You might've heard that tofu, miso, edamame, and other soy foods are unhealthy for kids—but is this actually true? We spoke with a registered dietician to learn more.

By Elisa Zied
Updated December 02, 2020
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Soy Beans Tofu Milk
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| Credit: naito29/Shutterstock

In some cultures, soy is a mealtime mainstay right from the start. But here in the United States, many people aren’t familiar with soy foods like tofu and miso—and there are also concerns about its safety. Here's what parents need to know about the protein-packed food.

Is Soy Healthy for Kids?

Soy foods like tofu and soy milk are high-quality proteins (like meat), which means they contain all the amino acids you need to get from food. Edamame is also rich in fiber and iron, nutrients some kids lack. And although soy is one of the top allergens, it’s one that kids are more likely to outgrow, says Sally Kuzemchak, R.D., author of The 101 Healthiest Foods for Kids and blogger at RealMomNutrition.com. 

Some rumors say that compounds in soy called isoflavones act like estrogen in the body, lowering testosterone levels for boys and raising breast cancer risk for girls. But research debunks that myth. Actually, evidence shows that girls who eat soy may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer in adulthood. Soy may also help protect the heart by lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.

What About Soy Baby Formula?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says soy formula is fine for babies with a milk allergy or certain medical issues, but check with your pediatrician before starting your little one on a lactose-free formula. It's not recommended for preterm infants or as a treatment for colic.

How Much Soy Should Kids Eat?

Researchers say that one serving of soy foods per day is about right for kids. That’s roughly 5 to 10 grams of soy protein and the equivalent of 1 cup of soy milk, ½ cup of cooked soybeans, or ½ cup of tofu. Processed forms of soy (like soy burgers and dogs) are good sources of protein and fine to eat occasionally, but they tend to be higher in sodium and contain more additives than whole forms of soy like tofu and tempeh, says Kuzemchak.

What Are Some Kid-Friendly Soy Foods?

Edamame (whole soybeans either shelled or in the pod) are probably the most kid-friendly form of soy around. Pack them in lunchboxes or serve them as a snack. You can also use soy crumbles or tempeh in place of some or all of the meat in taco and lasagna filling. Or try tossing chunks of extra firm tofu with a yummy sauce and then stir-frying or baking. Like all flavored milk, soy milk is fine in moderation but does contain a few teaspoons of added sugar per glass.

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