Why I’m giving up soy

One of the things I have realized on this new path to self-discovery, or whatever I’m on, is that I need to do what I think is right for me and stop apologizing or avoiding discussing things because I’m afraid of how others will react. This is my life and I should be living it according to my convictions.

With that being said, let’s talk about Soy, shall we?

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Soy products are perhaps the most recognized staples of many vegetarian and vegan diets. There’s soy milk, soy nuts, soy-based veggie burgers and other meat replacements, tofu, tempeh, soy yogurt, etc. It’s also present in many processed foods people consume (like soy sauce), regardless of their diet.

I know the opinions on soy and it’s affects on the body are varying. Whenever you are researching something for yourself, I think scientific articles are the most beneficial to read on the subject but you must look at everything you read with a skeptical eye. I also believe sometimes you just have to go with what your heart tells you, while keeping science in mind.

I’d never had a problem with soy before and believed that as long as you were consuming less processed soy products, there was nothing to worry about. For some people, that’s probably still true. But I’m not so sure about me anymore. I also need to remind you that I lack moderation.

Now it’s time for me to get personal: I have been having “problems” with my menstrual cycles for as long as I can remember. I started my periods really early, age 9. I suffer from irregular cycles, extremely long cycles, heavy and painful periods, and in the past missed periods too.

It seems like no two cycles are ever the same and attempts at taking hormonal birth control in the past just left me more frustrated. That’s a topic for another post, but let’s just say I would much rather be able to “solve” this on my own in a more natural way.

The reason I have chosen to discuss soy in my diet, is due to findings which claim that consuming a lot of soy products can lengthen the menstrual cycle and possibly cause fertility problems IF you have multiple risk factors. Soy also has health benefits which have been shown in scientific studies, but I had to weigh it for myself. You can’t believe everything you read, on either side.

I thought when I lost weight and got myself healthier (starting in 2007), that things would improve but they have not. Losing weight made my periods lighter and less painful for a while, but then when I started running, they disappeared entirely. 

I thought that if I cut back on running it would help some, but it did not. Luckily, some progesterone pills got them restarted and I haven’t experienced any missed periods in a while now. One last thing I haven’t fully addressed yet as a possible cause is stress, but since that is an on-going battle for me right now, I thought I’d give one more dietary change a shot first.

The past several months have been extremely tough. My cycles have gotten longer (we’re talking 50+ days), my periods have gotten heavier and more painful than ever (as in take a Vicodin and stay home from work painful) and I’ve been depressed.

The moods are what got my attention the most. I’d been dealing with the other stuff off and on for years, but when I started finding it hard to smile, that hurt more than any physical pain I was feeling.

Why now? I’ve been consuming soy products in foods my entire life. I found out I was lactose intolerant in 2008, so I’ve been using soy milk and yogurt more since then. But since my problems have escalated the past few months or so, I can’t help but wonder if it is because my soy consumption has increased since I decided to go vegan in October of 2009? I think maybe so.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat soy. I’m not recommending anything to anyone, as I’m not qualified to do so.

But from research I have done on my own, medical opinions I’ve received, and based on the opinions of a few trustworthy friends, I have decided to experiment with reducing (or eliminating) soy in my diet to see if it improves my cycles at all.

Just like I have done with other changes in my diet, I plan to phase soy out gradually. I have a refrigerator full of veggie burgers, tofu, tempeh and soy yogurt that I still need to use up. But I’ve started reading labels and the new foods I’m purchasing are soy free.

I know what you are thinking…how can someone who already doesn’t eat so many things possibly remove yet another food group from their diet?

Well, just like there are alternatives to the animal products I choose not to eat, there are also alternatives to soy. I can use coconut milk or almond milk instead of soy (there is also hemp, oat, and rice milks available).

Sunshine Burgers are soy free as is Earth Balance.

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Seitan is a good alternative to tofu and tempeh. I just tried it for the first time the other night when we had dinner at Ramsi’s and I got the Seitan Parmesan sandwich, yum! I’ll still have plenty of beans and lentils, which are excellent protein sources.

There are a plethora of yogurts and frozen treats made from coconut milk, almond milk and rice milk if I want them. So really, there’s nothing missing.

Much like when I first went vegan, the hardest thing will be where it shows up on food labels. Just like with dairy and eggs, soy can be sneaky sometimes but if I keep my diet as whole as possible, there won’t be as many processed food labels to worry about anyway.

Friends and family — if you are reading this, don’t worry. I will still eat things you make for me if they contain soy products. I think once in a while is okay, especially if you went out of your way to make sure something wouldn’t contain meat or dairy (which I appreciate more than you know).

I just have to get out of the habit of having soy milk with breakfast, a veggie burger at lunch, soy yogurt for a snack and tofu for dinner. That’s just too much.

I also want to note that I am in the process of adjusting some other areas of my diet but I will discuss those at a later date. I believe it is important to experiment and find what is going to work best for you and your individual needs, to get your body (and mind) working optimally.

So, now I want to know about you:

Do you eat soy products regularly? If you choose to eat a small amount of soy or avoid it entirely, why?

About Sarah Frankel

I am 29 years old and a resident of Louisville, Kentucky. I've been married to my husband Josh for 6 years and we have a 5 year old beagle named Suzie. Four years ago, I changed my eating and exercise habits, dropping 70 pounds and gaining an entirely new life. I took up running in September 2007 and became vegan in October 2009. I am constantly striving to improve my life so that I can live it to the fullest! I hope you will join me on my life journey.

Posted on July 14, 2010, in diets and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. When Starbucks made the glorious move recently to customizable Frappucinos, I tried a soy one first. I liked it fine. The barista, however, said she could not drink one because they do not refrigerate the soy milk – the carton sits on the counter and that bothers her! I guess this is a safe practice?

    I have bought many a carton of silken tofu in an attempt to try to sneak it into my diet. I have thrown out many a carton of 25% eaten silken tofu sitting in rancid water. Yuck!

    Do what you have to do for your health. Having menstrual issues like that is a like having a disability. I dealt with similar for YEARS. Make you wonder how that plumbing gets so screwed up. Genetics? Environment? Diet? Lifestyle? All of the above?

    Hang in there.

  2. I have been thinking about doing the exact same thing (for very similar reasons). This may be TMI, but I’ve been having some hormone issues that I went to the doctor for a while back, and despite her trying several things, nothing has worked. I’m thinking that the soy could be part of my problem, since that’s a large part of my diet. From what I’ve read, the only soy product that you don’t run into the isoflavones is soy sauce, so that’s the only one that I plan to keep in the house once I make the switch.

  3. I used to drink soymilk and eat a lot of processed soy products, but I have cut down on that. I will eat the occasional veggie burger or tempeh, but thats it.

  4. Very interesting post! Thanks for writing about soy!

    BTW I have three giveaways going on on my blog right now if you were interested!

  5. I think you’ll be finding plenty of alternatives as you’ve mentioned, and I hope this move helps you out!

    For me, I stick to organic tofu and tempeh as much as possible. I avoid isolated soy protiens (in veggie burgers and tvp, for example, and even in soymilk) and always choose organic to avoid GMO soy. That freaks me out, even if I don’t notice health problems as the result of consuming it.

    Good luck on this transition!

  6. It sounds like you’ve really been through the ringer dealing with these issues! I hope that cutting back/eliminating soy helps!

    When first going vegan there were a lot more soy products in my diet than there are now. It was an easy transition to replace commonly non-veg foods with soy…since then, the more I read about soy (high volume of GMO soy, possible hormonal issues, etc.) the more I’ve kept it to a minimum in my diet. I eat tofu and tempeh occassionally (organic, non-GMO only), but usually consume homemade nut or hemp milks and homemade soy-free veggie burgers at home. It’s been suprisingly easy to keep it to a minimum. Since it’s not a “staple” food in my diet, I don’t have to be concerned with it being an incidental ingredient in things or avoiding items like soy sauce.

    I wish you the best of luck and hopefully this will just open the door to discovering even more delicious (soy-free) foods! :)

  7. im lactose intolerant so have switched to soy products but i struggle with my periods aswell. I’m on right now and they’re awful, like yours. I don’t want to see anyone or go anywhere because i feel really down and huge and the pain is awful. But if i cut out soy what do i have in terms of milk etc? hmm…. x

  8. It’s definitely worth a try. I was just about to suggest birth control, until I read that it didn’t work for you. I’ve been on it for about 12 years and my cycle is as predictable and regular as can be. But everybody’s body is different. You gotta do what’s right for you.

    As for me and soy, I don’t even attempt to try and eat less soy. I don’t that much processed food in general though, so most of the soy I eat is in a whole foods form. LOVE TEMPEH!!! And tofu is my live. But everybody’s body is different. Good luck!

  9. I don’t limit my soy intake at all. My mother(who has turned vegan at 70) has been eating soy and feeding us soy ever since I can remember. Everyone is different, because I have very regular monthly cycles. But I also don’t eat a lot of hugely processed soy. I do eat Gardein products occasionally, but I usually consume tofu, non-GMO soybeans, miso, or tempeh. I barely have soy milk, because I hate the taste. Try it out and see how you feel. What works for others may not work for you.

  10. I have been wondering about soy as well lately and the effect it has on my body… Contrary to you though, it`s the fact that my period has become so light that worries me. Light and short. I was therefore a bit puzzled that you would have the exact opposite effect from the same food. Maybe I worry for nothing, maybe I should read more about it. I hope you get a grip on your health issues easily and painlessly.

  11. I am soy ignorant. But I noticed the Earth Balance container said buttery on it and I’ve been thinking about an alternative to butter. Would that work?

  12. Best wishes with the phase-out. That can be a challenge for sure! As for me, I have a soy based burger maybe once every 3 weeks. I really only use soy milk when I’m baking or need a milk replacement. As for my yogurt, I much prefer the coconut based stuff. I do tofu and tempeh maybe twice a week. Otherwise, I’m a chickpea, bean and quinoa nut. Just prefer it over soy products. I do admit, though, I love the dairy free soy nuggets from Trader Joe’s, but only let myself get into that box 1 time a week, otherwise that’s all I’d eat! :)

  13. I have pcos and one time I decided to do some research on Soy and I had such a headache from all the info I found! a lot of it was contradicting. I decided to use my own judgement, I stopped consuming soy milk etc…the only way I truely get soy is from my tofu and a little bit from my protein powder =)

  14. Sarah,

    I am so sorry for you!! I would give up soy entirely too if I were in your shoes. I eat soy now and again, but I have switched from soy milk to almond milk, for caloric and sugar purposes, and I eat tofu rarely. I am not a vegan/vegetarian, so I have more choices. Sorry for your issues, I hope this helps!

    ~Alyssa

  15. have you tried getting some blood tests? these symptoms sound like hypothyroidism to me…. go to your doctor and ask about it.

  16. I try to eat soy minimally because I’ve heard that it can hinder hormone balance and that scares me. If I do have some like say in a Latte, I try to use organic soy.

  17. I have crazy hormonal issues meself with the long, messed up, super painful periods (I used to pop Lortabs for them) and ridiculous irregularity. However, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and put on the pill, which has personally helped me a lot. It’s actually quite a common thing, but I know hormonal issues are as varied as the person.

    As for me, I do avoid soy, but not for hormonal issues. Actually, my body doesn’t produce a whole lot of natural estrogen compounds so I figured a little phytoestrogens wouldn’t be such a bad thing, lol. Anyway, I avoid soy because it’s a HUGE migraine trigger for me. I had been eating soy products for about two years before I started getting headaches. They started out here and there but pretty soon they were daily and they lasted for hours. I dealt with them for an entire year before I finally read how soy is broke down into tyramine. Once I got rid of the soy, I got rid of the headaches.

    Sometimes I eat tofu (because I love it soooo much), but since it’s only occasionally it doesn’t bother me too much. I made the switch to almond milk and rice protein powder and avoid all other soy products and I feel as good as new!

  18. I don’t drink soy or eat any processed foods. Well, sometimes i do on occasion but i try to stick to a whole food vegan diet.

  1. Pingback: Starting over, again « See Sarah Eat

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