When visiting a modern grocery store, consumers may recognize that their options are seemingly unlimited. Those options abound, whether you typically visit a large chain grocery store with 20-plus aisles and expansive specialty sections, or you tend to go to smaller stores that emphasize organics and other health foods.

Regardless of where consumers buy their food, soyfoods are one option they’re likely to encounter. Many people have undoubtedly encountered soyfoods, even if they didn’t realize it. For example, edamame is a commonly used soyfood that’s found in various recipes. In addition, a trip to the dairy aisle of a favored grocery store will likely lead to an encounter with soymilk. Given the ubiquitous nature of soyfoods, consumers may want to learn the basics of this widely available option.

What are soyfoods? The United Soybean BoardTM notes that the term “soyfoods” refers to a broad category of soybean products that are consumed by humans. Foods that are in the category of soyfoods include edamame, tempeh, tofu, miso, soy milk, and soy-based meat alternatives. “Adding edamame, tempe, or tofu to soups, salads, or casseroles can be an excellent way to add protein without adding fat to our diet,” says Laura Warren, MS, RDN.

How common are soyfoods? Soyfoods are more common than consumers may realize. In fact, the Kansas Soybean Commission notes that individuals likely have soyfood products in their pantries even if they aren’t aware of it. Protein shakes and baking flour are two examples of foods that include soy ingredients.

How healthy are soyfoods? While Warren notes that consuming soyfoods two to three times a week can be beneficial, it is important to speak with a physician before doing so, as any dietary changes, however insignificant they may seem, are best adopted under the supervision of a physician. Physicians also can discuss the latest research into various types of foods, including soyfoods, with their patients.

With regard to the nutritional value of soyfoods, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes that there is debate regarding soyfoods. Nutritional scientists often tout the significant health benefits of soyfoods, but also point out that some research has indicated soy can have negative effects in certain situations. This has led to some hesitancy regarding whether or not to recommend soyfoods without qualification. This debate underscores the need for people to discuss soyfoods with their physicians prior to altering their diets.

Soyfoods are considered rich in B vitamins, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and high-quality protein. However, the T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes that soy also can have estrogenic properties, which can affect hormone levels in the body. Since no two people are the same, the effects of soyfoods on the body figure to be different among individuals. Research on the effects of soyfoods on human health is ongoing, which is another reason why it’s so important to discuss soyfoods with a physician before changing a diet.