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Facts on soy { April 13 2004 }

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The facts on soy
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

By Karen Frost
There has been a lot of attention given to soy recently. People are turning to it for its health benefits. But soy is still a mystery to many. What is it, and what can it do for us?

Soy products have been a staple in the diets of people in China, Japan, Indonesia as well as other countries for hundreds of years. The diets native to these countries, which are comprised largely of vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and other legumes (beans), use small amounts of soy to provide health-building and disease prevention benefits.

One of the benefits of soy is that it has high protein content. Soy products that provide an excellent source of this protein are tofu, tempeh, and soymilk. These foods can provide a significant portion of an individual’s daily protein needs.

It is important to note, however, that the balance of amino acids (building blocks of protein) in soy is not as ideal as that in meat. That being said, it may be beneficial to add in additional soy foods or combine soy products with whole grain foods when other protein is not eaten.

Studies have shown that soy is also helpful for preventing certain types of cancer, including breast, prostate and colon cancers. Researchers believe that these effects come from the group of plant chemicals known as isoflavones. The theory is that these chemicals prevent cancer by slowing the growth of existing tumor cells.

Another dangerous condition that soy has been shown to combat is heart disease. It is known that the rate of cardiovascular disease is low in countries where soy products are a part of the daily diet. The research behind this suggests that soy foods aid in lowering total cholesterol as well as the “bad” cholesterol. In addition, soy products are said to lower blood pressure and possibly prevent plaque build up in the arteries. Isoflavones are responsible for this as well.

Furthermore, certain forms of soy products (i.e. tofu and tempeh) have high calcium content. For this reason, these foods have been shown to help offset osteoporosis (bone loss). Soy milk, although it has benefits, is not quite as effective as some of these other soy products due to having less of the mineral. And again, isoflavones play a role in prevention.

In addition, certain fermented soy products, such as miso, have a probiotic effect. Probiotic refers to the “friendly” bacteria that aids in the health of the intestinal tract. The chemicals in the probiotics are extremely helpful for inhibiting dangerous bacteria and fungus. However, it is not necessary to consume large quantities of these probiotic foods. In fact, because of their high sodium (salt) content, it could actually do more harm than good. Eating these foods in moderate amounts (3-6 days per week) is much healthier.

An added benefit of soy products is that they are also good sources of important minerals such as zinc, magnesium, iron, and selenium.

Some other things to consider when you are looking for soy products to add to your diet:

Avoid non-organic soy ingredients. You don’t know what else is in it.

Avoid heavily processed soy products such as soy protein isolate and soy protein concentrate. Instead use traditionally processed soy foods like miso, tempeh, tofu, and soymilk.

Use soy products occasionally, not all the time. Get the bulk of your protein from other sources.

With all the health benefits of soy, and the numerous ways to get it, incorporating soy into your diet is an easy way to reap its rewards.

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