Is Soy Beneficial to Your Health?
Soy is either a superfood or nothing more than a toxic sludge. That depends on whom you asked.
According to the study carried out by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reveals that soy can prevent the adverse effects of BPA exposure. This adds to the evidence that soy can be categorized as a “superfood.”
To carry out the study, researchers with the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health carefully studied 239 women who went through at least one in vitro fertilization cycle. The researchers then analyzed the women’s conception rates in relation to their diet and exposure to BPA. Bisphenol A or BPA refers to a synthetic compound present in many household products and plastic goods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BPA is present in approximately 96 percent of Americans’ bodies and is also linked to various diseases like infertility. Researchers have also found that women who don’t consume soy, higher BPA levels were linked with fewer live births and reduced risks of embryo implantation. However, women who eat soy from time to time, BPA levels had no effect whatsoever on the success of in vitro fertilization.
While this is the first study that looked at the association between BPA and soy in humans, previous studies done on animals have revealed that soy works by hindering BPA from adding methyl groups to the DNA. This is in accordance with the explanation of Jorge E. Chavarro, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology. According to Chavarro, BPA works by switching on and off some genes to inhibit fertility and that can be prevented with the help of soy.
Chavarro also recommends that women who are having issues conceiving should consume more soy in their diet. An extra serving of edamame, tofu or tempeh for a few days can do wonders to your health.
But what if conceiving is not your problem and you are not looking to grow your family? Is soy still healthy for you?
Soy and Its Effect on Our Health
The good and the bad of soy to one’s health have been highly debated in the past few years. Much of the debate is centered on soy’s isoflavones, phytoestrogens that share the same characteristics with the naturally-occurring estrogen in our bodies.
However, several studies suggest that isoflavones and estrogen don’t have the same function, according to Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the author of “The Plant-Powered Diet.” For example, the research conducted by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center shows that soy can hasten the cancer growth in women with pre-diagnosed breast cancer. Meanwhile, results from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study suggests that regular consumption of soy during a woman’s adolescence and early adulthood years can lower the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer by 60 percent. In another study conducted in California, women who eat several ounces of soy milk a day can help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. The experts, from the Stanford School of Medicine, believe that some phytoestrogens are effective in hindering estrogen from attaching to cells. These also help in stimulating breast growth while blocking the development of cancer cells.
Meanwhile, it is said that cognitive decline, heart diseases and osteoporosis in older adults can be prevented by isoflavones. According to a study conducted by the Research in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, there are certain soy isoflavones that can effectively reduce the development of fat cells and may also be utilized as a way of combating obesity.
Looking Beyond Isoflavones
The current study on the correlation of fertility and soy reveals that the effects of soy don’t revolve around its estrogenic ways, according to Chavarro.
An endocrinology and biology researcher at North Carolina State University named Heather B. Patisaul, also believes that there are some cardiovascular benefits from eating soy even if the isoflavones are completely removed. She also suggests that the soy’s protein, or the simple act of substituting some meat in your diet, can account for the countless cardiovascular benefits of soy.
For instance, soy is abundant in fiber, high-quality protein, minerals, vitamins and anti-inflammatory compounds. According to Palmer, soy is the most viable plant-based food alternative due to its natural protein and amino acid profile. She also noted that she does not like the fact that many vegans and vegetarians skip on soy as it is an essential food because of the amino acid called lysine that many other plant-based proteins lack.
The Right Way to Eat Soy
Patisaul also said that if you are looking to maximize the overall health benefits of you to your body, you need to eat it the natural way and avoid processed soy-based products. Eating soy naturally allows you to get the full mixture of fiber, isoflavones, protein and other ingredients. The best sources of natural soy would be edamame, tempeh, and tofu.
Similarly, it is worth noting that while these sources are the best way to integrate soy into your diet, experts are still in doubt of what the effects of excessive soy consumption to the body. There are people who tend to indulge in soy products like soy protein isolate supplements and powers. Patisaul also adds that it has already been studied that excessive soy intake can have an adverse effect on a woman’s menstrual cycle. This could really be alarming especially for vegetarians as the average person does not consume anywhere that much of soy.
So if there is soy that is beneficial to the body but excessive intake can be harmful – how much is the ideal soy intake? According to Palmer, the ideal soy intake for an average person is a serving or two a day of eating a whole or slightly processed soy product. To give you a better picture, a serving is about a cup of edamame or soymilk. ½ cup of tofu or soybeans would also be a good soy meat alternative.
Patisaul also notes that if you currently don’t eat soy on your current diet, adding a small amount of soy as a substitute for meat can greatly improve your health.