Soy, also known as soybean, is a native East Asian species of legumes. In the Western world, soybeans are usually processed into soy protein, soy milk, or soy fiber, while in the Eastern world, soy is consumed in its whole form. The protein, isoflavones, and fiber obtained from soy can help improve our health in several ways. Due to numerous benefits and marketing extravaganzas, soy products are in the mainstream for quite a while now. New soy foods are added to the market every day.
Soy - Good or Bad
As an astonishing fact, soy was cultivated before more than 5000 years, in China, to increase amounts of nitrogen in the soil. Another record suggests that soy was recorded as an industrial product in the journal of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is also said that since there was not much of a use of soy to the animals the marketers decided to find out an alternative market, which was human food. Mind you, this is just an assumption, and could be totally superficial as well.
Soy is consumed by people all over the world, and it is consumed in every possible form, from hotdogs, to ice creams, and from cream cheese to lunch meat made from soy. There are many soy benefits claimed and experienced by its consumers, stating that there is no other perfect food as soy. Soy lecithin (food additive used as an emulsifier) is an example to get to know the popularity and usefulness of soybeans. Soy is loaded with protein, essential fatty acids, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, potassium, fiber, B vitamins, folate, vitamin K, copper, molybdenum, omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid), etc. The component 'genistein' present in soy exhibits antioxidant properties. So, soy can offer a number of health benefits.
However, research studies have provided some mixed results about the impact of soy consumption on our health. The most important fact is that, study results that confirm health benefits of soybean in Asian diets seldom match up with research findings on U.S. and European populations. So, is soy good for health? The answer is complicated, as it involves various factors regarding the use of soy. First, let us take a look at the health benefits offered by soy.
Health Benefits of Soy
➺ Is soy good for you? Well, the prime most benefit of soy is said to be on heart health, as it helps to reduce cholesterol levels. Experts say that soy protein not only helps maintain heart health but also prevents heart diseases.
➺ Soy contains soluble fibers that accelerate the rate of metabolism, promote weight loss, and provide the person with healthy skin.
➺ High levels of calcium and phosphorus in soy ensure healthy bones and teeth. Isoflavones present in soy disable breakage of bones, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis as well. This also makes soy very beneficial for women, that are on the edge of menopause that often leads to excessive loss of calcium.
➺ Women who regularly consume soy have reported very few symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and mood swings.
➺ Moreover, soy can provide protection against breast cancer. (However, certain studies show that soy may promote the growth and spread of breast cancer). In fact, whole soy (from natural foods) is linked with lower risks of breast and endometrial cancer. The difference in study results might have something to do with the amount and type of soy consumed.
➺ The most important and evoking discovery about soy is related to prostate cancer. According to the findings, soy can reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
➺ Studies show that soy can help improve the cognitive function in women under age 65 (but not those over 65).
Dangers of Soy
Is soy bad for you? Well, yes, if you follow the recent studies and researches. It is of late that people are becoming aware about the side effects of soy on the overall health of a person. These are basically the aftermaths of prolonged consumption of soy and soy products. There is a lot of research and heated debate going on about the side effects and hazards of soy products on an active lifestyle of a person.
➺ The most common side effect of soy products is of course some soy allergy symptoms that people suffered with. People with asthma, people with hay fever, and children who are very allergic to cow's milk are likely to be allergic to soy products.
➺ The beneficial soy estrogen or isoflavones that we were discussing earlier is the cause of a medical condition called endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of uterine lining, and increased risk for uterine and cervical cancer).
➺ Prolonged consumption of soy can increase the risk of cancers that are related to hormones, the most recognized examples being breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
➺ As the above point suggests, soy interferes to a great deal with the functions of hormones present in the body. Hormones are extremely important for a healthy body system. Intake of soy protein and isoflavone can reduce and slow down the functions of hormones like thyroid hormone.
➺ Soybean crops are heavily sprayed with chemical herbicides. Some of the herbicides have been found carcinogenic.
➺ Even organically grown soy contains anti-nutrients such as saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, trypsin inhibitors, goitrogens, and phytoestrogens. These substances can alter a woman's menstrual cycle. Feeding soy to your infant or child is very dangerous.
➺ Soy is also bad for mineral absorption in the body. Several researches suggest that soy blocks absorption of certain important minerals like zinc, potassium, and calcium, and as a result, the person may suffer from mineral and vitamin deficiency and illnesses related to it.
➺ People with kidney failure, diabetes, hypothyroidism, urinary bladder cancer, etc., should avoid soy in their diet, as it can worsen the symptoms of the respective condition.
➺ Soy contains large amounts of oxalates, the chemicals that play an important role in formation of kidney stones.
What do Researches and Studies Show?
➺ Instead of consuming processed soybean components (like soy protein isolates), one should consume whole soybeans (roasted, green, sprouted, fermented, cooked, etc.), as they offer better cardiovascular support than the dietary supplements. Processed soy foods (e.g., veggie burgers, tofu pups, meatless dinner entrees, chicken-free nuggets, soy ice creams, and energy bars) may be high in protein, but they are low in isoflavones. In the Eastern countries, soybeans are typically consumed as whole foods.
➺ Consume soy products that are made from organically grown soy. About 90% of soy products that are available in the U.S. markets are made from genetically modified (GM) soybeans.
➺ Most people living in the United States and Europe do not consume fermented soy. Fermented soy from organic soybeans can help prevent osteoporosis (low bone density), cardiovascular diseases, dementia, and various types of cancer. Traditionally fermented soy products include soy sauce, natto, tempeh, and miso. Unfermented and processed soy products like soy milk, cheese, burgers, and ice cream should not be included in the list of health foods.
➺ The Chinese and Japanese consume about 100-200 grams of soybeans per day. The average daily consumption of soybeans by the people in the U.S. is less than one-tenth of the amount consumed by the Chinese/Japanese. This might be the reason why studies conducted in the U.S. do not confirm health benefits of soy in Asian diets. People may have to consume whole soybeans on a more regular basis.
➺ Dozens of generations across Asia have consumed soy regularly, but soy was not a part of the American or European diet. Even today, it is not an invariable part of the diet that is followed in Western countries like the United States. So, study results may vary according to countries. Different culinary traditions involving soy might have led to important metabolic differences in Asian and non-Asian populations. Studies showed that, about 50-60% of adults in Japan, China, and Korea could convert daidzein (an important isoflavone phytonutrient present in soy) into equol (a phytonutrient called an isoflavan), during the process of digestion of soy. On the contrary, only 25-30% of U.S. adults could metabolize daidzein in this way.
This is it. We guess you've got the answer to the question - "Is soy good for you?" The debate about health benefits and dangers of soy is endless, as both the parties are strong, and with really good points to defend themselves. So, it's in your hands to be a 'better' judge, and go for the side that you think fits you the best.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.