“Is soy good or bad for my health?”
I get that question alot! And the short answer is, “it depends!”
Soybeans have been in the human diet for thousands of years, with their dietary merit having been questioned only in recent years. Let’s be honest, you cannot look past soy’s historical relevance, which dates back thousands of years to their native China. Only in modern times has American soil become the largest producer of this beautiful, green legume. And that’s where the benefit of soy starts coming into question.
PLANT BASED PROTEIN
Soy has long enjoyed its reputation for providing an excellent source of plant-based protein, a great alternative for health enthusiasts trying to cut animal protein from their diets. It’s been especially beneficial since soy provides all nine essential amino acids and is therefore considered a healthy, complete protein.
Whether for health or weight loss benefits, when moving to a plant-based diet, protein and healthy fats nearly always come into question and are eliminated. Oddly, however, protein and fats are typically ‘packaged’ together into one food (think beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products including milk, eggs, cheese, and yogurt). And so it goes…You seek to get healthier, yet when you cut these two macronutrients, you are also eliminating traditional sources of essential and complete proteins that contain all nine required essential amino acids as well as healthy fats.
Regardless, protein is required daily via food or supplement, since it cannot be stored for later use like a carbohydrate. Once ingested, protein sources are used by your body either catabolically for immediate energy or anabolically for repairing and building muscle, organs, and other body tissues. Your body determines which function, catabolic or anabolic, based on the ratio and amount of the nine essential amino acids in the protein you ingested, and if aminos are missing or aren’t in the correct proportions, the protein consumed has a lower NNU (Net Nitrogen Utilization) rating. Loosely translated, that means your body doesn’t get the full use of the protein. This is why, meat has traditionally been considered a better source rather than veggies, which generally lack one or more of the essential amino acids.
Here’s how your protein options stack and rack:
- Beans and Legumes (17% NNU)
- Eggs (45% NNU)
- Beef, poultry, fish (33%NNU)
- Purium’s Vegan Super Amino 23 (99%NNU)
Clearly, complete proteins have a higher protein yield to your body, and supplementation – as with Purium’s Super Amino 23- has the highest yield with the least burden to your body.
Complete protein in the plant-based world might be more challenging to find, but certainly not impossible with whole food sources such as spirulina, quinoa, nutritional yeast, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, chia seeds, soy, and certain plant combinations that complete each other such as beans and rice or lentils and barley. Seeking out complete plant proteins simply takes knowledge and deliberate action, whereas throwing a slab of meat on the grill is more straight-forward. Undeniably, however, a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids can most definitely be accomplished with health intact and even increased by adopting a more nutrient-dense diet.
Yet, there’s still the issue of soy and all of its dietary controversies.
WHY IS SOY THE “BAY BOY” OF THE PLANT WORLD?
Like so much of our modern food economy, soy is yet another crop that has gone astray.
Soy has become ultra controversial because it contains phytoestrogen compounds, or estrogen-like chemicals that have historically linked soy with breast cancer. This concept came as the result of soy consumption with mice, who consumed large quantities of soy, and whose type A (alpha) estrogen receptor was activated, the same receptor that is associated with breast cancer. Since their original studies, however, researchers have found there are two types of estrogen receptors in the human body—alpha and beta, and studies have shown that beta is actually associated with LOWERED risk of breast cancer!
In a 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers suggested “[a]mong women with breast cancer, soy food consumption was significantly associated with decreased risk of death and [breast cancer] recurrence.” As it turns out, the beta receptor activation from soy has an anti-estrogenic effect, inhibiting the growth-promoting effects of actual estrogen.
What’s more, organizations including the American Cancer Society, the Mayo Clinic, and MD Anderson now circulate research showing that while the isoflavones in soy may act like estrogen, the studies actually showed a reduced risk of developing breast cancer!
SOY FARMING AND PROCESSING
Whether you agree with the optimistic research or not (and there are myriad studies to back the positive findings), be careful, because most soy consumption is not whole-food sourced but is used in packaged processed foods with modern products containing soy derivatives such as soy isolate, soy lecithin, and soy flour that were extracted with hexane and aluminum processing.
Soy lecithin, a popular food additive, is a perfect example of one of those processed soy ingredients that hides in packaged foods to prolong the shelf life, to keeps fats and liquids playing happily together in a stable, velvety smooth fashion (think chocolate), and a whole slew of other wonderful functions to mix food easily and to present beautifully (a cake that rises perfectly).
With all these great functions, what’s the problem with soy (lecithin)?…Soy Lecithin is easy and inexpensive to manufacture, but recall that soybeans are one of the top GMO, glysophate-sprayed crops in our Country! Glyphosate is a named carcinogen and the active ingredient in Roundup! What’s more, to extract the lecithin from soy, harsh chemical solvents are used, including a “neurotoxic and highly-polluting petrochemical compound called hexane.” Note “Hexane is classified as a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency.”
Soy might be benign or even beneficial to your health, yet glyphosate exposure and chemical processing can ruin a good thing! As you consider soy and its use in your diet, check your snack foods, since it loves to hide out there. Further, serving size is important! A moderate portion is recommended with only one to two daily servings such as 1 cup of soy milk, 1/2 cup of edamame, 1 ounce of soy nuts, or 1/3 cup of tofu.
Is you include soy or soy products in your diet, please select only fermented, certified organic and/or nonGMO soy foods, and keep it in moderation to enjoy its full benefits.
Soy unquestionably provides great benefit to a healthy plant-based diet when selected in an organic, nonGMO, whole food source. Soy contains lots of vitamins and minerals, is low in calories, full of fiber, and is a great protein alternative for those wanting to decrease or eliminate meat consumption.
Research studies have shown:
1. Daily (soy) isoflavone intake improved blood flow by 68% in those at risk of stroke
2. Daily soy intake reduced risk of breast cancer by 48-56%
3. Higher intakes of tofu reduced stomach cancer risk by 61%
4. High soy consumption reduced prostate cancer by 32-51%
5. Soy isoflavones supported healthy blood sugar levels, improved insulin sensitivity, and blood fats, lowering risk of diabetes and heart disease
6. Soy was associated with improved bone and brain health
7. Soy reduced wrinkles and improved skin elasticity
8. Soy isoflavones improved weight loss
WHAT ARE SOY’S POTENTIAL HEALTH RISKS?
- Made from glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup) treated soybeans**
- Contains antinutrients that can decrease, eliminate, or inactivate your absorption of other nutrients.
- Has historically been linked to (breast) cancer
- Might interfere (there are contradicting studies) with existing thyroid issues due to its goitrogen content
** Fermentation and soaking can reduce the phytate anti nutrients and also increase protein content of soy products.
** Only buy certified organic and nonGMO soy products to keep glyphosate out of your food.
- Soy milk
If you’re still uncomfortable adding organic, whole soy foods to your plant-based diet, then skip them altogether; it’s not worth the added stress and anxiety! There are plenty of other plant-based proteins from which to choose!
If you are interested in trying soy in your diet, please stick with certified organic, nonGMO, whole food, fermented sources, rather than the processed varieties.
It’s important to have a variety of foods in your diet and to try new things, and it’s equally important to be well-informed and to be free of stress in eating!
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