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Healthy Recipe Doctor

with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

Elaine Magee's blog has now been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support she has brought to the WebMD community throughout the years.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Four Soy Food Myths Exposed

soybeans, tofu, sprouts

Photo: iStockphoto

Who knew that a humble bean like soy would become so controversial? Some people are afraid of eating or drinking soy food for fear it will unsafely change their hormone levels and increase the risk of certain cancers. Over the years I’ve heard just about every argument for and against consuming soy and I still think what I suspected many years ago — that whole soy foods options are going to end up being beneficial and safe, while supplements should be considered cautiously.

Whole Soy Foods First
When it comes to the components in plant foods, there is magic in the packaging. We know that many of the components within a food work together in the body for maximum health benefit. If you separate out a component from the soybean, be it the isoflavones or soy protein, you are now more likely to get that component in amounts greater than what is found in foods naturally. Plus you aren’t getting that component in the presence of the other components it is normally consumed with in food form.

The Soyfoods Council recently challenged the three top myths surrounding soy.

Myth #1: Anybody who has had breast cancer should avoid traditional soy foods such as tofu and soymilk.

Not true. New studies offer evidence that breast cancer patients who consume soy foods after their diagnosis actually fare better than patients who do not consume soy foods.

The recommendation: The American Cancer Society says that breast cancer patients can safely consume up to three servings of traditional soyfoods per day. I would still check with your oncologist or doctor, however, before consuming these amounts if you are currently under treatment for breast cancer.

Myth #2: Soyfoods cause mineral deficiencies or imbalances.

Not true. This myth probably got started because soy  foods contain phytate and oxalate (both are also found in spinach), both of which are thought to inhibit calcium absorption.

Research has shown unequivocally that calcium absorption from soymilk and cow’s milk is pretty much the same and that there is no evidence that soy foods cause mineral deficiencies or imbalances.

Myth #3: Soy foods contain estrogen and men who eat them may experience feminization or even impair their fertility.

Not true. Soy foods do not contain estrogen, although they do contain isoflavone phytochemicals that fall in the “phytoestrogen” or “plant” estrogen grouping.  Clinical evidence indicates that soy foods do not feminize men, lower their testosterone levels or lower their sperm concentration. Soy foods may actually offer men specifically several health benefits. For example, evidence suggests soy foods may be protective against prostate cancer.

And here’s a fourth myth from me that many people believe…

Myth #4: Because the protein from soy is a plant protein, it isn’t a complete protein containing all 9 essential amino acids
.
Not true. Soy protein actually contains all essential amino acids in sufficient amounts to meet biological requirements and is therefore considered a complete protein.

How do you enjoy your soy?

Posted by: Elaine Magee, RD at 11:35 am

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