Ask the Dietitian: How Much and What Kinds of Soy Do People in Asia Eat?

Smoky Tofu Bacon

Q: I eat tofu almost every day and often have a little bit of soymilk in a smoothie. But I recently saw a YouTube video that said we should eat soy foods more like people in Asia do, where they mostly eat fermented soy and use it only condiment style. Now I’m worried that I’m eating too much soy and eating the wrong kind.

Ginny Messina, R.D.: It’s not possible to generalize about Asian soy consumption because diets vary considerably among countries and regions in this part of the world. But we have many studies that have looked at soy consumption in different Asian countries and they show just the opposite of what you are seeing on the YouTube video. In Japan, for example, people eat as much as two servings of soy foods per day. Older Japanese people whose diets reflect more traditional patterns tend to eat the most soy. In other parts of Asia, such as in Hong Kong, soy intake is much lower, around one-half serving per day. So there is a big range of soy intake throughout these countries.

The types of soy that people eat vary throughout Asia as well. But in most of these countries non-fermented soy foods, like the tofu and soymilk you are consuming, account for at least half of soy intake. In China, Singapore, and Hong Kong, tofu and soymilk are the most commonly consumed foods. And in Japan, despite the popularity of fermented foods including natto and miso, about half of the soy in Asian meals is tofu and soymilk. Even in Indonesia, the home of tempeh, about half of soy intake is consumed in the form of tofu [such as the Smoky Tofu Bacon pictured here].

So, based on consumption patterns of people in Asia, eating 1 to 2 servings of non-fermented soy foods per day is a reasonable choice.

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