Should We Be Eating Soy?

Soy has had some pretty bad press, and whilst some claim it is amongst the healiest of foods, others say that it is endocrine disrupting with the ability to cause infertility and breast cancer. So what is the truth? Should we be eating soy or should we be avoiding it? As is often the case when it comes to nutrition, the answers aren’t always black and white.

Soybeans are a legume, native to East Asia, however they are now grown all over the planet due to high demand and cheap production costs. Traditional forms of soy include tofu, tempeh, miso and edamame, and are a key component of the diets in some of the worlds healthiest populations. Nutritionally, Soy is a great source of protein ( containing all 9 essential amino acids) making it a complete protein. But is also a great source of Calcium, Zinc, Iron, Magnesium and B Vitamins.

What do we know about Soy?

A few years back, studies were published saying there was a link between soy & breast cancer. Soy contains a compound called Isoflavones or Phytoestrogens that have a chemical structure similar to the human hormone oestrogen but not identicle. As breast cancer is strongly associated with oestrogen , it seemed like a logic correleation.

However we now know that there is no link between soy products and increase risk of cancer. Infact the health benefits of Isoflvanoes include protection against age-related disease such as cardiovascular, osteoprosis, cognitive function & hormone related cancers. In addition Phytoestrogens have been found to help block the effects of excess oestrogen in the body, evening out any imbalance in the ratio between oestrogen and progesterone. This means Soy can be beneficial for any hormone related conditions including the menoupase. During the menopause, the body’s natural production of oestrogen stops and symptoms may ensue. As phytoestrogens act as a weak oestrogen, they may help relieve symptoms by boosting levels slightly.

What is the problem with Soy today?

Due to the versatility and cheap cost of production, soy has become a major ingredient in almost all food manufacters. Soy can be found in processed food, drinks, meat replacements, sweets, chocolates and dressing. This means that lots of people will be consuming soy without even realising. This type of soy is highly refined & in an isolated form meaning that it is stripped of the benefits that soybeans have. In order to meet the demand for soy, over 90% of the soy grown in the USA is genetically modified and sprayed with pesticides, that can have a negative impact on our health.

As with all food, experts still don't know everything, but the latest research shows that eating small amounts of organic and minimally processed soy products, not only isn't bad for you, but may provide some benefits such as
I would recommend only consuming organic, minimally processed forms of soy such as tofu, temeph, edamame and miso, These foods serve up soy’s entire nutritional pacakge with out the added sugar and unhealthy fats, sodium, or preservatives that you usually find in highly processed foods.

As with any food, moderation is the way to go. Too much of a good thing, can actually be a bad thing. If you enjoy the taste then definitely enjoy minimally processed tofu products 3-4 times per week, but if you don't enjoy soy products, there are desfinitely other plant based alternatives that offer similar nutrient profiles.

Final thought
It is important to remember that with a plant based diet the key is eating foods as close to their natural state. Just because something is labelled 'vegan' or 'plant based' does not automatically make it healthy. With the rise and popularity of plant based foods, more processed vegan food is available which has most of its nutrients stripped.