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Perhaps you’ve heard that its health food that should be consumed regularly, even supplemented. Or maybe you’ve heard others say it’s dangerous and should be limited. Soy products are remarkably versatile, with many manufacturers finding ways to turn them into soymilk, veggie burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, yogurt – you name it! Because soy protein products are so widely consumed, some people have questioned, is soy safe? And further, is soy healthy? Instead of enjoying the broad range of soy benefits, many individuals are unnecessarily fearful of consuming soy products.
Why the Fear of Soy?
At the center of the controversy surrounding soy is the “estrogen-like” molecular profile of some soy-based compounds and whether they increase the risk of certain hormone-dependent cancers and other adverse effects associated with hormonal imbalance.
To get technical for a moment, soy contains antioxidant polyphenols (plant-based compounds) known as isoflavones. Isoflavones are considered dietary estrogens because of their molecular similarity to estrogen as estradiol, the female sex hormone. The ability of isoflavones to “mimic” some of estrogen’s effects has led many doctors and scientists to characterize isoflavones as “weak estrogens.”
But this is incorrect according to Dr. Mark F. McCarty, an internationally recognized expert in soy isoflavones. His research found that soy isoflavones promote beneficial estrogen-like effects in tissues but do not provoke the harmful effects of conventional estrogen. And after years of research, science is weighing in on even more benefits of soy. Here is what the studies show:
1. Lower Disease Risk
Diets rich in soy isoflavones are associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and obesity-related complications like type 2 diabetes. This is because the peptides in soybeans boost the immune system and act like a power shield against diseases. In fact, despite those early and isolated concerns regarding a possible link between soy products and cancer, there is now strong evidence that soy provides powerful cancer prevention. Research has found that isoflavones operate across numerous pathways to fight cancer on multiple fronts simultaneously. This ends up reducing cancer risk at every phase of its progression.
2. Lower Cholesterol
Soy protein has been universally shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while some studies have also documented increases in beneficial HDL cholesterol.
3. Lose weight
Replacing animal-derived proteins with soy-based meals can lower body weight and fat mass. This reduces LDL cholesterol even more than would be expected from weight loss alone, which can improve body composition increasing the ratio of lean body mass to fat.
4. Combat Metabolic Syndrome
Soy protein combined with isoflavones improves blood sugar control, reduces insulin resistance, lowers serum lipids in diabetic patients, and can also reduce serum CRP levels and restore lipid profiles to normal. These effects illustrate that a diet with soy can combat metabolic syndrome in adults.
5. Strengthen Bones
If you’re looking for a way to increase bone mineral content, density, quality and strength, soy’s your solution. Independent studies conducted at various universities in the United States and Hong Kong indicate soy foods can have a protective effect on our bones. Soy protein and isoflavones enhance calcium retention and absorption, resulting in less excretion in the urine. Soy benefits on bones also include helping the body's ability to rebuild bone and even reversing osteoporosis.
So, now that you’re no longer wondering is soy safe or is soy healthy, how much of it should you have daily to start reaping the benefits? Just as moderation and variety are rules of thumb when it comes to good nutrition, the same goes for soy protein. Researchers suggest adults eat up to 25 grams of soy protein and 100 milligrams of isoflavones daily. That translates to about two to four servings a day. A serving is eight ounces of liquid, such as miso and soymilk, or about half a cup of solid soy such as tofu, tempeh and edamame. Start your day off with soy today!