Soy, a protein derived from the beans of the soya plant, is found in many foods, including soy sauce, soy milk, tofu and baby formula. Since its rise to popularity in the 1980s, soy has been considered a health food and a safe alternative to dairy. Some researchers say though, that while soy does have some undeniable health benefits, there are risks to its consumption as well.
The following are the pros and cons of consuming soy and its derivatives:
PRO: Soy is a source of various nutrients.
Soy is a good source of dietary protein and all eight essential amino acids that help build muscle, increase energy levels and regulate hormone levels. Soy is also a source of lecithin, which helps to lower cholesterol and builds cells. According to Mayoclinic.com, soy has been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduction of menopausal symptoms and enhancing brain function.
PRO: Soy promotes lower cholesterol.
According to the United Soybean Board, more than 40 studies have shown that soy protein lowers cholesterol levels, including LDL cholesterol, which is especially harmful. Lower cholesterol reduces blood pressure and leads to healthier heart function.
PRO: Soy is effective source of nutrients for those trying to lose weight.
Soy can act as low-calorie replacement in many foods, including soymilk, soy cheese, taco filling and “chicken” nuggets. These foods are typically lower in fat and calories than their traditional dairy or meat counterparts. Soy is a good source of protein, and foods rich in protein also keep appetites satiated for longer, which can therefore lead to weight loss (in combination of a balanced, low-fat diet).
PRO: Soy contributes to bone health
Though soy is not generally high in calcium compared to cow’s milk, isoflavones found in soy foods, may help inhibit bone decay. In fact, one type of isoflavone is chemically similar to the drug ipriflavone, which is prescribed for osteoporosis.
PRO: Soy contains the good fat – Omega-3s.
Although soybeans have a higher fat content than some other common beans, such as pinto and navy, the fat in soy contains the omega-3 fatty acid, a so-called “good” fat that may help improve heart function.
CON: Excessive phytoestrogen from soy can have multiple effects.
Soy contains significant quantities of phytoestrogen. According to the Bulletin de L’Office Fédéral de la Santé Publique, a publication by the Swiss health agency, 100 grams of soy protein are considered to have the estrogen equivalent of one birth control pill. Vast amounts of phytoestrogens can also cause thyroid problems and can lead to the early sexual development of girls and the underdevelopment of boys when used as baby formula. Phytoestrogen can also mimic the estrogen hormone and can either proliferate or decrease cancer cells in the breast. The American Cancer Society encourages those with breast or endometrial cancer or those at risk of estrogen-responsive cancers to limit their intake of soy. It is advised that people who have cancer or who are at risk of cancer consult their doctors to discuss soy intake.
CON: Soy may have unwanted interactions with medications.
Soy may interact with drugs needed for such conditions as diabetes, high blood pressure, diarrhea, obesity, high cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases, according to MedlinePlus. Anyone with these types of problems should consult with their physician before ingesting large amounts of soy products while taking thyroid hormones, antibiotics, diuretics, iron salts, immuno-suppressants or other medications.
CON: Phytates, found in soy can block the absorption of essential minerals.
Soy contains high level of Phytic acids, also known as Phytates, can block the absorption of essential minerals by the human digestive tract, such as magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. This is a problem particularly for small children, who require these minerals for proper growth. Phytic acid is not neutralized by slow cooking, but only through fermentation.
CON: Soy can inhibit the function of certain enzymes.
According to Food Renegade, soy is a digestive enzyme inhibitor—namely the protein enzyme called trypsin. While according to KidsHealth.org soy is a good source of protein, without the appropriate levels of trypsin in the digestive system, the protein cannot be absorbed. Trypsin deficiency has symptoms like cramps, diarrhea and bleeding, and according to SoyOnlineService, trypsin inhibitors also contribute to pancreas disorders.
Soy may have a handful of health benefits, but only when taken in moderate amounts from diversified sources. If you have certain conditions, it is best to consult your doctor before you consume soy products and its derivatives.