What is Soy?
The soy bean is a leguminous plant which belongs to the family of the pulses. It has been cultivated and harvested in Asia for over 5000 years and its use has only spread to Europe and the USA after World War II. Soy is a vegetable protein which is used in the form of soy flour, soy oil, soy sauce, tofu (bean curd) and miso (fermented soybean paste) to name but a few. However, soybean oil is also an ingredient in industrial products such as adhesives, paint, glycerine, plastic and printing ink, which may give rise to some concern.
Benefits of Soy
Neither this list nor the following lays any claim on being complete or contain unshakable truths. Science and research progress and advance all the time and therefore what’s said here today could be confirmed or overturned at any time in the near future.
The greatest benefit of soy is often said to be the fact, that it contains a phytochemical compound called isoflavones, which significantly may reduce heart disease. It’s only found in any substantial amount in soy beans and soy food. In addition, soy does not contain cholesterol and is low in saturated fat, both circumstances which are beneficial to help lowering blood pressure and hence avoid heart disease.
Soy is also thought to help prevent osteoporosis, a condition which causes loss of bone mass and strength and although the illness affects both sexes, it is more common in post menopausal women. Studies show, that the intake of sufficient soy can improve the bone quality and that it may also help with another, uncomfortable, post menopausal condition: the hot flashes.
It’s disputed whether or not soy can actually help prevent cancer, particularly breast cancer or if, on the contrary, soy can be harmful to women who already suffer from the affliction.
A forth area of benefit is the influence of soy on diabetes. Again, there are a lot of gray areas, but it is believed, that cells of diabetes sufferers can absorb more glucose if they add soy to their diet and therefore keep the blood sugar level down.
People with lactose intolerance have an alternative to cow milk and milk products if they turn to soy milk, soy cheese and soy yoghurt instead.
Dangers of Soy
There seem to be quite a few. It is alleged, that soy intake increases the body’s requirement for vitamin D and for vitamin B12. It is further said, that soy food contains high levels of aluminium which is toxic and, more dangerously, that the processing of soy protein leads to the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and carcinogenic nitrosamines. Soy phytosterones can disrupt endocrine function and cause infertility and actually promote breast cancer in post menopausal women rather than fight it. High levels of phytic acid in soy are said to reduce assimilation of such vital elements as calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and iron. It also seems that soy based baby food can be detrimental to the infants’ natural development.
It appears that much more research needs to be carried out, before a definite conclusion can be reached as to whether the undoubted benefits of soy outweigh the dangers. It also appears from the danger list, that the negative effects of soy are mostly related to excessive use of it. Until more results are available, it’s up to every individual person to obtain as much information as possible and then make an intelligent and educated decision for themselves. On the other hand, the use and consumption of soy for over 5000 years must account for something and might help to make that particular decision.