The Soy Question

The subject of soy products always seems to be a bit controversial. Although soy products dominate the organic section of grocery stores, people often seem wary to trust soybean-based foods.

A review of various studies of populations in the world, such as China and Japan, that consume small portions of traditional forms of soy foods on a regular basis reveals that the presence of soy does not seem to correlate to any extreme health effects, positively or negatively. Just to have a gauge for the amount we’re talking about, The Journal of Nutrition reports that in Japan, the average person consumes about a quarter of a cup of soy products a day. This includes everything – soy sauce, tofu, edamame, miso (soy bean paste), etc. But take note: these are all natural soy products, not processed.

Soy’s Bad Rap

  1. Some people accuse soy products of mimicking estrogen hormones in the body. While soy does contain some compounds, which may have a small estrogen-like response, it would take eating a LOT of soy in order to actually see this side affect. Remember, everything in moderation (an excellent life motto for practically everything).
  2. One of the biggest rumors going around is that soy negatively influences breast health, which also ties back to the rumors about estrogen. The good thing is that soy carries a group of compounds called isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens (phyto meaning plant). These help keep estrogen levels balanced because they are kind of like chameleons. They can act as weak estrogen if there is too much of it around, or they can work to boost estrogen’s effects in a body that needs more of it. (Side note: Dr. Campbell does warn that women who already have breast cancer may want to restrict soy intake until there is more research on the matter.)
  3. Processed soy products have been known to increase insulin-like growth factor-1, which is a protein that causes cell growth but is also known to promote cancer and accelerate aging. But as Pulde and Lederman say in their book, Keep It Simple, Keep It Whole, “There is no confusion about processed soy products, as they are clearly NOT health foods.” So basically, just don’t become overly dependent or obsessed with incorporating soy products into your whole foods plant-based diet, and you should be A-Okay!
  4. Dr. Colin Campbell reports that a study revealed that heavy consumers of tofu in Hawaii were more prone to Alzheimer’s disease. However, this study has yet to be proved anywhere else. Dr. Campbell writes that the cause of this soy effect is probably because of the higher levels of aluminum in the tofu sold in Hawaii. He emphasizes again, like Pulde and Lederman, that the key is maintaining a well-rounded whole foods plant-based diet that incorporates all types of plant proteins, not solely soy protein. That’s where people may get into trouble. You have to stay creative and innovative in your lifestyle choices.

The Big Picture

Pulde and Lederman remind their readers to approach soy the same as any other health food, which means remembering that there is no single “cure-all” food in the world. Not soybeans, coconut oil, gluten (or absence of gluten), etc.

Regardless of some of the negative feedback that soy gets, the main point is that the health issues related with soy products are far, far less than the health issues related with the intake of animal products. And remember – stay creative! Keep your repertoire of foods interesting and fresh.

Dr. Pam Popper of the Wellness Forum also has a TON of good information about soy and just health in general. Here is a great video about Soy & Breast Cancer, and here is a question and answer session with Pam covering some commonly asked questions about soy.

Have a great week, everyone! Enjoy the fall weather. Eat something pumpkin-flavored. Drink some apple cider.

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