In recent years, soy has developed a bit of a bad reputation. One reason is that many foods containing soy are also high in sodium which can cause increased fluid retention, putting additional pressure on the heart. A diet with too much sodium can also increase an individual’s risk for strokes, heart disease, kidney disease, and more.
Soy also contains plenty of isoflavones, a controversial nutritional compound that has been linked to both positive and negative physical effects. In some observational studies, it’s been shown to reduce risks for breast cancer. However, this benefit may be dependent on an individual’s ability to digest isoflavones and convert them into a usable product.
So, is soy bad for us? The more we learn about soy, the more nutritionists and researchers realize that soy and soy products may not be as bad as they once believed. Today, we’ll cut through the misinformation and focus on soy’s true nutritional profile, so you can decide for yourself whether it’s worthy of inclusion in your diet.
Is Soy Healthy? 3 Benefits to Consider
One of the reasons why soy is so complex is because of how it’s studied. Many studies focus on comparing Asian and Western diets, since the typical Asian diet is rich in soy while the Western diet is not. This has led to conclusions being drawn that are not supported when they are examined in a clinical research setting.
For example, some people believe that soy offers benefits to long-term cognition and memory. However, clinical studies have yielded contradictory and inconclusive results.
Here are some benefits that have been proven.
Some people treat soy like a miracle health food and attribute a variety of positive effects to its consumption. These positive effects, which are difficult to prove, are mostly due to soy’s high concentration of isoflavones, which function in a similar way to the human hormone estrogen.
Isoflavones are a plant estrogen (phytoestrogen), which allows them to bind to human estrogen receptors. In the past, soy has been thought to boost estrogen production, leading to either positive or negative effects, depending on the situation. For example, a woman suffering from hot flashes has been shown to benefit from increased estrogen production. But, in men, this is generally not a desired outcome.
Isoflavones have also been shown to offer the following benefits:
- Lower insulin resistance
- Improved fertility in women
- Improved bone health
- Reduced risk for breast cancer
Even without all the health benefits from isoflavones, soy is still a beneficial food since it’s so rich in protein, with all the essential amino acids your body needs. Typically, plant-based proteins do not contain this many amino acids, making soy a valuable addition to your diet.
One 100 gram serving of tofu offers 8 grams of protein and only 70 calories, making it one of the most protein-dense foods around.
In addition to protein, soy contains lots of other nutrients, like manganese, copper, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and selenium. These nutrients are available in quantities ranging from 6-31% of our required daily intake.
The Potential Drawbacks of Soy
Despite their many benefits, there are some drawbacks to consuming soy. These aren’t dealbreakers, but they should be considered when you consume these foods.
Due to soy’s phytoestrogen content, it’s advised that people who are sensitive to estrogens, such as those with estrogen-sensitive breast tumors or infants, should limit their soy consumption.
Antinutrients are a type of plant compound that can limit the absorption of certain types of nutrients in our digestive system. Soy contains two primary antinutrients:
- Trypsin inhibitors, which block the trypsin enzyme that we need to digest protein
- Phytates, which can reduce the absorption of some minerals like zinc and iron
However, sprouting or fermenting soybeans before eating them helps to neutralize these antinutrients, limiting their effects by up to 81%.
Should You Eat Soy?
When you think about eating soy, an important factor to consider is what type of food you’re eating. Since soy is so malleable, it can be processed into many different shapes and forms. However, it’s best to stick with soy products that are minimally processed, like edamame and tofu. Products like soy-based meat replacements or soy-based protein powders will always be less nutrient-dense.
If you’re able to stick to eating minimally processed soy products, especially those that have been fermented or sprouted, soy has the potential to offer a myriad of health benefits.
How does your body react to soy? If you don’t know already, take a DNA nutrition test from GenoPalate to find out.
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