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The Potential Benefits and Dangers of Soy

June 17, 2013

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Soy is one of the most highly debated topics in the nutrition community. Strong opinions about the dangers or benefits of eating soy can make the decision to incorporate soy into your diet a tough one.

Should you have a vegetarian diet rich in soy? Eat fermented tofu, but steer clear of soy milk? Or should you avoid soy all together? Before you decide to stop or start eating more soy, it’s best to make an educated decision on whether or not soy is right for you.

The benefits of soy are vast. Many people, especially vegetarians and vegan, incorporate soy in their diet as a source of protein. Tofu and tempeh are both soy-based meat alternatives that can be prepared in many of the same ways as meat. Soy milk is also a common and lactose free alternative to cow’s milk. This makes it easy to switch to a vegan diet without giving up familiar dishes.

There may also be health benefits of including soy in your diet. The US National Institutes of Health have research to show that soy is effective in increasing HDL, or good cholesterol, and may even have antioxidant properties that protect LDL, or bad cholesterol, from oxidizing and getting higher.

Newer studies have also shown that the estrogen-like effect of isoflavones found in soy can decrease symptoms of menopause and contribute to bone strength.

On the other hand, there is an argument for limiting the amount of soy that you include in your diet. According to Discovery Health, some studies show that the high levels of phytoestrogens can actually produce too much estrogen in the body. This can lead to serious conditions such as breast cancer or uterine fibroids.

Soy phytoestrogens can also be detrimental to thyroid health, especially for infants, as they can lead to autoimmune thyroid disease.

Soy as a meat or dairy substitute is usually very processed. This processing can result in the formation of unnatural toxins that can be harmful for the body. Furthermore, soy “sausage” or soy “burgers” are often extremely high in sodium and unnatural preservatives that are best to avoid.

Another caveat is that the majority of soy produced in the United States is genetically modified. While GMOs are “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, many people are uncomfortable consuming these bio-engineered foods. Unfortunately, all GMO foods are still unlabeled as such, including soy.

If you are trying to decide whether or not to incorporate soy into your diet, there are a couple of things you can keep in mind. The first is to listen to your body and decide how soy makes you feel. If you feel sick or your skin starts to itch after eating soy, it may not be the best option for you. If you are on a vegan diet, it’s important to keep in mind that it is possible to consume enough protein through beans, nuts, vegetables, and some whole grains.

If you do not experience any negative reactions to soy, then adding it to your diet may be a good idea. Choosing the least processed versions of soy, like edamame or fermented tofu can be a good option. Always reading the label of any packaged soy foods, and choosing options that have the least amount of added ingredients is a great way to start making healthy soy decisions.

What about you? Is soy a food that you enjoy or try to avoid?