Should you be eating soy?
Whether or not soy is "healthy" is a highly debatable topic. Vegetarians and vegans swear soy is the key to their longevity, while paleo diet enthusiasts consider it one of the worst foods you could possibly imagine. While plant-based vegans and meat-eating paleo dieters will forever butt heads, the reality rests somewhere in-between. To allow for a better level-headed evaluation of the risks and benefits of soy, here are five facts that everyone should know!
What You Should Know About Soy
Soy is a good source of protein: There aren't many plants that can boast being complete protein sources, but soy can because it contains all of the essential amino acids. One cup of cooked soybeans contains roughly 22 grams of protein, which is the equivalent of ingesting 4.5 ounces of steak. Not all soy products contain the same amount of protein per serving though, as extra-firm tofu only has about nine grams per three ounce serving and six grams per three ounces of the soft variety. So choose your sources wisely!
Soy does not "cause" breast cancer: While soy has a way of acting like estrogen in the body, there has been no direct link stating that soy can in fact cause breast cancer in human. Animal studies have shown a correlation between pure isoflavones, the compound in soy that acts like estrogen, as promoting tumor growth, but humans do not process isoflavones the same way rodents do, thus no conclusions can be made. That being said, observational studies done on humans who consumed high amounts of dietary soy, show no link or even lower rates of breast cancer risk indicating that moderate consumption of soy is safe for the general population.
Soy-based imitation meat products are not healthy because the are vegetarian: Those chick'n nuggets and that tofurky may not be the best way to obtain high quality nutrition, even though they contain soy protein. These products are highly processed thus they more than likely contain added ingredients that pack on the sodium and fat, sometimes even trans fatty acids which are known to be detrimental to one's health. It's always a good idea to stick to unprocessed soy like edamame.
Men can eat soy: As mentioned, soy has a way of mimicking estrogen in the body. This concern has led people to believe that soy could decrease a man's testosterone levels. However, clinical studies do not support such beliefs. In fact, some studies have determined that dietary soy could in fact decrease a man's risk of prostate cancer. There is no need to feel less manly if you opt for the tofu steak, gentlemen!
Soy protein supplements are not a smart alternative to tofu: After reading the above, you might be planning a trip to your local supplement shop to pick up soy protein isolate and concentrate. Hold it right there! Soy protein supplements (this included soy cheese, ice cream, oil and those imitation meat products) are not necessarily a great alternative because they are highly processed and long term studies have not determined whether this type of soy is safe for consumption. As stated, sticking to natural soy is your best bet.
Hopefully with these facts in mind, perhaps someday, vegetarians and carnivores will want to share a bowl of lightly salted edamame while discussing the future of the world.
Sources: cancer.org, ajcn.nutrition.org, plosone.org, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov