Is Soy Isoflavones Good for You? – Part 2

by Annie on November 9, 2008 · 7 comments

in Eating Healthy,Hormones & Fat Cells

Photo by:  mdid.

This is the second post of Is Soy Good for You.  This post will discuss how Chinese families eat soy, soy isoflavones, and who should limit soy in their diet.

How do Chinese families eat soy?

In my family, we generally consume soy as edamame (the boiled soybean found in most Japanese restaurants), tofu, miso (fermented soybean paste), soy milk, soy sprouts, or soy sauce.  Why is this important?  These variations of soy are all made from simple processes like grinding, precipitation, and fermentation where little of the soy ingredients are altered.

While soy is no stranger in our diet, it only amounts to 2 ounces daily (7-8 grams of soy protein).  Remember how I mentioned in Part 1 of Is Soy Good For You? that most Chinese families do not eat the FDA recommended daily 25 grams of soy protein in order to get its cholesterol lowering effect?

Why is the whole food form of soy important?

To date, much of the research on soy’s health benefit has been in the whole food form as mentioned above, the way most Chinese families eat soy for thousands of years.  The problem is when the manufacturers make that dangerous leap into thinking that isolating specific components of soy isoflavones, daidzein and genistein, will result in the same health benefits.  These soy isoflavones are available in pill and powder forms and marketed towards women to help lessen menopausal symptoms.

All the health benefits listed on the Mayo Clinic site are based upon whole food form of soy, not the isolated soy isoflavones in pill and powder form. The FDA limits soy’s health claim to foods containing intact soy protein.  It does not include isolated soy’s isoflavones, daidzein and genistein.

Why are soy isoflavones controversial?

Soy isoflavones act like a weak form of the female sex hormone, estrogen, in our bodies.  Since real estrogen in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have been shown to increase the risk of breast and other types of cancer, manufacturers have this dangerous idea of isolating soy isoflavones, turning it into a pill or powder. and promoting the soy estrogen to help relieve hot flashes for menopausal women.

According to Margo Woods, an associate professor of medicine at Tufts University, “there are probably hundreds of protective compounds in soy.  It is just too big of a leap to assume that a pill could do the same thing.”

Once soy isoflavones are isolated from soybeans, they really should be consider a pharmaceutical instead of a supplement.  Novasoy, a concentrated soy isoflavones, have been shown to promote breast cancer growth in animals.  An early study by the FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research found that concentrated genistein alone may cause breast tissue growth in male rats.  Soy isoflavones, daidzein and genistein, have been found to cause thyriod disorders such as goiter in infants ingesting only soy infant formula.

Who should limit soy in their diet?

Soy is a common dietary food in my family for many generations.  But like I said before, we usually only eat soy in its whole food form where the simple process does not change it into another substance. Though we eat rice at every meal, soy is not even a food item that shows up on a daily basis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the following groups of people probably should not follow the FDA’s soy recommendation:

-Patients with hormone sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, or endometriosis.

-Women who may be pregnant or breast feeding.

-Infants

I believe that as women get closer to menopause, eating soy (the whole food form) helps with menopausal symptoms.  Just from my observations of my mom and my aunts are enough to convince me of this.  The Mayo Clinic also listed relieve from menopausal symptoms as one of soy’s health benefit with good scientific evidence supporting it.  Though my mom and my aunts regularly eat soy 3-4 times a week, it is just another food to them.  Sometimes it might be a tofu stir-fry, a handful of soy sprouts in noodle soup, or a glass of soy milk.  They certainly do not eat soy on a daily basis and rarely the manufactured soy burgers or soy granola bars marketed to us.

Stay away from fake soy food!

If you have been to the supermarket lately, you would see shelves of soy products.  The manufacturing processes remove all the carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, fibers, and other helpful chemicals in soy beans.  What gets left behind is the soy protein.  The soy protein is mix with wheat protein, starch, sugar, salt, vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, egg protein, or dairy protein.  From this mixture, you get soy hot dogs, soy ice cream, soy cookies, soy burgers, soy granola bars, etc.

Eating fake soy food is just like eating white bread.  Let me say this again – it is the whole food form of soy that will give you the health benefits.  These highly processed soy products are just another way for food manufacturers to get rid of their excess soybeans.

Soy infant formula is the epitome of fake soy food.  Soy infant formula are commonly made with corn syrup, safflower oil, and isolated soy protein.  Unlike adults, babies get almost 100% of their nutrition from infant formula.  If it is not recommended for breastfeeding women to eat large quantities of soy, I cannot imagine it would be absolutely safe for babies to regularly ingest soy infant formula.  Of course, that is a decision best made between you and your physician.

Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips November 11, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Wow. I don’t eat soy but this is a very insightful post. However, once you consider the production process for soy burgers and other “fake soy products” it’s not actually that surprising. As with most foods the more natural and less processed they are, the healthier they are.

Thanks again for the heads up. I will be sure to pass this on to any health concious vegetarian friends who are regular consumers of soy products.

Tom Parker – Free Fitness Tipss last blog post……Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) Explained

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asithi November 18, 2008 at 11:00 am

@Tom Parker – Free Fitness Tips – “As with most foods the more natural and less processed they are, the healthier they are.”

Doesn’t that seem to be always the case. The more fingers touches the process, the dirtier the resulting food product. Thanks for the comment Tom.

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Jade December 21, 2008 at 9:56 am

wow great work with this post! I’ve been saying too much soy is dangerous especially in connection to breast cancer. We have to remember how much fake soy is getting sneaked into almost all of our foods…and factor that intake too! We might unknowingly already be consuming an alarming amount!

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Linda July 16, 2009 at 4:52 pm

I have gone through menopause without so much as one issue or problem My friends have not been so lucky!
I am a veg and stay away from meat all together
I do eat soy products (tofu, soy Milk etc)about three times a week
I think the more natural a product (with out man’s tampering) the better!

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asithi July 16, 2009 at 6:22 pm

@Linda- My mom does not seem to be having too many menopause problems either. Both she and I think the soy is a big contributing factor. What you said about the meat is interesting. Though my mom eats meat, it is mostly consider a side dish rather than the main dish. Thanks for the comment Linda.

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