Soy — The Underrated Superfood
Soy, soy, soy! Where do we even begin?
Soy is a basic food ingredient of traditional Asian cuisine used for thousands of years. Soy and soy foods are common nutritional solutions for vegetarians, due to their high protein content and versatility in the production of meat analogues and milk substitutes. The protein quality of soy beans is one of the most attractive reasons for the interest in soy and soy foods among vegetarians. With the growing adoption of plant-based lifestyles, a great variety of soy-based food products have become more available in grocery stores. A reason for such popularity may depend on the nutritional and versatile properties of soy beans, which are suitable for food technological transformations.
High protein content, together with lower carbohydrate content, characterizes soy as an unique vegetable protein.
Among available plant proteins, soy is the only one that has been shown to have high quality proteins. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793271/#B83-nutrients-10-00043)
Soy protein is one of the most versatile and valuable plant-based ingredients. It delivers:
- The highest quality protein nutrition
- Improved formula economics compared to dairy or meat proteins
- Excellent taste and texture in a broad range of food and beverage applications.
Soy protein ingredients are derived from a reliable and sustainable raw material — the soybean. Soy protein is the most widely used source of plant protein in the food industry and is among the most nutritious, versatile, economical and reliable sources of protein for food and beverage innovation.
Soy protein is a high-quality, plant-based protein with proven health benefits. It supports the development of high-protein products from sports nutrition and weight management to general health & wellness, and help meet the protein needs of growing children, pregnant and lactating women, and active older individuals. Various bioactive compounds make soy a good candidate for a functional food.
Soybean cultivation is highly efficient and producing soy protein requires far less land, energy and water than animal-based proteins. According to numerous studies, soybean isolate has a carbon footprint that’s up to 80 times lower than dairy and meat proteins.
Research studies from Indian scientists, doctors, nutritionists, the American Cancer Society, WCRF and Cancer Council Australia have proven soy to have positive health effects.
Below are few of the many key factors:
1. Soy in India is Non-GMO, nor do we import GM soy.
2. Soy is a great source of protein and dietary fiber. It is good for digestion and increases our chance of living longer.
3. Soy is loaded with phytochemicals, hence reduces the negative effect of excess estrogen in the body.
4. It is even rich in iron, potassium, and Omega-3 & 6 fatty acids.
5. Soy is protective against breast & prostate cancer. It has no negative impact.
6. Soy decreases our risk of cardiovascular diseases like strokes and heart attacks, primarily by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
7. People who consume soy regularly are significantly less likely to be overweight or develop type 2 diabetes.
8. Soy consumption is good for brain health and bone density.
9. It aids with symptoms of menopause and reduces the severity.
10. Uses less water and land. It is incredibly land-efficient and environmentally-friendly.
11. Low in saturated fat than animal products. Rich in all essential amino acids.
There is a more recent publication that will hopefully put the discussion around soy to bed for good!
There are far too many outcomes to highlight in one post, so here are some of the most notable improvements and the percentages by which the risk of the given condition was reduced in those eating more soy.
1. Breast cancer: 13%
2. Ovarian cancer: 48%
3. Prostate cancer: 29%
4. Stomach cancer: 22%
5. Colorectal cancer: 21%
6. Lung cancer: 17%
7. Cardiovascular disease: 17%
8. Stroke 18%
9. Heart disease: 17%
Higher soy or isoflavone (phytoestrogen) consumption also improved the following markers:
1. Hot flash frequency/severity
2. Bone mineral density
3. Cognitive function
4. Visual memory
5. Body weight
6. Blood pressure
9. Endothelial function
I must also mention that they found NO change in testosterone levels, which is a common concern.
Let’s now break into the myths, shall we?
One of the more unfairly demonized foods is soy. Somehow people have been convinced soy is unhealthy from terribly low quality science — mostly rat studies where they expose animals to significantly more phytoestrogens than a human would ordinarily consume from soy in any given day. Similar to white salt, soy needs a better PR agent, because when you look at higher quality evidence, there’s overwhelming evidence in support of consuming soy as part of a healthy dietary pattern.
1–2 serves of soy a day is in line with traditional soy consumption among healthy populations. ⠀
1. Frequently see a lot of people positioning soy as ‘toxic’ or ‘feminizing’.
This is based usually on anecdote or rat studies. It’s well known 75% of the world’s soy is fed to livestock. 19% goes to the bio-fuel industry and just 6% is fed to humans. Our increasing demand for meat is what’s driving the mass deforestation for soy plantations, not stir fried tofu. So, if we are truly worried about soy and it’s environmental impact, then first and foremost we shouldn’t be supporting factory farmed pork, chickens breast, chicken thigh, etc.
Does soy have feminizing affects in males? Often we hear it does, but what does the highest quality evidence that we have available to us today show?
This is simply not true, and studies have proven otherwise. Consuming at least three servings per day does not negatively affect male hormones. Consuming up to 1–2 serves per day which is in line with the amounts consumed traditionally by very healthy populations such as the Japanese. (sciencedirect.com/science/article//pii/S0890623820302926)
2. People mention that they were avoiding soy because it supposedly lowers sperm count.
We have strong evidence to tackle this, too. The study at hand, assessed the soy food intake of 99 male partners of sub-fertile couples tested their sperm quality. What they found was that the high soy consumers had lower sperm CONCENTRATION, in other words, a lower number of sperm cells per milliliter. The total number of sperm cells was not different between high and low soy consumers, and the reason for the lower sperm concentration was due to a greater total semen volume. On top of that, they found no significant difference in sperm motility or morphology, which are also important factors in male fertility.
3. Soy consumption and risk of heart disease.
A recent study involving over 200,000 Americans assessed the association between soy consumption and heart disease risk. Followed since the 1970s and 80s, those who consumed the highest amounts of isoflavones, the phytoestrogens in soy, had a 13% lower risk of developing heart disease than those who consumed the fewest. Beyond isoflavones and phytoestrogens, soy beans are a good source of unsaturated fatty acids, B vitamins, fibre, iron, calcium, zinc, thus improving the overall health of the heart.
These results are in line research done on soy products and cholesterol levels. Soy, and even soy protein isolates, have been shown to improve total and LDL cholesterol levels, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17413118/) & (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32200662/)
Those who consume more soy products, including tofu and soy milk, demonstrate an approximately 30% reduction in prostate cancer risk in both Asian and American populations.
One potential mechanism by which soy reduces risk is by the phytoestrogens in soy binding to specialized estrogen receptors in the prostate, which may help prevent the replication and invasion of cancer cells or even trigger cell death if the cell begins progressing towards cancer. Soy may actually help slow cancer progression in those who already have the condition, which was demonstrated in a study that had participants drink 3 cups of soy milk per day for a year. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19838933/)
Soy is a criminally misunderstood food. Not only does it not have a negative impact on our hormones, but may actually reduce the risk of several of our leading killers.
There you have it, the myths are SOY ridiculous! There is no reason to fear this extraordinarily healthy food and no real reason to avoid it, aside from those with specific conditions like allergies or intolerances, of course.
We are grateful to ET HealthWorld and Right to Protein for initiating the dialogue via the webinar on the topic of “Soy Protein for a Better Tomorrow”. If you are interested in knowing more about the points covered in the webinar, here is the link to the recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwEiNyofhx8. We highly recommend you watch it.