Headlines designed to grab readers, viewers, and/or consumers often print the latest frightening gospel of the week in the field of nutrition. Soy products are a target of these alarmist statements, scaring people away from a perfectly sensible source of nutrients.
I have heard it all: low sperm counts, breast cancer risks, inappropriate growth of breast tissue in men, among others. When clients ask me about these issues, I usually respond by saying billions of Asians have consumed soy products for generations. In addition, millions of babies in the US, and around the world, have long been fed soy based formulas because they could not tolerate dairy, or their mothers could not nurse adequately. Surely, studies of these populations would have long ago discovered any dangers associated with eating soy foods.
Soy beans contain phytoestrogens. These are plant estrogens that are similar to, but less potent than, human estrogens. They are so similar that they bind to the estrogen receptors in human cells, protecting them from the more powerful estrogens we produce ourselves, potentially reducing the risk of hormone driven cancers.
Unfortunately, when Americans learn a food, or nutrient, is beneficial, we sometimes consume it to excess. But, more is not better. I always advise people to do what Asians do- eat one or two servings of soy per day…no more. A serving would be: 1 cup of soy milk, 1/2 cup of tofu, 1 cup of shelled edamame, 1/2 cup of soy nuts, 3 oz. of tempeh, and 1 cup of soy yogurt. The soy bean is a complete protein source, and can be used as a sensible animal protein substitute.
I advise people to eat whole soy foods, not manufactured bars, soy protein powders, or products with soy protein isolates [like those in some mock meats]. Studies have not concluded that these isolates are completely harmless. The synergy among the natural components found in whole soy foods may neutralize any potential harm that might come from eating soy protein isolated from the other components.
Do keep in mind that some people have soy allergies, and they should be sensible about exposure. Some studies show that soy product consumption may minimize menopausal symptoms. Others report soy may reduce the risks of osteoporosis, Type II diabetes and cardio-vascular disease.
Always check with your physician with any medical questions regarding the inclusion of soy products in your diet. Most physicians recommend the Asian and/or Mediterranean diets for their patients.
Dateline: Latham, Albany County, New York.