Q: Are soy products (soy milk, tofu, tempeh, soy sauce) considered healthy food choices for someone with Crohn's disease?
A: You may have heard that the FDA, or Food and Drug Administration, is considering revoking a health claim for soy protein and reduced risk for heart disease (you can read the FDA statement here: https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm582744.htm). However, this does not mean soy is bad for you, just that the scientific evidence surrounding soy and its benefits on heart health are conflicting at the moment. Soy products are considered healthy for people with IBD, and are a rich source of fiber which is beneficial for gut health and helps to promote a healthy microbiome. Studies suggest soy can benefit human health by reducing risk for diabetes, allergic response, and autoimmune disease. There have been few studies investigating soy in people with IBD, but animal studies (1) suggest soy may help reduce IBD inflammation. And a recent study in humans (2) found that men who ate more soy products, particularly fermented soy products like miso and natto, had less arterial stiffening, suggesting a possible reduced risk for heart disease and benefit for heart health. Soy is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fermented soy products (miso, tempeh, natto) are excellent sources of probiotics. Just as with any food, soy should be eaten in moderation and in combination with a variety of other fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and animal proteins. When choosing soy foods, look for soy products that are minimally processed and have few food additives, like edamame, firm tofu, and soy milk without added sugar or gums. Eat less highly processed soy products like soy milk with additives, soy burgers and soy hot dogs, isolated soy protein, soy oil, and soy flour. Highly processed soy products are often stripped of nutrients and have added ingredients that aren’t great for health when eaten on a regular basis (extra fat, sugar, emulsifiers, thickeners, etc).
1.Abron JD, et al (2018)
2.Price RL, et. al (2018)
Kelly Issokson, MS, RD, CNSC
Registered Dietitian, Nutrition and Integrative IBD Program
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA