Have you heard the myth that soy will make you “grow boobs” or make you more feminine?
This myth is mainly fueled by gendered stereotypes about people who eat a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets are often associated with emotions that are socially perceived as being more feminine such as compassion and empathy. Meat, on the other hand, is associated with masculine traits like strength and control (1,2,3,4,5,6). The meat industry has gladly perpetuated these gendered stereotypes as marketing tools to promote meat consumption (3).
But why is soy perceived as the enemy of manhood? It comes from the fact that soy contains isoflavones, phytoestrogens (a.k.a. plant estrogens) that can mimic, to some extent, human estrogen activity (7). While everyone produces and needs estrogen, it is mainly associated with females(8). In males, excess estrogen can cause infertility, breast tissue enlargement (i.e. gynecomastia), and erectile dysfunction (8,9,10).
Because of these properties and the social perception around meat and plant-based diets, some people have wrongly claimed that eating a lot of soy could negatively impact their health or make them less “manly”.
Facts are that isoflavones are not the same as human estrogen and incorporating soy foods as part of a balanced diet should not affect testosterone levels, fertility, development of breast tissue, or erectile function (11,12).
On the contrary, research done on humans shows that eating soy is safe and can even be beneficial for your health. Soy consumption may improve blood sugar, inflammation, cholesterol, blood pressure, bone health, and cognitive function (2,7,13).
It’s important to keep in mind that any food consumed in excess can have negative health impacts, soy, and meat included (2,14).