Is Soy Healthy?

anthony clavien soyWhile the soybean has been named a “near-perfect food” the Asian legume has just as many pros as it does cons. Used in a variety of foods including tofu, meat substitutes and soymilk, this vegetarian-friendly option doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s healthy just because it’s packaged as such. Like all things, soy beans need to be consumed in moderation and knowing the health benefits and downfalls of this legume can make you better educated on this item and how it fits into your diet.

Many consumers enjoy having soy in their diet as the legume is packed with high-quality protein, fiber and phytochemicals. Eating 25 grams of soy protein daily, which is a little over a cup’s worth of edamame or three cups soy milk, can significantly lower “bad” LDL and total cholesterol levels. Soy protein directly lowers cholesterol levels by helping the liver clear more LDL from the body.

Having the same amount of soy protein however, affect’s the body’s isoflavones levels. Having a high intake of isoflavones may inhibit the body’s ability to make thyroid hormones, which pay a role in controlling everything from metabolism to body temperature. Some studies suggest that over time, soy could cause thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism (a condition characterized by weight gain, fatigue and cold intolerance) while other studies say that soy only affects thyroid function when a person is low in iodine – a deficiency rare in the United States. Interestingly, having isoflavones from soy in small amounts does not carry these health concerns and can actually cut both the frequency and severity of hot flashes in half for women going through menopause.

Men also can have some health benefits from soybeans, with studies in Asia showing that men who consume about two servings of soy per day are about 30% less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who eat less. Men who already have prostate cancer, preliminary research suggests that soy may inhibit the progression of the disease.

Men who consume more than a quart of soy a day can raise their risk of becoming diagnosed with gynecomastia, the abnormal enlargement of the mammary glands in men. When the body digests soy protein, it is also becoming introduced to genistein and daidzein, natural drugs that act so similarly to drugs that they’re known as phytoestrogens, or plant-produced estrogens. The FDA cites that any amount beyond 25-grams of soy protein a day has the potential to wreak hormonal havoc for men.

In all, it all comes down to eating soy in moderation. Soy can be a great alternative for vegetarians and individuals who are lactose-intolerant, however instead of consuming heavy soy products, switching it up and having other options such as almond milk with cereal and lemon water in the afternoon can allow your body to enjoy the small benefits of soy without increasing risks. Most experts recommend eating just one to two servings a day. Fermented soy foods such as tempeh and miso can be enjoyed a little bit more liberally as the fermentation helps neutralize the calcium-interfering phytic acid in soy. Having a diet diverse in fruits and vegetables along with the occasional soy product is the ideal way of having soy as part of a healthy diet.

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