The potential benefits of soybeans for gut health

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Soybean is a highly important legume globally, providing a valuable source of plant protein for millions of people.

It is widely used as a base ingredient in plant-based meat alternatives due to its high quality, cost-effectiveness, and versatility.

The health benefits of soybeans are often attributed to phytoestrogens, which are present in high levels.

In addition, consuming soy-based foods may impact gastrointestinal (GI) health, particularly in relation to colorectal cancer risk and the gut microbiome.

This review aims to evaluate the emerging evidence on the effects of soybeans, soy-based products, and their key constituents on GI health.

Effects of Soy Consumption on Gut Health

Various studies, including clinical trials, observational studies, and animal trials, have examined the effects of consuming soybeans and soy-based products on measures of GI health.

Some consistent positive changes have been observed, particularly for certain soy foods. Fermented soy milk, for example, appears to have favorable effects on GI health compared to unfermented soy milk.

Fermentation may enhance the bioavailability and bioactivity of beneficial compounds in soy, leading to improved GI health outcomes.

Role of Phytoestrogens and Microbiome Metabolism

Phytoestrogens, such as isoflavones found in soybeans, have been linked to the health benefits associated with soy consumption.

Specifically, individuals with a gut microbiome capable of metabolizing equol, a metabolite of isoflavones, may experience positive effects on GI health when consuming soy foods.

Equol production varies among individuals, and further research is needed to better understand its impact on gut health.

The Need for Further Investigation

While certain soy foods and their constituents show promising effects on GI health, more clinical evidence is required.

In particular, the increasing consumption of soy protein isolates and textured soy proteins, commonly used in plant-based meat alternatives, necessitates further research.

It is crucial to determine whether these processed forms of soy protein offer similar or additional functional effects on GI health compared to whole soy foods.


The review indicates that consuming soybeans and soy-based products, especially fermented soy foods and for individuals with equol-metabolizing microbiomes, may have beneficial effects on GI health.

However, more research is needed to fully understand the impact of different soy products on GI health, particularly in relation to the use of processed soy protein isolates and textured soy proteins.

Exploring the functional effects of soy foods on gut health will contribute to a better understanding of their potential benefits and inform dietary recommendations for promoting GI health.

The study was published in Nutrients.

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