There’s a lot of information (and misinformation) out there about soy.
Many vegetarians swear by it, making it their primary source of protein. And many men avoid it altogether, convinced that a single edamame bean will turn them into their mothers.
How healthy is soy? What does it do in the body? Should you be concerned about it’s estrogenic qualities?
Let’s set the record straight.
“The real impact on estrogen levels is one of the most misunderstood aspects of soy in the diet. The truth is that it’s neither a source of volatile estrogen, or completely neutral.”
What is it?
Soy refers to the soybean, and the large variety of food products that are derived from it. The soybean is a plant with a plethora of unique characteristics that make it a dynamic food option.
Why is it so popular?
The #1 reason that soy has become such a prevalent part of the modern diet is its astounding protein content. Vegetarians in particular struggle to get all of the protein that their bodies need, making soy, and its byproducts valuable.
But the soybean contributes more than just protein. Substantial amounts of folate, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iron, fiber, and a host of other vitamins and minerals including copper, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids can be found in every serving.
What foods contain soy?
Many food products contain soy in some measure, but the highest content can usually be found in the following foods:
- Soy Milk
- Soy Sauce
- Textured Vegetable Protein
What is the real effect of soy on estrogen levels?
The real impact on estrogen levels is one of the most misunderstood aspects of soy in the diet. The truth is that it’s neither a source of volatile estrogen, or completely neutral.
Soybeans contain isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body.
Technically speaking, these isoflavones don’t make their impact by increasing or decreasing natural estrogen. Instead, the isoflavones interact with estrogen receptor sites in cells. This interaction produces a more mild result than the estrogen that it is mimicking.
The mild estrogenic effects of isoflavones are often negated by their potential to displace the more potent estrogen that could be interacting with the same receptor. So despite the fact that isoflavones have a mild estrogenic effect, it’s possible that the soybean and its byproducts could actually minimize the effect of estrogen.
What about breast cancer?
One of the most pervasive beliefs about soy consumption is that it can cause, or increase the risk of breast cancer.
Part of the reason that this belief is so common is that early research did suggest a link. Animal studies successfully demonstrated a connection between soy consumption and cancer development in breast tissue.
But scientists and doctors have updated these claims after recognizing differences in the way that humans and the animals that were being tested, process soy. Reasonable levels of consumption are not currently prohibited by most doctors and scientists. That includes groups that are most at risk for breast cancer development.
Soy can, however, be a factor in the effectiveness of certain cancer treatments. For any concern about soy in your diet, it’s always wise to consult your doctor.
Does the source matter?
The source always matters!
No matter the food group in question, non-GMO, organic, and natural unprocessed foods will always be better than their alternatives.
This is especially true for the soybean. There is a world of difference between highly processed meat substitutes, and a bowl of fresh organic edamame. The nutritional value lost or negated by modern processing is astounding.
One way to make sure that your soy-based products have not been hurt by processing is to take a look at the ingredients. If the list is long, and contains words that could be in Russian, put it back on the shelf.
Should men avoid soy?
Studies on the effects of soy in men fail to produce evidence of a significant impact on hormonal health. There are individual case studies that have shown some interesting results from extreme levels of consumption. But even in these conditions, significant impact is rare.
Excessive quantities of soy can be problematic in other ways. Over time, people can actually develop allergies to soy. Similar reactions are commonly associated with foods such as peanuts, but other foods are susceptible as well.
How does soy affect menopausal women?
Estrogen levels in the body are particularly important to women who are post-menopausal, or going through menopause.
There are many websites, and programs that promote consumption of edamame, tofu, and miso as a way of supplementing deficient estrogen. For the majority of women suffering with menopause, however, emphazising this type of intake is not a viable treatment option.
The estrogenic effects of normal consumption levels are just not typically enough to impact the experience of menopause. And soy consumption may even make things worse. Isoflavones can block the estrogen receptors that would otherwise have been receiving the more powerful signal from the body’s actual hormone.
Menopausal women shouldn’t necessarily avoid soy, but moderation is advisable. This is especially true for women who are trying to achieve hormonal consistency and balance with hormone replacement.