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Health Benefits and Problems of Soy: Good or Bad?

Updated on October 5, 2012

Do you eat a lot of soy products? Perhaps you are considering adding more foods made from soya beans, such as soya milk and tofu, to your diet, but debating the nutritional and health wisdom of doing so? It often seems, as with so many other foods, that there are ever-conflicting reports emerging regarding the benefits, or indeed the detrimental effects, of soy consumption. In 1999, however, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. allowed qualifying soy foods to advertise the heart health benefits of their soya ingredients on the packets, under certain qualifying conditions.[2] The healthy attributes of soy have since been disputed by other experts and organisations on numerous occasions, however. Soya milk health benefits may be in doubt!

When you're looking to improve the health and nutritive qualities of your diet, it does seem as if the merits and demerits of absolutely any food can be debated endlessly, But really, is it a good thing or not to add more soy to your diet, and if so why? (And if not, then why not?) Even some of the peer-reviewed articles and relevant organisations regarding the subject seem to acknowledge the vexed and contrary nature of the debate and the research on the subject, with rather indefinite and arguable results obtained. Some studies have even suggested a potential negative effect for soy in relation to certain cancers.[1] Are soy health risks something we should be worried about?

There have been some suggestions that ingestion of soy products and derivates e.g. hormone-like isoflavones such as daidzein and genistein, may be of benefit in relation to certain cancers, as well as problems such as osteoporosis, diabetes and the improvement of cerebral blood flow. At least one meta-analytical study [5] has looked at the influence of dietary soy in conjunction with breast health and incidence of breast cancer, finding some suggestion of a useful preventive effect dependent on other issues such as period of life in relation to menopause, age and confounding factors. This may conceivably be related to the hormonal effects of isoflavone soy derivatives.

Researchers have also looked at the relationship between level of dietary soy and possible connections with incidence of bowel cancers. One meta-review study found that there was some inverse correlation between the two although this was also affected by other factors such as ethnicity, period and timing of ingestion and site of cancer looked at.

Of course there are unarguable positive factors associated with soy, or many soy products, as a dietary ingredient. Depending on the particular product you choose – soy drink, tofu, tempeh, TVP etc. - you can find a high-fibre, low-fat, low-saturated fat, cholesterol-free, protein rich, mineral and fiber laden foodstuff to improve the nutritional value of your diet. The jury may still be out regarding soy's specific benefits regarding particular diseases, but I'm planning on making use of its virtues to make the most of all it has to offer!

References.

1 Boyle, M.A., Long, S. 'Personal Nutrition.' Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010, 2007, pp. 196-197.

2 Greeley, A. 'The Everything Guide to Being Vegetarian.' Avon: Adams Media, 2009.

3 Thorp, A.A. 'Cardiovascular and mental health benefits of soy consumption: role of soy isoflavones.' Thesis. 2008; <http://hdl.handle.net/2440/51267>

4 Bise, G., Bajna, E., Manhardt, T., Gerdenitsch, W., Kallay, E., Cross, H.S. ' Gender-Specific Modulation of Markers for Premalignancy by Nutritional Soy and Calcium in the Mouse Colon.' The American Society for Nutrition Journal of Nutrition. 137:211 (Supplement-215S): January 2007.

5 Trock, B.J., Hilakivi-Clarke, L., Clarke, R. 'Meta-Analysis of Soy Intake and Breast Cancer Risk.' Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 98:7, pp. 459-471: 2006.


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