Worrying levels of phytoestrogens found in soy-based products, claims French consumer group

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages/Chaded2557
©GettyImages/Chaded2557

Related tags: Soy, France, Hormone

UFC-Que Choisir has raised concerns over the safety of soy-based products after elevated levels of phytoestrogens were found in various drinks, desserts, sauces, and prepared foods.

According to new test data​ published by French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir, high levels of physoestrogens have been found in products containing soy.

Phytoestrogens – or isoflavones as they are known in soy – are active substances that have a weak estrogen-like action. The substances are suspected of disrupting our hormone system, leading to potential cancer or fertility issues.

UFC-Que Choisir analysed 55 soy-based products, including biscuits, desserts, drinks, sauces, and prepared meals. The consumer group then calculated consumer exposure to the products’ isoflavones, compared to levels deemed safe by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES).

Name and shame

Results revealed that one portion of a soy-based product can contain up to five times the amount of isoflavones deemed tolerable by ANSES.

One glass of Cereal Bio’s soy-based drink ‘Sud-Ouest nature’, for example, was found to contain close to 150% of the maximum amount of isoflavones recommended for an adult.

One portion of Jardin Bio’s couscous product, ‘couscous gourmand proteins de soja’, contained three and a half times the maximum recommended dose, and one handful of Soy’s toasted soybeans, ‘Soya party nature’, were found to contain fives time this amount.

Soybeans are versatile legumes used in a variety of food applications. They are nutrient-rich, low in calories, carbohydrates and fats, and are easy to digest. Their consistency also means they are regularly used in dairy and meat-substitute products.

UFC-Que Choisir also found phytoestrogens in unexpected food products, such as meatballs. Of the 12 meatball-like products tested, including beef meatballs, chicken nuggets, and meat-stuffed tomatoes, five were found to contain more than a quarter of the tolerable dose of isoflavones.

Highest levels were found in beef meatball own label products by supermarket retailers Auchan, Leader Price, and Leclerc.

Other products were found to contain lower levels of isoflavones, however UFC-Que Choisir has raised concerns that consumers may still ingest more than the recommended amount, through accumulation. The consumer group estimates that adults and children eating soy-based products on a regular basis could exceed the maximum tolerable amount by more than two-fold.

A call for action

In response to these results, UFC-Que Choisir has called on ANSES to reassess the safety risk of consumers eating and drinking these products.

The group has also urged consumer protection and fraud watchdog DGCCRF to impose labelling measures.

The European Consumer Organisation BEUC has committed to bringing these study results to the attention of the European Commission. In the meantime, UFC-Que Choisir advises pregnant women and children under three years to avoid consuming soy-based products, and has recommended other consumers not eat more than one portion of soy-based products per day.

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