (refined) rice. I don't see many people recommending this Asian tradition. There are so many factors that can account for their level of health and I'm willing to bet it has little to do with white rice or soy.

    • Ginny Messina March 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm - Reply

      Okay, several things in response to this. First, the point of my article wasn't to say that soy has health benefits. And you're right that Asian diet/lifestyle is different from Westerners in too many ways for us to draw quick conclusions just by looking at disease rates.

      However, a lot of anti-soy people have tried to make the case that Asians eat very little soy and that they eat primarily fermented products. While your casual observation may suggest that this is true, the actual research–which is the only kind of observation that is reliable) shows that it isn't. Yes, some populations in Asia don't eat a lot of soy, as I pointed out, but in some groups, those who eat a more traditional diet do consume soy on a regular basis. What are the studies "pro and con" that you've seen regarding soy intake?

      Furthermore, when we look at the chemistry of soybeans and also look at studies on its effects, there is in fact good reason to believe that it has some health benefits–especially for prostate and breast cancer and especially for those who are lifelong soy consumers like the Japanese.

      That doesn't mean I think everyone should eat soy. While soyfoods make it easier to be vegan, you can have a healthy and enjoyable diet without them as you pointed out. But for those who do want to eat them, the evidence suggests that they are safe.

      • Ariann March 2, 2011 at 5:22 pm - Reply

        Robert, in addition to what Ginny said, I imagine that the diets of Asians living in the West is quite different from the diet of Asians living in Asia.  I would not trust observations of Chinatowns to give you good data on what Asians eating traditional diets eat. 

        • Robert March 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm - Reply

          Yes, I'm well aware of the difference between North American Chinese food and traditional. Do you believe that all Asians living in the West follow a western style diet? I'm speaking mostly of Asians that were born and raised in China, Japan, Vietnam, etc., and have relocated. Of all my ex-colleagues (Asian) that I used to work with, I remember three important things. The first is that they ate out only on rare occasions. Secondly, they brought in their own lunches and these were never western style fare. Thirdly, none of them were fat! The reason? They didn't eat like westerners. They brought their traditions with them and stuck to them.
          p.s. I could add a fourth, none admitted to eating soy foods but I realize this sample size is not significant. ;o)

      • Robert March 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm - Reply

        Studies pro OR con. Not both. ;o)  I posted a half dozen of these studies (actual research) at this site earlier in the week at the request of one of the followers of this site. I personally prefer to eat natural foods and the amount of processing required to make soy safe and edible should be enough to tell someone that this isn't a natural food for humans. Neither are grains, legumes or dairy but that is another topic for another day. Your article, I believe,  may give some the mistaken impression that Asians use soy to replace meat.

        • Ginny Messina March 3, 2011 at 10:21 am - Reply

          People have been processing foods for centuries in ways that make them more nutritious–so "processing" itself is not a bad thing. You're right that most Asians eat some meat or fish, but that's not what my post was about. I'm pointing out only that soy consumption in Asia in higher than most of the soy critics realize. And nonfermented foods have long been a part of these cultures. Those are the only two points I wanted to make.

          • Robert March 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm

            Yes, I've seen some soy critics report numbers like 2 tsp per day. Even as a soy critic/skeptic I find that hard to believe. ;o)

        • beforewisdom March 4, 2011 at 4:32 am - Reply

          Robert wrote:

          I personally prefer to eat natural foods and the amount of processing required to make soy safe and edible should be enough to tell someone that this isn't a natural food for humans. Neither are grains, legumes or dairy but that is another topic for another day.
          No offense, but this quote convinced me that your views about nutrition are extreme and uninformed.  The only "processing" I and billions of people do legumes and grains is washing and cooking.  Legume and grain consumption go back before written human history, thousands of years being mentioned in the Old Testament, Hindu texts and the Pali Canon of the Buddhists…at least.
          As as processing soy goes to "make it safe",  cooking is all that soybeans need.   Soy milk is cooked soybeans that have been run through a blender and filter.  Tofu is soymilk with a coagulant .   Tempheh is nothing but fermented soybeans.   You are being a little unreal.
          As long as we are trading anecdotal accounts I went to highschool with first generation Korean immigrants and I shared a house in college with Chinese exchange students.   They all ate insane amounts of meat and oil.   They all told me this was because they *COULD*, because they couldn't afford that much meat in Asia.  In other words heavy meat consumption wasn't their tradition as you put it Robert.

          • Robert March 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

            The trend in China is towards increased meat eating. Pork consumption is on the rise and I expect beef will follow. The reason is more disposable income. I hope you're buying organic, non-GMO soy. Most of the soy in the USA is GMO thanks to Monsanto. The high phytic acid content of soy (more than any legume) blocks the body's uptake of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. Only fermentation can reduce the negative effects of phytates, hemagglutinin (clot promoting) and trypsin inhibitors. Simple cooking does not deactivate hemagglutinin and trypsin inhibitors. That is why I would avoid all non-fermented soy food. Personally, if I ever do decide to use soy, it will be fermented products like tempeh, natto and miso.

          • Ginny Messina March 4, 2011 at 2:21 pm

            Robert, it’s true that soybeans are high in both phytate and oxalate, but interestingly, it doesn’t necessarily affect mineral absorption. And different strains of soybeans have different levels of phytate. According to the research, calcium absorption from soybeans ranges from 31 to 41.4 percent depending on the phytate content of the beans. For comparison purposes, it was 37.7 percent for cow’s milk. (Heaney, R. P., Weaver, C. M. & Fitzsimmons, M. L. (1991) Soybean phytate content: effect on calcium absorption. Am J Clin Nutr 53: 745-747.)

            Absorption is also similar to cow’s milk for tofu and for soymilk fortified with calcium carbonate. It’s a little lower (but still good) for soymilk fortified with tricalcium phosphate. (Zhao, Y., Martin, B. R. & Weaver, C. M. (2005) Calcium bioavailability of calcium carbonate fortified soymilk is equivalent to cow's milk in young women. J Nutr 135: 2379-2382.)


            Iron absorption is also much better than you would expect, possibly because of the form of iron in soybeans. (Murray-Kolb, L. E., Welch, R., Theil, E. C. & Beard, J. L. (2003) Women with low iron stores absorb iron from soybeans. Am J Clin Nutr 77: 180-184. and Lonnerdal, B., Bryant, A., Liu, X. & Theil, E. C. (2006) Iron absorption from soybean ferritin in nonanemic women. Am J Clin Nutr 83: 103-107.)


            And trypsin inhibitors are deactivated by cooking. (They also may have anti-cancer activity as does phytate). Protein from plant foods in general is less well-digested than from animal foods but that just means that vegans have slightly higher protein needs. It’s not difficult to meet those needs, so it’s not really an issue.

            Zinc absorption from soy does seem to be low and I wouldn’t depend on soyfoods to contribute much zinc to your diet.

          • Robert March 4, 2011 at 7:09 pm

            Hi Ginny,
            Just a couple of comments: I am surprised to see that iron absorption isn't affected by the phytates. For calcium results will vary depending upon whether the soy milk was fortified with CC or TCP and also if the beans used were high-phytate or low-phytate. I beg to differ with regards to cooking deactivating trypsin inhibitor. I'm trying to locate a study I found at the NIH site which states that there is still about 10% or so remaining after cooking. Even fermentation doesn't completely deactivate TI. I guess this begs the question – Is the residual TI significant enough to be a concern or not? Any data on whether magnesium absorbtion is affected? Looking forward to anything you might have on Asian consumption.

          • Robert March 4, 2011 at 11:41 am

            When I said legumes, grains and dairy are not natural foods for humans I meant that these are Neolithic foods. They are recent in terms of the human evolutionary timeline. Our Palaeolithic ancestors did not consume them and until the discovery of fire and cooking, did not have the "technology" to process them. Dairy and legume eating was a Neolithic endeavour. There appears to be some evidence of grain consumption earlier than the Neolithic era. There is nothing extreme and uninformed about my views on ancient human nutrition. If you think so then you disagree with pretty much all of the anthropological research that has ever been done. No offence but I really don't think you've spent much time reading up on this subject.

          • beforewisdom March 5, 2011 at 5:40 am

            Robert, may I ask what your education is and what field you are in?

          • Robert March 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm

            I'm college educated and my area of expertise is in Informatics, specifically business system analysis and design. I have worked as a programmer, systems analyst and Informatics project leader. Why do you ask?

          • VickieW November 20, 2011 at 12:25 pm

            Hey can you still spellcheck your post?

            Neolithic food BAD BAD..
            Paleolithic only Good..?

            Meat raw?. If true to your thing, you’re going to have a good risk for disease, and resemble an animal in some ways. Not all cave men lived by the beach, but lots of worms there too.

            Trust me we can improve on the Paleo diet..

            Didn’t they die around 30 or sooner? I don’t believe angry mammoths and killing each other over food etc. provide our sole explanation but who knows for sure they didn’t have organizers and charts.

            Have “we” not evolved in +10,000 years some? Some humans live well with moderate dairy in the diet, some have total GI intolerance..
            If evolution during Paleo period is actually the key. Likely prior as an organism is key but new foods depending upon actual content and ratios could be as good or better for what evolved a million years ago.

            Alaskan people are what over %90 meat and much raw in the past and present. Recent adaptation after migration to polar regions. They do fairly well considering, not much fruit and nuts there, in their “modern diet”..

            By the way Paleo/Neo, both better than taco bell.

            The ideal diet includes doing when able:

            All of the things known to human understanding as healthy for the organism, while reducing all of the unhealthy things known to humans and science.

            This I’m betting includes some modern day processing, foods, ratios and consumption, as well as foods available when Neanderthal was walking around the neighborhood.

            I would like to work on all of the best from all of the knowledge we have. Of course that is the hard to find and balance..
            We will probably find in the near future it was the case as it seems to show, some amount of isoflavone is good for both health and life expectancy of humans..

            By the way GMO whether by Nature or Human, is likely one of three things for human consumption..

            Good, Wash, Bad – ALL 3 – we have to analyze each case to know the answer.

            SCARY “GMO” is a bit off in the mind. It’s interesting to me so often as an observer of humans, how something unrelated but emotional or psychological, some related “bent”, is common at the core of GMO, GMO! Oh No..

            I would rather not have man made GMO per se, I guess, though more humans die hungry without it. Probably most of it is positively purely only healthy.
            Whether we do it with a plan for crop strength or nutrition etc. it’s all in the details.

            Most of this is WIKI

            Referencing Mahner et al. (2001)[74] and Ströhle et al. (2006),[75] Ströhle et al. state that “whatever is the fact, to think that a dietary factor is valuable (functional) to the organism only when there was ‘genetical adaptation’ and hence a new dietary factor is dysfunctional per se because there was no evolutionary adaptation to it, such a panselectionist misreading of biological evolution seems to be inspired by a naive adaptationistic view of life.”[22]

            Katharine Milton, a professor of physical anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, has also disputed the evolutionary logic upon which the Paleolithic diet is based. She questions the premise that the metabolism of modern humans must be genetically adapted to the dietary conditions of the Paleolithic.[18] Relying on several of her previous publications,[76][77][78][79] Milton states that “there is little evidence to suggest that human nutritional requirements or human digestive physiology were significantly affected by such diets at any point in human evolution.”[18]

            Evidence suggests the diet of Stone Age humans did include, in some form, the refined starches and grains that are excluded from the Paleolithic diet. There is evidence that Paleolithic societies were processing cereals for food use at least as early as 23,000[80][81] or 30,000 years ago,[82] and possibly as early as 105,000[83] or 200,000 years ago.[84]

          • Priyadarshan July 6, 2013 at 1:52 am

            Exactly. Chinese people value meat. They consider it to be rarer and more nutritious/fortifying than their normal diet. Same in India, where I’m considered a freak for eating meat 4-5 times a day cause traditionally most people can only afford it once a week.

            So doesn’t that tell you something about what they think about soy/vegetarian food themselves? If they could afford it, they’d eat meat every single day.

          • Roger January 14, 2014 at 7:30 am

            And they’re starting to have all the same diseases of affluence that the meat-eating West is suffering from.

            This doesn’t change the fact that many people in Asia consume soy regularly, with no ill health effects.

          • sammi June 24, 2014 at 12:30 pm

            no. some of us actually choose to be vegetarians.

    • Anne August 28, 2013 at 11:52 pm - Reply

      I agree with you that we should not buy anything propagated by major companies, yet my suspicion is that there is an agenda to rid soy from the market. Two qualified doctors tried to find the source of these anti soy research studies claimed by the opponents. They were able to trace the origin of these messages to two sources. These doctors requested the paper where this study was done, when it was done, who participated in it and so on, The gentlemen never gave them anything after two years they were still waiting, Notice that none of the information tells you where this study was conducted. I think there is someone out to kill the industry. I do not advocate eating soy protein isolate but organic soy beans, milk and tofu is harmless. Indeed after taking it for over 12 years I have seen many benefits as a woman who is almost 60 i have never suffered menopause problems. Better still i still have the same height i had while i was still 18. This is unlike my older siblings who started losing height in their mid forties. I started taking soy products while living in Europe after I had read a study of Italian women who had osteoporosis halted or even reversed. Please research your sources before you quote them otherwise you will not know whose agenda you are selling.

  7. Daisy March 3, 2011 at 7:59 am - Reply

    Just out of curiosity, don't you think you should append a note to this site that your husband works for the soy industry? I've been reading your blog for a while and appreciate how upfront you are about how the vegan diet is not complete and vegans need to supplement. But I admit that it takes something away from the validity of your arguments to realize that you're promoting soy, while your family makes a living off the soy bean industry. Am I out of line in that thinking? 

    • Ginny Messina March 3, 2011 at 10:30 am - Reply

      I've mentioned quite a few times on this blog that my husband works as a soy expert. He provides information about soy nutrition and research to a lot of different people, organizations and industries. Whether or not people actually eat soyfoods has no effect on his income whatsoever. I couldn't care less whether people drink soymilk or almond milk or no milk. I care only when they place unnecessary restrictions on vegan diets based on faulty information.

      Regardless, I'm reporting here on what the science shows about soy intake in Asia. I didn't say anything about the pros or cons of soy intake. If you can show (from actual scientific literature) that what I've said is incorrect or misrepresents the data, I'm certainly open to hearing about it!

      • Daisy March 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm - Reply

        I'm not suggesting that what you say is incorrect, though you don't offer any links to actual research, just your opinion. But it is your blog and your opinion is the one that matters.
        I'm just pointing out that by not putting some sort of notice about your ties to the soy industry on this board or in the article promoting soy, you are, IN MY OPINION, diluting the validity of your arguments.

    • Robert March 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm - Reply

      Its a perfectly valid concern/question. It is no different than someone with meat or dairy industry ties promoting their products. One has to take it into consideration. I do believe Ginny has integrity though. I know many other vegan/vegetarian sites would have banned us or at least refused to post our comments. I've never had a comment refused by the mediator at this site. I was banned from Vegsource because I didn't follow the party line. I think that says a lot about Vegsource.

  8. barefeet March 3, 2011 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Hum.  You seem to have stirred things up with this post.  That's a good sign that you're onto something, in my book.  There's so much mis-information on the internet.  It really points to the need to start teaching people how to interpret information, not just memorize.  I'm noting especially here how your entry only explored how much soy people eat in certain Asian countries, yet all these posts have cropped up, pointing to all sorts of different things without addressing the issue in the blog.  If someone would like to post an actual study considering the amount of soy traditionally or currently found in the Japanese diet that counters this blog, I'd like to hear it.  But I don't think that's going to happen.  Its just true that traditionally, Japanese people eat a good bit of tofu.  Why is that so threatening?

  9. barefeet March 3, 2011 at 11:28 am - Reply

    oops.  I just realized I said the same thing as Ginny in her last response.  sorry!

    • Ginny Messina March 3, 2011 at 11:30 am - Reply

      That's okay. It's a good enough point to make twice 🙂

  10. beforewisdom March 4, 2011 at 4:44 am - Reply

    I think it is a good thing to post links to research as well as being open about any potential biases.   However I think people are fooling themselves if they think those things settle an argument.
    I think a formal education in a field and experience in a field are needed to interpret the content at a citation correctly as well as to know if that content supports a particular conclusion.   I've seen people pepper their web sites with "citations"  only to have educated and experienced experts point out to me that those studies were out of date, flawed, not statistically relevant compared to a mountain of other research not mentioned or that the author of the site simply didn't understand (or read) what they read.
    Ginny can ( and should ) post links to research, but unless we have the formal education to properly understand the studies and the experience with the current body of research to understand how that study fits in………she might as well just dangle a shiny object in front of us, tell us it is magic and ask us to believe her.
    I don't think the situation is that extreme, I just wanted to make the point that too many people think that posting a link to a study on the internet settles a disagreement.

    • Ginny Messina March 4, 2011 at 8:45 am - Reply

      You're absolutely right, BW. Peppering posts and articles with citations is usually just a way to convince the reader that your views are supported by the science. It doesn't mean that your views actually <i>are</i> supported by the science, though.

      The amount of research on nutrition is vast and conflicting. You can find studies to support just about anything you want. The only way to draw honest and valid conclusions about nutrition is to look at all of the research on any given point, evaluate the studies and look at where most of the good evidence is pointing. Readers often feel better when they see a short list of citations at the end of an article. But they shouldn't.

      I will, however, post a list of 25 or so of the studies that have given us information about soyfoods intake in Asia. I'll try to get them added to the article later this afternoon.

      • Robert March 4, 2011 at 11:14 am - Reply

        Another point regarding studies is that people tend to overlook their funding and possible biases of individuals involved in the studies. When I see a study that is pro soy, milk or whatever, if the study was funded by the industry I tend to become somewhat skeptical of the results. I would be interested in seeing studies that deal with Asian soy intakes. Thanks for this!

  11. […] Asian soy intake: It’s higher than you think, and includes mostly non-fermented foods: from the Vegan RD blog. Soy is not the enemy! […]

  12. Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day March 7, 2011 at 11:07 am - Reply

    Great post! I'm so glad to see a rational perspective on soy foods. It seems like every year or so there's a new fad diet or bad (or good) food we all need to avoid or eat more of.. instead of rational though and looking at all of the information out there .. 
    Obviously, in this country the issue with soy is because it is Genetically Modified and in so many processed foods. I'd think the answer is simple. Avoid processed foods and GMO Soy. 

  13. thehealthyapron March 14, 2011 at 6:35 am - Reply

    Great post! I have a question for you though. In the states, what is the healthiest way to eat soy? I have never been much of a soy eater but would like to start incorporating it more, in the least processed way. Between tofu, tempeh, edamame, etc I just want to know how to pick out the best. Any brands you recommend in particular that are organic?

    • Ginny Messina March 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm - Reply

      I don't know that there is necessarily any "best" choice. It really depends on what you like. I get the bulk of my soy intake from tofu because I love it. And I make it a point to buy tofu that is organic (I think most of it is) and processed with calcium sulfate. I use soymilk in cooking and tend to buy whatever is on sale.

    • Mike September 27, 2011 at 5:38 am - Reply

      Best way to consume soy is Natto or Temph, which are fermented soy beans. I don’t know too many Asians consuming large amounts of soy. I do have to warn you though that Natto has a strong smell and taste, most “westerns” wouldn’t touch the stuff let alone Asians.

      I was born in Korea and Koreans don’t tend to consume that much soy. We consume more fermented cabbage than soy. Soy is used as a condiment in Korea. Not sure about Japanese and China.

      The problem with soy that is produces a lot of MSG. It’s best not to consume it in in large quantities daily. Also soy produces estrogen, which can increase risk of certain cancers.

      I don’t eat soy is a heal food and never will, consuming high amount of vegetables, some grains, meat and fruit is best diet. Traditionally Asians ate diet high in vegetables which isn’t done as much anymore.

      • Roger January 14, 2014 at 7:35 am - Reply

        Soy doesn’t “produce” MSG. MSG is an additive that can be used in cooking.

        Soy also doesn’t “produce” estrogen. It has plant estrogens, the same as many other plant foods.

        It’s just a bean.

        • Michelle September 18, 2017 at 1:18 pm - Reply

          Contrary to what you may think, msg is an additive used in cooking, AND it is a naturally occurring substance in certain foods such as tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms and fermented soy products.

  14. Truson Organics March 14, 2011 at 11:21 am - Reply

    In Japan dry roasted soynuts ( iri-mame ^) are extremely popular, also called fuku-mame ^ or "beans of good fortune"

  15. beforewisdom April 22, 2011 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Here is a URL to a beverage industry article about soy drink consumption around the world.   It contradicts what many people have been saying about Asians using soy in quantities so small that their soy use can only be considered as "condiments".

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    • Robert April 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm - Reply

      I'd be more interested in what the level of soy consumption was in Asian TRADITIONAL diets rather than what they are consuming today. The article seems to be talking only about soy drinks and "street soy". I have an old dietary analysis from 1949/50 of the Okinawan diet vs the rest of Japan. Soy was lumped into the "Legume" category which also included other types of beans. The percentage of calories from this category was 6% of total calories for the Okinawans vs 3% of total calories for the rest of Japan. We can't tell how much actual soy was consumed but obviously it was less than the 6% and 3% figures recorded in the diet survey analysis. Also, I noticed that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which was mentioned in the article link you provided, rejected several of the health claims made by the soy industry.
      Current-day Asia can consume these soy drinks to their hearts content for all I care. I'll stick with water, almond milk and green tea as my beverages. There are ample other means to achieve the "results" that the soy industry claims their products deliver.

  16. […] despite very clear and conclusive research findings. One pertains to the types and amounts of soy consumed in Asia which I wrote about several months ago. The other is the mistaken idea that soyfoods contain […]

  17. selena December 6, 2011 at 11:07 am - Reply

    the thing with all the ‘they eat it in japan and they have the highest life-expectancy in the world’ is that japanese are not really that much more healthy than westerners (nor are they less healthy, btw).

    the idea that japanese live that much longer than westerners seems to be mostly the result of them WANTING to live longer. so the actuarial data that are used to calculate japanese life-expectancy are, well, lets just say they were a bit ‘improved’.

    just to be clear: japanese don’t live shorter either and they aren’t sicker, so it’s still fair to say soy is presumably not bad for you.
    it’s just that it will not give you a spectacular longer life either.

  18. Manny January 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    very helpful… thank you… I am a bahamian student doing food and nutrition course work on the soybean and its role in the asian diet…..i need evidence… so the best way to get some is to post a poll asking asians if soybeans can be considered a staple food in their diet and/or country of origin. Any feedback would be appreciated.

    • Ginny Messina January 14, 2012 at 9:10 am - Reply

      Hi Manny,

      Yes, you could hire someone to do a survey or poll to get more information. But there are many studies that have measured the intake of soyfoods in Asian diets. The references at the end of this article should help you:

      Messina, Nagata, and Wu. “Estimated Asian Adult Soy Protein and Isoflavone Intakes.” Nutrition and Cancer 2006; 55:1-12

  19. Hope March 30, 2012 at 9:14 am - Reply

    We lived in Japan for 3.5 years – in a small town…I think the Japanese live longer for a variety of reasons…The walk everywhere, they work hard, they aren’t eating fast food much, they don’t have huge portion sizes, they eat a good amount of sea food, they drink green tea, etc.

    Also – many of the Japanese people smoke and they smoke in public buidlings. -I’d be waiting in line at the bank or police station, etc…and people would be smoking. I remember it well because I was pregnant and the smoke smell killed me – and I couldn’t get away from it.

  20. Hope March 30, 2012 at 9:15 am - Reply

    I’m not saying that they live longer because they smoke…my point is that they are exposed to cigarette smoke much more than Americans are, and they still live longer…

  21. Mary@FitandFed April 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    Thanks for countering the myths that are so prevalent out there about soy, like that Asians only use soy as a ‘condiment.’ It’s amazing how these fads ping around the internet. If you ever get a chance to add some of the studies to your article (in all your free time, ha) that would be helpful, too.

  22. CD December 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    This may come late to this bog, but since I stumbled onto it, I will go ahead and post.

    Years ago I was oblivious to any possible risks of consuming soy. Why would anyone think that it could be harmful when there is such a push for it to be accepted as a health food? Currently, we are subsequently hard pressed to find ANY product that doesn’t contain it in either oil or flour form. The fact that it is hiding in so many of the foods that we purchase, i.e., baked goods (including tortillas), and even mayonnaise is troubling to me.

    If someone chooses to eat it and doesn’t believe that it poses health risks, and that it can even promote good health, then that is your choice. I, like the poster “Robert” (who posted multiple times previously), choose the side of caution. There are so many choices that we have and soy doesn’t have to be one of them. If soy in all forms, wasn’t historically a source if food AND has toxic properties, then that should give pause for thought.

    The thing that really confounds me, is the fact that so many of the posters jumped on Robert as if he were the bad guy. Do what you want to do. Live your own life the way that you choose. You seem to be dying for anyone that can counter negative arguments in regards to soy. Posters such as Robert and myself simply choose to put info out there for others to consider. What you do with that info is entirely up to you. I like to be informed and continue to seek information that will help me throughout my life in attaining the best state of health that I can achieve.

    Life is short, and I would rather enjoy every aspect of it without being sick and miserable along the way and I sure don’t want to speed the process.

    • Sarah June 15, 2013 at 7:54 am - Reply

      I showed up even later and I wonder why you think that reposting falsehoods from the Weston A Price foundation which is notably anti-soy and promotes a number of questionable nutritional practices (e.g. consumption of raw milk and a diet heavy in animal fats) is a valid way to argue.

      I mean, your source is the Weston A Price website, but their sources are nonexistant.

  23. CD December 13, 2012 at 1:34 pm - Reply


    When considering the Asian cultures, I think it is prudent to consider time can change people’s view on foods and health. I don’t think it would be a stretch to think that more people in those countries consume soy in various forms more so than they did in the past because they are not only readily available to eat, but we are told that they are good for you as well. Couple that with the huge push here in the states and one can see how that could influence a culture. Many emerging generations within those countries want nothing more that to be like Americans.

    I think a look into the traditional foods would be a better approach because we have yet to see the health issues in current generations to their full extent.

    • Roger January 14, 2014 at 6:28 am - Reply

      You’ve got that backwards. Foods like tofu, soy milk, natto, etc. are traditional foods in Asia (I’m Asian).

      It’s true, sadly, that many developing countries are emulating Western things, including diet. That means that meat and dairy consumption is increasing drastically, while soy consumption is decreasing in more recent generations.

  24. BE May 1, 2013 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    Like CD, I also come quite late to his post, but all I know is that 90% of soy grown in the US is GMO, with much of the organic crops contaminated with GMO seed! I hope poster Ginny Messina got this info since she posted here, ’cause she thinks shes consuming an authentic organic product but most likely not. So from a former almost daily tofu & other soy product consumer, maybe we need all tread lightly or not at all when it comes to soy.

  25. […] developing osteoporosis are decreased. The website also wrote a very good, insightful article about The Amount of Soy Eaten in Various Countries in East Asia. I have not idea whether there is a difference in the phytoestrogen concentration between the […]

  26. Priyadarshan July 6, 2013 at 1:37 am - Reply

    So what if Asians eat soy. (Average) Asians aren’t really the fitness level you want to aspire to.

    I’m from India and ate a mostly vegan diet in my childhood (my family is vegetarian for religious purposes and I was also lactose intolerant so no milk either). Let me tell you, all of the people in my community were weaklings and skinny-fat. At 18, I began eating chicken,fish,red meat and eggs along with my vegetables every day. My muscularity skyrocketed, I grew much stronger and more athletic. I began to push my body with gruelling gym workouts and self challenges like hill runs, rock climbing, swimming marathons etc.

    All of the traditional vegan/vegetarian communities are weak and simply a little wussy. You can beat them up. Sad but true. Not hating on my own people, but it’s a statement of fact based on observations.

    • Roger January 14, 2014 at 6:26 am - Reply

      Maybe your “muscularity skyrocketed” because you began to push your body with gruelling gym workouts, hill runs, rock climbing, and swimming marathons.

      But what does that have to do with this article, about soy, anyway?

    • elje February 24, 2014 at 9:16 am - Reply

      You may have gained muscle mass and you may have gained better endurance with meat eating but that doesnt mean non meat eating people dont have that.

    • CB November 29, 2014 at 6:19 am - Reply

      I’m also of Indian heritage and my family still mostly consume their traditional diet. This diet consists of a lot of vegetable curries, but these are left to cook for absolutely *ages* and are also swimming in oil. They consume a lot of ghee, a lot of dairy, eggs. They have chicken maybe once a week (not sure as I never liked Indian food). They have beef, liver, now and then. Soya is not a part of their diet.

      Let me give you a run down of the health problems of my family.

      My mother has Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, kidney problems (I can’t remember exactly what it was), also overweight. My father has high blood pressure also, high cholesterol. My uncle has Type 1 diabetes. My maternal grandmother has Type 2 diabetes, osteomalacia (sp?), high blood pressure, joint problems. My paternal grandmother also had type 2 diabetes, I’m not sure what other things she had as she lived in india all her life so I didn’t know her all that well. My maternal grandfather passed away in his early 60s of a heart attack.

      I myself suffered from kidney problems as a child. I was prodded and poked by doctors for most of my teenage years, who never could find out what the problem was. I would have milk with my tea at breakfast, milk at lunch on non-school days, milk with my biscuits, milk with dinner, sometimes milk at night if I couldn’t sleep. Eggs very often. Eventually my mum restricted my milk and egg intake and at the next hospital visit I was given the all-clear.

      So what does this say? (Apart from the fact that diet should have been one of the first things the doctors asked about!!)

      “All of the traditional vegan/vegetarian communities are weak and simply a little wussy. You can beat them up. Sad but true. Not hating on my own people, but it’s a statement of fact based on observations.”

      And so are the traditional meat-eating Indian communities, if we’re going to make such sweeping statements. If your family’s diet was anything like my family’s, then it’s no wonder they were sickly, too. And if their lifestyle was anything like my family’s back in the village, then that would also provide a reason for being “skinny-fat” and “weaklings”. I don’t think lack of meat had anything to do with it at all.

  27. German November 22, 2013 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    Hello, do you have any source where I could find the studies? (“large studies of health habits include dietary data from close to 100,000 adult men and women”). If possible, the original papers.
    In english, please 🙂

    Thank you very much.

  28. […] farming in China and East asia started in 1100 BC. The Japanese and Chinese eat 10 grams of soy protein per day (although some groups in these countries eat as much as 50 grams). Also much of the soy […]

  29. […] farming in China and East asia started in 1100 BC. The Japanese and Chinese eat 10 grams of soy protein per day (although some groups in these countries eat as much as 50 grams). Also much of the soy […]

  30. Ken May 19, 2014 at 11:02 am - Reply

    I am Chinese and love tofu and soymilk etc… When people say that they have not observed Asians eating tofu, they must not have been looking closely. Asians have eaten tofu, soymilk, and the beans themselves for hundreds of years. We pan-fry tofu. We steam tofu with fish. We braise it. We eat it for dessert. We drink it because most Chinese are lactose intolerant. The Koreans mash it up and add it to dumplings. The Japanese have tofu in their miso soup which they traditionally eat at breakfast. We add it to meat dishes to extend the meat. Meat is more plentiful now and affordable. However, tofu will always have a special place in my heart. I always have at least 6-8 blocks in my fridge whether it is silken to soft. So many uses.

    • mija May 23, 2014 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      I sought out info today about soy and specifically tofu consumption because I hear/read so much that makes me question if it’s ok to use it as much as I do: soy creamer for my coffee, vegan cheeses, meat – chicken facsimiles (transitional household) and most important, my beloved tofu. I could eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner but fight against it. I try and make a block last a week but it’s difficult. I’d love definitive confirmation that it’s ok to go “soy” nuts lol.

  31. Ken July 19, 2014 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    Not sure if this was addressed, but the comments with regards to soy products being a percent of calories is a strange way of regarding how much someone is eating a product. If someone consumed 8% of their calories in lettuce, I would say that it is a boat load of lettuce they are consuming. When food items have different caloric densities, why would you go from measuring how much in quantity to percent of calorie intake. I think that the stats can be manipulated to support one’s opinion on the matter.

  32. Wild Wolf January 25, 2015 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    It would be logical to assume that the Asian populations that consumed soy, fermented or not, for over a thousand years can handle it, westerns and otherswhohave no history of soy intake should not assume it will have the same benifits it may have on say Japanese women, and there are many other factors in the Japanese diet that may reduce the risk of cvd or breast cancer,duch as heavy fish consumption. The best thing I ever did for my health,was eliminate all soy

  33. […] foods have been consumed for thousands of years in Asian cultures. And while some studies will claim that certain types of soy foods may be better than others – […]

  34. Charles G. Shaver July 20, 2015 at 8:13 am - Reply

    Looking for info on whether Asians use hexane to remove the oil from the soybean like is mostly done in the U.S.

  35. yblees September 23, 2015 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    As a tofu eating Asian, I think this issue about soy being good or bad is missing a few points.

    1. Most vegetarians/vegans who seem to have trouble with eating a lot of soy products are not Asian, and traditionally did not eat this much soy. I would expect the incidence of soy sensitivity or intolerance problems would be much higher than in Asian populations who DO traditionally eat soy. i.e. some people may not be genetically suited to eating a lot of soy.

    2. Modern soy products and meat substitutes aren’t really traditional. I find tofu bought at the supermarket in plastic packs often smell different from what I grew up eating. Tofu burgers are a western invention. i.e. modern soy processing is often something strange and new, not how soy eating people have been preparing it for generations.

    3. Soy eating Asians usually have soy with meat or fish. Apart from deserts and drinking soy milk straight, and apart from novelty Buddhist temple eateries, soy eaten at meals is added to meat, fish or eggs. i.e. Asians who eat a lot of tofu, eat it WITH animal/fish protein, not as a complete meat substitute.
    Traditionally vegetarian Asian (eg. hindu) populations rarely eat soy, they take lots of milk instead.

    4. Asian diets are “healthy” only if calorie intake is restricted. Once people can afford to eat more calories, it becomes extremely unhealthy – just look at the rate of type 2 (lifestyle) diabetes throughout asia. i.e. Chinese diets are healthy if you eat like a traditional peasant farmer. If you eat like a Chinese rich man, you’re looking at diabetes, heart problems, etc pretty damn quick!

  36. Dai October 12, 2015 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the article. As an Asian, I laugh at the arguments people have about soy. I absolutely love soy. I love it more than my sisters. But we were dirt poor growing up in the states that even soy products were a challenge financially and physically to acquire from 1975 through 1989 while living in WV. My favorite beverage was a dry soy milk drink that I added hot water to make. I had to conserve it since we rarely made it to DC for the Asian grocery stores. Once gone, it was a long while before I could acquire one small box on our limited family income. When my mom was able to acquire tofu, it was great fried. She did the tofu meal maybe once a month. Chicken and pork was cheaper cuts of meat she could afford on barely $10,000 salary at the sewing factory. She managed to acquire cubed steak at least once a month. And rice or rice noodle was served at every meal at home. We had free breakfast and lunch within the school system due to my mom’s limited income. So with that all said, I will say to anyone who truly wants to believe Asians do not eat that much soy on a daily basis is delusional. Seriously delusional. Tofu used to be cheaper than meat. Folks on a limited income will need a protein source, and hello?! Tofu in Asia is cheaper than meat. And the fact that it has been a part of Asian diets for thousands of years tells me that folks are truly barking up the wrong tree with arguing about the negativity of soy. Do you want to know why there is an increase in soy allergies? Perhaps it is because soy wasn’t an ancestral part of certain races’ diet. Perhaps there is a predisposition to soy allergies among a certain race or ethnic group that has combined genomes within the USA, the great melting pot of all peoples. There are a lot to consider when pointing the finger to the negative effects of a particular food. But I, along with other Asians observing these discussions, simply shake our heads. Wisdom. If soy isn’t for you for the myriad of reasons including you simply don’t like it, then don’t consume it. If it works for you, by all means enjoy it as I do. Chai tea just doesn’t taste as good without steaming hot soy milk added. And fried tofu with bits of sliced meat, pork, or chicken is still awesome…or even straight up added to my ramen soup…still awesome. And when my body finally tells me it is time to stop enjoying soy, I will lament it to my dying day.

  37. […] have eaten their traditional diets, have tended to be healthier and live longer than Americans. The Okinawa Japanese, the longest living people in the world, average 1-2 servings of soy each day. They have traditionally eaten regular but moderate amounts of whole soy foods such as tofu, […]

  38. 10 Things You Need To Know About Soy January 8, 2016 at 12:57 am - Reply

    […] farming in China and East asia started in 1100 BC. The Japanese and Chinese eat 10 grams of soy protein per day (although some groups in these countries eat as much as 50 grams). Also much of the soy […]

  39. The Truth About Soy May 1, 2016 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    […] have eaten their traditional diets, have tended to be healthier and live longer than Americans. The Okinawa Japanese, the longest living people in the world, average 1-2 servings of soy each day. They have traditionally eaten regular but moderate amounts of whole soy foods such as tofu, […]

  40. […] see, it’s not produced from the sort of soy you might associate with long-living Asian populations who consume high amounts of fermented soy products. Rather, it’s a non-fermented, genetically modified type of soy that the body has a hard time […]

  41. […] see, it’s not produced from the sort of soy you might associate with long-living Asian populations who consume high amounts of fermented soy products. Rather, it’s a non-fermented, genetically modified type of soy that the body has a hard time […]

  42. Orah Ruth Kamienny June 26, 2017 at 5:26 am - Reply

    The first I ever heard of a problem with soy was last summer when I tried to buy a soy product in a health food store that didn’t have it. The clerk explained and I was astounded. I’m almost 65 yrs old and have been consuming soy products since I was 6 mo old. I had an allergy to milk so after weaning from breast that is what I ate. I was born in the Philippines of Caucasian parents, moved to USA at 14 where I found the food in 1966 unfit to eat. I do have hypothyroidism due to a radioactive accident and high exposure to hot iodine. My family ate very little dairy products and all the women in my family have osteopenia and osteoporosis. I weigh only 7 lbs more that I did in high school and work out 45 min- 1hr a day, 5 days a week. My 5 kids were raised on soy due to milk allergies. I AM A MEDICAL PRACTIONER AND A FORMER SCIENCE RESEARCHER. THERE IS NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE AGAINST SOY CONSUMPTION. I WILL CONTINUE TO DRINK MY SOY MILK AND EAT SOY PRODUCTS EVERY DAY. The only people I have cautioned against eating soy were cancer patients with estrogen dependent tumors.
    Thank you Ginny for being factual. ORK

  43. Cade October 15, 2017 at 12:39 am - Reply

    I’m appalled by how much junk science there is on healthy eating website.
    The soy scare is one of the things that gets my goat, since one of the major organizations claiming soy is dangerous is the WAPF, which is full of junk science.

  44. oioioi November 7, 2017 at 12:35 am - Reply

    Interesting article. I lived for a decade in northern China back in the 90s (before KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks rolled in…) and I’m married to a Chinese since more than 20 years. Like all Chinese I know (and I know many), we eat a lot of different types of Tofu (soft, hard, milk, etc). In addition to the uses mentioned above in meat and fish dishes (and sometimes in dishes on their own, such as Mala Doufu), we also eat a lot of dry tofu in various types of salads and other cold dishes. Sometimes we make wraps of sheets off dry tofu. Apart from the soy sauce, I don’t think any of the soy products we eat are fermented. The fermented “stinky tofu” is not a big thing in northern China, and it seems that the Japanese (and perhaps the Cantonese) are more keen on fermented stuff. When we go back to China during the summer holidays, we live with my mother-in-law who is in her 70s. She insists on doing the cooking and ALL meals include at least one dish with some sort of tofu… Only new thing I’ve observed in northern China over the years (I’ve gone back every year for the last 25 years) is that it has become popular to drink hot tofu milk for breakfast. This southern tradition wasn’t common in the north of China 20 years ago, but nowadays there are soy milk stands and restaurants all over the place. This type of milk is crazy sweet and is usually had with waffle-like bread-sticks. Certainly NOT a healthy breakfast…

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