Soy: The Good, the Bad and the Best

Soy products are growing in popularity in the United States. However, there are a few big controversies over soy. How safe is soy? And how much should you be eating?

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It’s hard to visit a supermarket without finding soybeans, soy milk, soy cheese, and the entire spectrum of soy products. However, there are several controversies concerning soy and its safety. What are these controversies? Should you avoid soy – or enjoy it?

Concern #1: Soy will give me breast cancer.

Verdict: One may associate soy with breast cancer because science associates excess estrogen exposure to breast cancer. Soy contains a group of natural plant chemicals called isoflavones. They are found in small amounts in a number of legumes, grains and vegetables; however, soybeans are the most concentrated source of isoflavones in our diet. Since isoflavones bind to estrogen receptors, they can have similar effects to estrogen, but not nearly as strong as animal-based estrogen. Human estrogen is over 1000-times stronger.

However, isoflavones also have non-hormonal effects on the body that are very positive. They help regulate cell growth, which actually safeguards against some cancers. They also play roles in regulating cholesterol levels. Multiple studies on soy have associated eating plenty of soy with lower rates of breast cancer, especially in Asian populations. Furthermore, there are lower rates of breast cancer in many Asian countries, where diets are higher in soy.

Concern #2: Soy is dangerous for my heart.

Verdict: Soy is actually good for your heart. One study suggests that eating foods that contain isoflavones (like soy products) every day may help young adults lower their blood pressure, particularly African-Americans. It is thought that the isoflavones work by encouraging your body to produce nitric oxide, which helps to dilate blood vessels and reduce the pressure created by blood against the vessel walls.

Whole soy foods contain high levels of healthy protein and fiber. Fiber helps to reduce bad cholesterol. Plus, soy is a much better source of protein for your heart than saturated-fat-rich animal-derived foods.