• Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Jan 03, 2024

Pregnancy, Soy, Tofu and Other Vegan Products

soy_tofu_pregnancy

Is soy safe during pregnancy? Can I eat tofu while I’m pregnant? These are just some of the common questions that are asked by those who are vegan and expecting.

Navigating the answers to these questions may feel overwhelming, as there is a wealth of information out there on this topic.

However, no need to fret! This article will tell you everything you need to know about eating soy, tofu and other vegan foods when you’re pregnant.

What is Soy?

Soy is derived from soybeans, which are a type of legume commonly found in East Asia. This ingredient is found in many different types of food and it’s popular among vegans and vegetarians as it is a rich source of protein.

What Are Examples of Soy Foods?

Tofu

When you coagulate soy milk into curds and press those together, you get tofu. Tofu comes in many different textures, anywhere from super soft to extra firm.  Although bland, it soaks up flavours quite easily, making it the perfect base for many dishes.

Tempeh

To make tempeh, whole soybeans are fermented before being pressed into a block. It has a slightly nutty flavour and chewy texture.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is a great alternative to cow’s milk. It is made by soaking and straining soybeans. It comes in both sweetened or unsweetened varieties. Furthermore, fortified soy milk contains added vitamins and minerals, making it extra nutritious.

Edamame

Edamame is made up of immature soybeans that are best served steamed or boiled. They come pre-shelled or in whole pods, and you can buy them fresh or frozen.

soy_pregnancy_tofu

Soy Sauce

This popular condiment and cooking sauce is made from fermented soybeans and wheat. It adds an umami flavour to dishes.

Miso

Miso is a paste that is made from fermented soybeans, salt and koji (a type of fungus). This seasoning is commonly used in Japanese cuisine and can be added to soups, batters, dressings and more.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

TVP is a type of meat substitute made from defatted soy flour. It’s texture closely resembles ground meat. Additionally, the right seasoning can help TVP taste like meat too.

Soy Nuts

Soy nuts are mature soybeans that have either been roasted or baked. Upon further processing, they can even be turned into nut butter.

What Are the Benefits of Soy During Pregnancy?

Here’s a brief overview of the benefits of soy provides during pregnancy.

High in Protein

Soy is the best source of high-quality protein for pregnant vegans. That’s because it’s the only plant protein that has all 9 essential amino acids needed by the body.

It’s important that you get enough high-quality protein during pregnancy to ensure the proper growth and development of your baby.

Good Source of Iron

It’s important to note that iron needs are higher during pregnancy. Why is that? It’s because your body is producing more blood to support the fetus, and iron is required to make a component of red blood cells known as hemoglobin.

Soy is a great way to increase your intake of iron. It’s often believed that the iron from soy foods cannot be absorbed effectively by the body, however, research indicates that iron is absorbed quite well from soy.

Reduces Gestational Diabetes Risk

Gestational diabetes is the development of high blood sugar during pregnancy. If left untreated, it can lead to health complications for you and your baby. For example, you may develop pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) or have a preterm delivery.

Some studies indicate that eating soy during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes. However, it’s important to note that the evidence remains limited, and more research is required to better understand the relationship between soy and gestational diabetes.

What Are the Potential Risks of Soy During Pregnancy?

Some of the possible risks that come with soy include:

Genetic Modification

Soy is commonly genetically modified to help it better withstand herbicides. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that genetically modified foods pose any harm to human health. However, more research is needed before the safety of genetically modified foods can be determined with certainty.

Herbicides

There are concerns that the concentration of herbicides may be too high in genetically modified foods.

Not much is known about the effect herbicides have during pregnancy. However, one study found that high herbicide exposure during early pregnancy may be linked to lower newborn birth weight and increased NICU admission risk. However, the sample size of that study was quite small, and more research is needed in this area.

Given the concerns that come with genetically modified soy, it is recommended that you choose, certified organic soy products.

Is Soy Safe During Pregnancy?

The clinical evidence suggests that soy from food is generally safe to eat during all stages of pregnancy and won’t affect the fetus as long as it’s eaten in moderation.

The reason why there are so many questions surrounding the safety of soy during pregnancy is due to the fact that soy contains high amounts of isoflavones. Isoflavones function similarly to estrogen, an important hormone required during pregnancy. It is thought that this exposure to isoflavones may impact the fetus’s development. However, isoflavones have a weaker effect on the body compared to estrogen.

It’s important to note that soy supplements are not safe or recommended during pregnancy. This is because of the lack of research on their use during pregnancy.

Additionally, if you have hypothyroidism, you need to be a bit more cautious when eating soy. Specifically, soy may make your thyroid medication less effective. Thus, when eating soy, make sure to space out the timing of your thyroid medication. Speak with your healthcare provider to learn how you can safely consume soy while you have hypothyroidism.

soy_pregnancy

How Much Soy is Safe During Pregnancy?

What does a moderate amount of soy look like? You can safely include 2 servings of soy in your diet daily.  

Examples of a serving of soy include:

  • 1 cup of soy milk
  • ½ cup of tofu or tempeh
  • ½ cup of edamame
  • ½ cup of miso

However, it should be pointed out that the amount of soy required for each person will depend on many individualized factors. Speak with a vegan dietitian to get soy recommendations tailored to you.

Can You Eat Tofu While Pregnant?

Yes, tofu is safe to eat while pregnant. It is not only a great source of protein, but it’s also full of vitamins and minerals. Just make sure you’re cooking your tofu and not eating it raw as that increases your risk of getting a foodborne illness.

Getting a foodborne illness may impact you much more if you’re pregnant and cause dangerous complications, thus, it’s important you take all the precautions necessary to prevent it.

Can You Drink Soy Milk During Pregnancy?

Yes! Always remember to enjoy soy products like soy milk in moderation. Soy milk provides much you with much more protein compared to other plant-based milks like almond and oat milk.

To get the most vitamins and minerals out of your soy milk choose fortified soy milk over unfortified varieties. Also, consider choosing unsweetened soy milk as it has little to no added sugars.

Is Soy Sauce Safe During Pregnancy?

Yes, soy sauce is safe during pregnancy. However, make sure it’s part of a balanced diet and used in moderation because it’s high in sodium. Having a sodium diet during pregnancy may lead to the development of health complications like hypertension.

Is TVP Safe During Pregnancy?

TVP is safe during pregnancy. While you should choose whole soy products like tofu or tempeh more often because they’re lower in saturated fats and sodium, TVP is an easy alternative you can eat to get the benefits of soy.

Is Edamame Safe During Pregnancy?

Yes, cooked edamame is safe to eat in moderate amounts during pregnancy. Raw or undercooked edamame could cause you to get sick and should be avoided. Overall, edamame is an excellent whole food choice you can eat to get your servings of soy, as it’s a rich source of fibre.

Is Soy Safe During Breastfeeding?

Soy is safe to eat while you’re breastfeeding.  You need additional calories when you’re breastfeeding. Adding protein-rich sources like soy can help you meet your calorie needs and maintain your milk production.

While soy is a common allergen, the consensus among many experts is that you do not need to avoid any foods during breastfeeding to prevent the development of allergies in your baby. A diverse diet is best!

However, if you suspect that your baby may be allergic to the soy in your diet speak with your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate next steps.

Pregnancy_soy

Is Soy Infant Formula Safe for My Baby?

Not only do soy formulas have the same nutrient content as other infant formulas, they’re also safe for most babies.

However, studies indicate that pre-term babies and babies with low kidney function shouldn’t be fed soy-based formulas.

Soy formulas are higher in aluminum and may cause these infants to develop weaker bones. That’s because these infants are more prone to aluminum toxicity. Aluminum can disrupt the absorption of calcium, an important mineral needed for good bone health.

Speak with a plant-based dietitian to determine whether soy formula is the right option for your baby.

Does Soy Affect Female Fertility?

Soy consumption may increase the length of women’s menstrual cycles by one day, but it does not impact ovulation. Additionally, soy doesn’t affect the levels of reproductive hormones in women.

There is even evidence to suggest that soy can improve the outcomes for women undergoing IVF.

So overall, according to research, eating moderate amounts of soy doesn’t negatively affect female fertility.

Are Other Vegan Foods Safe During Pregnancy?

In addition to soy, you might be curious about what other types of food are safe to consume during pregnancy. Look below to find out what vegan foods you can eat and what foods you should avoid during pregnancy.

Can You Have Sprouts During Pregnancy?

Avoid raw sprouts such as alfalfa, mung bean, onion, radish, snow pea or soybean sprouts during pregnancy. Raw sprouts contain dangerous bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. However, you can eat these sprouts after cooking them.

Can You Drink Oat Milk During Pregnancy?

Yes, you can drink oat milk during pregnancy. Just like soy milk, oat milk is full of a variety of different nutrients that can help support a healthy pregnancy. Don’t drink any unpasteurized plant-based milks during pregnancy because of the possibility of bacteria contamination.

Can You Have Tahini During Pregnancy?

You should avoid tahini because there is a high risk of listeria or salmonella contamination.  It has also been linked to a number of foodborne illness outbreaks.

Can You Have Hummus During Pregnancy?

Hummus is usually not safe to eat during pregnancy due to the fact that it often contains tahini. It’s safer to eat homemade hummus, as long as it contains no tahini and is prepared using safe food-handling techniques.

Can You Have Nutritional Yeast During Pregnancy?

Yes! Nutritional yeast is safe to have during pregnancy. It’s also beneficial for pregnant vegans because it’s a good source of Vitamin B12, a nutrient that is often lacking in plant-based foods.

Can You Have Flaxseeds During Pregnancy?

Flaxseeds can be consumed in moderate amounts during pregnancy, as high amounts may cause mild hormonal disturbances in the body. You can safely have 1 tbsp of flaxseed a day. On the other hand, flaxseed oil should be avoided because it may increase the risk of preterm birth.

Can You Have Papaya During Pregnancy?

Unripe (green) papaya can induce early labour and thus shouldn’t be eaten during pregnancy.  However, ripe papaya is safe during pregnancy.

Can You Have Cantaloupe During Pregnancy?

Cantaloupe may potentially cause you to get food poisoning. That’s because the skin of the melon is usually contaminated with bacteria. Thus, make sure you wash and clean the outside of the cantaloupe thoroughly before cutting it.

Bottom Line

So, in general, soy and soy foods like tofu are safe to eat during pregnancy. Additionally, including moderate amounts of soy in your diet can provide you with nutritional benefits. Book a free discovery call with one of our plant-based dietitians or nutritionists for guidance on how you can incorporate soy into your diet during pregnancy.

© All Rights Reserved, Plant-Based Dietitians 2024