The Story on Soy
What is Soy?
Soy is a type of protein that is made from soybeans. Soybean is a legume that contains no cholesterol and is low in saturated fat, which makes it a great alternative to meat and other animal sources of protein. Soybeans are the only vegetable food that contains all eight essential amino acids making it a complete protein. Soy protein is found in tofu, tempeh, soy nuts, edamame, soy milk, miso and soy flour.
Can soy help with menopause and help prevent cancer and heart disease?
The active ingredient found is soy is called isoflavones, these bioactive compounds are known as phytoestrogens, which act like estrogen in your body. Women who suffer from hot flashes during menopause may find some relief by consuming soy foods. However, more studies need to confirm this connection. Phytoestrogens don’t always act like estrogens. In some tissues they block the action of estrogen. If estrogen-blocking action occurs in the breast, then eating soy could reduce the risk of breast cancer because estrogen stimulates the growth and multiplication of breast and breast cancer cells. However, this connection has yet to be confirmed. Additionally, there are many claims that soy helps with cardiovascular disease, but nothing is conclusive. The American Heart Association (AHA) no longer holds the claim that eating soy helps manage cholesterol. Nonetheless, the AHA does consider soy products a healthy replacement for meats and other animal products that are high in saturated fats.
Given the mixed results on soy, should I include it in my diet?
Yes, soy foods are low in fat, high in protein, fiber and iron; they contain essential omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, zinc and B vitamins. Benefits of soy stem from its exceptional nutritional profile and in the fact that it helps replace unhealthy foods. Soybeans, tofu, and other fermented soy-based options are wonderful alternatives to red meat and other animal products that contain cholesterol and saturated fats. Avoid the highly processed forms of soy and soy products, which are unfermented and include pills, powders, supplements, and isolated components of soy foods. Many forms of processed soy are genetically modified and should be avoided. Instead, focus on the least processed forms of this powerful legume, which are found in edamame, tofu, tempeh, and some soymilks.
The Bottom line: Until more research is done, soy should not be seen as the solution to solve your health problems. Enjoy soy foods as part of a balanced diet – no more than two to four servings of soy products a week.
Anar Allidina MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian and runs a nutrition consulting practice in Richmond Hill, where she works with clients of all ages to achieve a healthier lifestyle. To learn more, visit www.anarallidina.com