Soy – a healthy food, not a wonder drug
So, is soy good or bad for you? There have been a number of scientific studies investigating this question in recent years.
Soy has been touted as a super food and healthy alternative to meat and dairy. Enjoyed for centuries as a part of Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisine, it is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, fibre and protein. Whole soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, miso, soy beans, natto, soy milk, soy infant formula and endemame contribute health benefits and also taste good!
Then the bad reports started coming in. Some said it promoted weight gain, helped cancer cells grow, messed with your thyroid and affected fertility.
The oestrogen-like compounds (isoflavones) in soy foods do not attach to oestrogen receptors in the chest (breast and pectoral) or genital tissue. Whole soy foods do not cause the growth of bigger breasts in women or “man-boobs” in men. The isoflavones do, however, attach to receptors in your bones to create new bone and reduce bone loss, so this is good news.
On the other hand, soy protein isolate, found in protein powders and some processed foods (“frankenfoods”) such as mock meats and soy bars, is not good for you (as it lacks fibre and other nutrients) and may even have links with some cancers. Of course, processed foods in general (with added sugar, sodium, unhealthy fats and preservatives) are best avoided, as are genetically modified foods, soybeans included (always check the ingredients list).
The other cautionary note has to do with health conditions such as hypothyroidism. Soy has been shown to reduce the effectiveness of thyroid medications. Those in the know advise taking medication four hours after consuming soy foods (always consult with your doctor).
So, soy is a healthy food, not a wonder drug. On balance and as part of a balanced diet, soy is a complete protein food. Whole soy foods are certainly an excellent alternative to meat and dairy, and have been shown to lower bad cholestoral and reduce the risk of developing heart disease.