Pictured: Custard is made with silken tofu.
If you google soy, you'll get an odd mix of claims ranging from super-food to cancer-causing. It can be overwhelming and slightly terrifying, which I am sure keeps some people from ever giving soy products a try! Well, I won't be able to answer all the questions we have with the safety of eating soy, but I hope after this you'll at least not think that you are hurting yourself from occasionally consuming soy products!
What is soy exactly? - Soy is a plant in the pea family. It has been in Asian diets for thousands of years, and commonly found today in Western diets as a food and/or food ingredient.
Some common food sources of soy are:
soy protein isolate (commonly found in many soy food products, including soy sausage patties and soybean burgers)
tempeh (fermented tofu)
soy found in dietary supplements (tablets, capsules, and powder form)
Pictured: tofu can be a great filling in tacos!
Soy, like a lot of food items, is sometimes consumed in the hopes of helping with several common ailments. I have listed below some of the most popular ones:
So can soy help with any of the above issues? Turns out that soy isoflavone supplements may help to reduce the frequency and severity of menopausal hot flashes, but the effect is SMALL. It is uncertain whether soy supplements can relieve cognitive problems associated with menopause. There is evidence to suggest that soy isoflavone mixtures do NOT slow bone loss in Western women during or after menopause.
Diets containing soy protein MAY reduce blood pressure, and consuming soy protein in place of others MAY reduce levels of LDL cholesterol to a SMALL extent.
For the majority of health issues, there is not enough evidence to determine whether soy supplements are effective or not.
This doesn't mean consuming soy products can't be a part of your everyday diet. USDA and the American Heart Association recommend consuming 25 grams of soy daily. To see some benefits in regards to menopausal symptoms, the North American Menopause Society increases the amount to 40-80mg per day!
Soy is considered safe to consume in NORMAL amounts (see above) unless of course you are allergic! It is unknown if a high doses of soy products over a long period is safe, so it is best to avoid supplementing with soy since this is where it is easy to consume higher than normal amounts.
Pictured: feta cheese made with tofu.
Soy and breast cancer have been a hot topic for a number of years now.
Current evidence shows that soy does not increase the risk of getting breast cancer! Where studies do conflict are whether it is safe for those that have had breast cancer to consume soy products. Also, there has not been any study done on long term effects of soy supplementation (hence my suggestion to avoid soy in supplement form). If you have had history of breast cancer in your family, or had it yourself, PLEASE talk to your doctor before consuming soy products.
A few more notes on soy consumption:
If you have kidney disease, please talk to your doctor and/or a dietitian before consuming soy products. Soy has a high amount of phosphorous and potassium which can be hard on the kidneys.
If you have uterine cancer, do not take supplements or consume large amounts of soy products without first asking your doctor.
There are a few drug interactions that can happen with soy, specifically with MAIO's (antidepressants) or drugs that treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Soy may increase risk of bleeding, especially if taken with blood thinners.
Those are a few cases where it is best to talk with your doctor before consuming large amounts of soy. However, for the rest of us, consuming normal amounts of soy (even everyday) can be a part of a healthy diet! Give this plant a try; it may surprise you how good some of the soy products can be!
1. Soy. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/soy/ataglance.htm. Published December 1, 2016. Accessed September 13, 2017.
2.Soy. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007204.htm. Accessed September 13, 2017.
3.Begun R. 5 Common Food-Drug Interactions. www.eatright.org. http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/wellness/preventing-illness/common-food-drug-interactions. Accessed September 13, 2017.
4. FDA.gov. (2017). Avoid Food Drug Interactions. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/drugs/resourcesforyou/consumers/buyingusingmedicinesafely/ensuringsafeuseofmedicine/generaluseofmedicine/ucm229033.pdf. Accessed 13 Sep. 2017.
5. Soy. University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/soy. Accessed September 13, 2017.