QUESTION: I've heard conflicting opinions on the use of soy products to relieve hot flashes and other discomforts of menopause. What do you think? SZ, New Jersey
ANSWER: Soy products contain substances called isoflavones, which are weak estrogens that can have hormonal effects. Rapid changes in hormone levels in menopause can lead to changes in temperature regulation and to hot flashes and night sweats. Soy isoflavones may help to reduce these discomforts by keeping blood estrogen levels from dropping as much as they typically do in menopause. When soy foods are added to women's diets, women report a modest decrease in the frequency (1, 2) and the severity (3, 4) of hot flashes and vaginal dryness, although this is not always seen (5). These effects appear to be smaller than those observed with conventional hormone replacement therapy. If you are experiencing symptoms and would prefer to avoid hormone replacement therapy, a trial of adding soy to your diet seems reasonable. However, we should note that it's too early to say that soy products can replace conventional therapy. On the positive side, they do appear to reduce risk of heart disease. On the negative side, they seem to stimulate breast cell multiplication in some women, which raises concerns about increased cancer risk (6, 7). In addition, soy products may or may not reduce bone loss associated with menopause.
1 Maturitas 1995. 21:189-195.
2 0bstet Gynecol 1998. 91:6-11.
3 Menopause 1997. 4:89-94.
4 Menopause 1999. 6:7-13.
5 J Nutr 2000. 130:671S.
6 Am J Clin Nutr 1998. 68 (Suppl): 1431S.
7 Cancer Epidem Bio Prev 1996. 5: 785.
QUESTION: My daughter is in preschool. Once a week, her class prepares a snack, often something like muffins or quick breads. She is the only vegan child in the class. Her teacher has asked for ideas for foods that the children will enjoy preparing and that my daughter can also eat. Any suggestions? LA, Maryland
ANSWER: Many quick bread and muffin recipes can be easily converted to vegan recipes by simply substituting powdered egg replacer for eggs and soymilk or juice for cow's milk. You could offer to provide a box of egg replacer (Ener-G is a widely available brand) for the class to use, along with instructions for using it to replace eggs. Similarly, either give them several cartons of soymilk or bring it in when they need it. Of course, if raw eggs aren't used, children can taste the batter! Other popular snacks for young children are hummus faces (spread hummus on a bagel half or rice cake and make a face with shredded carrots, olive slices, peas, etc.), English muffin pizzas (have your daughter put vegetables on hers instead of cheese or pepperoni), trail mix (children can combine several low-sugar cereals and dried fruits), fruit salad (children can carefully cut soft fruits like bananas and strawberries), homemade tortilla or pita chips, and yeast rolls (children can make shapes before baking). Your preschool might even appreciate a booklet of your favorite recipes.