If there’s one food in the health world that is surrounded by confusion and controversy, it’s soy.
It is often given a bad rap by many nutritionists and medical professionals, claiming it causes hormonal imbalances and can even lead to cancer.
But is that true?
Soy comes from the soybean, which is a native species of legumes that come from east Asia (which is why it’s a staple food in these cultures). It’s been consumed for thousands of years and is an excellent source of plant-based protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and iron.
One only has to look at the overall health of these cultures to see that soy is consumed in large amounts with no negative side effects. In fact, Asian cultures where soy is consumed the most have much lower incidents of breast cancer and heart disease than the west.
Soy’s Effects on the Body
Soy is considered a phytoestrogen, which are estrogen-like compounds derived from plants. This is where the confusion sets in. Phytoestrogens are similar to human estrogen but have a much gentler effect on the body. Soy can bind to estrogen-receptors in the body and can cause either weak estrogen-like effects or anti-estrogen effects on the body. Thus, phytoestrogens, like those found in soy, are adaptogenic in the body (meaning they provide what the body actually needs). Whether you have too much estrogen (estrogen-dominance) or not enough, plants like soy can help to balance this essential hormone.
Pretty amazing, right?! I am always amazed at the plant kingdom that God has created and the remarkable benefits plants provide to the human body.
The Only Type of Bad “Estrogens”
Xenoestrogens are “foreign” estrogen-like compounds that are similar in structure to human estrogen but are actually quite toxic in the human body. Xenoestrogens can also bind to estrogen-receptors in the body but have negative effects on the body (hormone-imbalances, infertility, cancers, etc.). These toxic faux-estrogens come from plastics (BPA and phthalates), pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, toxic personal care products, toxic cleaning products, and even from tap water! So these are the “estrogens” that promote cancer in the body – NOT human estrogen or phytoestrogens.
Soy and Cancer
Check out what Chris Wark writes in his best-selling Beat Cancer Kitchen:
“Soybeans are rich in anticancer flavones, and multiple studies have found that the consumption of soy reduces a woman’s risk of break cancer and a man’s risk of prostate cancer. A study on breast cancer patients found that women who consumed the most soy (up to 11 grams per day) had a 34 percent decreased risk of recurrence and a 33 percent reduced risk of death compared to those who consumed the least. For reference, 11 grams of soy per day is roughly one cup of soybeans, 6 ounces of tofu, or 8 to 12 ounces of soy milk.” (p. 218)
So think of estrogen-receptor sites in the body as kids on a playground. Xenoestrogens are the playground bully. They want to attach themselves to those receptor sites. But phytoestrogens (like those found in soy) are the hero who comes to save the day. They bind to those receptor-sites and kick the xenoestrogens to the curb (detox the body of those xenoestrogens!).
Yes, foods like soy, flax, and cruciferous veggies are the good guys! And they’re all plants! So the more plants you can get into your diet, the better for your hormones and overall health.
So, unlike what you may hear from many well-meaning doctors and even nutritionists, soy is a fantastic plant to incorporate into your diet (for both women and men – Soy is great for men’s health as well, and studies show there is no feminizing effect or negative effects on testosterone or sperm health).
Check out a few more amazing benefits of soy!
More Benefits of Soy
- Lowers Blood pressure
- Improves blood vessels and arteries
- Strengthens Bones
- Protective against certain cancers (including breast cancer)
- Improves cognition
- Great source of plant-based protein
- Great source of fiber
- Improves hot-flashes
- Helps balance hormones
The Best Forms of Soy
The best sources of soy are minimally processed soy milks (I like EdenSoy Unsweetened soymilk, which has 2 ingredients: purified water and organic soybeans), organic tofu, and organic edamame (soybeans).
You’ll want to avoid soy protein isolates (processed soy that the body does not recognize as food) and soy products that are not labeled “organic” or “non-gmo”, as conventionally grown soy is genetically modified.
You’ll also want to avoid soy if you have a known allergy to it.
In its whole food form, however, soy is an amazing health food for most people!