Soy and a Vegan Diet

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Q: I am trying a vegan diet and am concerned about getting enough protein, because I have been advised not to eat soy protein. What is your opinion of non-dairy, non-soy protein shakes, such as rice protein or hemp protein products? Are they safe and useful as a supplement to meals?

A: There are many different options for non-dairy, non-soy protein shakes that are safe and provide an adequate amount of protein. Read a previous post about hemp protein as a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids that talks about the different kinds of protein powders for shakes such as pea and hemp-based protein. As stated in that question, we suggest protein amounts that are 25 grams or less per serving.

These protein drinks can be part of your daily source of protein. Other plant-based foods can be great sources for protein as well, such as quinoa, beans, nuts, seeds and even whole unprocessed soy foods. The concern with soy protein is mainly around soy isoflavones, which are a type of phytoestrogen and can have a weak estrogen-like effect. This is still a controversial topic and we have discussed it in a previous post about soy lecithin and breast cancer. Whole soy foods such as soy milk, tofu, soy nuts, tempeh and edamame are safe in moderation, as they do not have a concentrated amount of isoflavones, and are another good source of lean protein. Organic or non-genetically modified (GMO) soy is preferred when possible.

A protein shake can be a good snack or even breakfast supplement. However, we wouldn’t suggest substituting it for lunch and dinner on a regular basis unless under the supervision of your doctor or dietitian. Try making those meals full of a variety of vegan proteins and plant-based foods to ensure a balanced diet rich in phytonutrients.

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