Understanding the Dangers of Soy & What It Means for You
Soy is held on a high pedestal, hoping to prove itself as a valuable plant-based protein source it was previously known to be. But with evolving claims regarding associations to negative health consequences, including its link to cancer, should you be eating soy?
What Is Soy?
Soy is actually a type of bean, commonly known as soybean in North America and soya bean in East Asia and other countries outside of the U.S. The edible bean is cultivated and offers numerous uses and transformations, including soymilk, soy cheese, tofu, soy sauce, and veggie burgers and hotdogs. In its whole, natural form, soy and soybeans (also recognized as edamame) are a cost-friendly, plant-based protein source, especially utilized in individuals following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Soybeans are also a significant source of fiber and contains valuable vitamins and minerals, including manganese, phosphorous, potassium, and vitamin K.
Soy's Link to Breast Cancer and Other Health Concerns
Following countless conversations and claims regarding soy intake, its role in causing cancer is predominantly the most targeted. The ignition of soy's negative health associations stemmed from its isoflavone content, ultimately sparking the loaded question, "Does soy cause cancer?" Isoflavones are plant-based chemicals resembling the structure of estrogen, the primary female hormone that is responsible for the development and maintenance of female characteristics. Broadly speaking, high levels of estrogen are said to increase breast cancer risk, with isoflavones proposed to mimic estrogen in the body. The idea stirred curiosity across multiple media and news platforms, eventually shying some individuals away from soy and its products. And with high incidences of cancer, isolating soy could provide some sort of comfort and reassurance to tackle this devastating disease once and for all. However, sifting through the objective research and data is always a recommended approach, rather than relying on suggestive claims on media outlets.
Available and current studies suggest soy may encourage genetic changes shown to encourage cell growth, primarily in newly diagnosed women with stage I or II breast cancer. Though results have shown greater genetic chances following soy intake, studies often lack in determining breast cancer risks and effects on soy in women without breast cancer. Further suggestion indicates eliminating all forms of soy is necessary to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Conversely, further data has correlated a decrease of breast cancer risk in Chinese women, a culture in which soy intake is a part of a traditional lifestyle. And pointing back to the original claim, experts now believe the isoflavones may not accelerate breast cancer cell growth at all, but actually block and protect against it.
Further concerns of soy intake are related to male infertility, thyroid dysfunction, and soy allergies. When it comes to male infertility, data suggests it may lower sperm count while the evidence regarding its link to thyroid dysfunction is insufficient. Soy allergies, though, hold the most concern and offers solidified data. Though rare, soy allergies primarily affect infants and children, commonly losing the allergy as they age. The allergy can surface in adulthood, though, and the primary treatment regimen is to eliminate soy-containing products. Interestingly, fermented soy products may actually trigger fewer allergic reactions. But despite the rarity, soy allergies must be managed to reduce unpleasant side effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, rash and hives, and potential fatality. Find more on soy allergies here.
So, Should You Be Eating Soy?
Nonetheless, the data is confusing and may even leave you a little bit more discouraged. But the answer is purely based on individual preferences. Based on current research, there really is no reason to not eat soy at all, but rather do so in a moderated portion and in its whole, raw form in the absence of a soy allergy. Supplemented soy products generally lack in fiber and valuable nutrients, also with a hard judgment to identify the concentration of soy within them. So all-in-all, utilize whole soy products and stray away from its supplement form, while sticking to one to three servings each day (approximately a half-cup of soy is a serving). If diagnosed with breast cancer or worried about its risk, experts largely agree you can still enjoy soy in moderated amounts. But if concerned about soy and its isoflavone content, consulting with a doctor or registered dietitian will offer you further guidance and peace of mind.