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Soy foods are nutritious--and safe--for women.

Foods and beverages made from soybeans are becoming more popular as many people look to reduce their consumption of animal-based foods. However, for women, eating soy has been a subject of controversy.

Concern about soy consumption stems from the theory that isoflavones, micronutrients in soy, may raise the risk of hormone-related cancers. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens (plant compounds similar to estrogen) that have been shown to have estrogen-like effects in mice studies. However, it has been determined that mice metabolize isoflavones differently than humans do, so the findings in mice studies don't apply to humans.

"Although isoflavones are like estrogen, soy foods do not actually contain estrogen. In fact, research shows that isoflavones may act as anti-estrogens, which is why it is believed that consuming soy foods may reduce the risk of breast and endometrial cancers," says Jackie Topol, MS, RD, CDN, a clinical dietitian at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.

Soy studies in humans. Several large human studies have shown that, compared with women who do not eat soy, women who regularly eat soy have a lower risk of breast cancer, and some studies suggest that breast cancer survivors who consume soy foods have a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence compared with survivors who avoid soy. In addition, Topol says, soy foods are associated with a decreased risk of lung, stomach, and colorectal cancers. There also is evidence that soy protein may lower the risk of coronary heart disease. Studies have found blood pressure-lowering effects of soy foods as well as improvements in endothelial function and reduced LDL cholesterol levels, which are all associated with reduced coronary heart disease risk. "Soy foods are probably beneficial to cardiovascular health because of their high content of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and low levels of saturated fat," says Topol.

Soy provides many nutrients. Soy contains fiber and protein, is rich in iron, potassium, and phosphorus, and contains other trace minerals, such as magnesium, copper, and manganese, that are needed for optimum health. Some fortified soy foods, such as soymilk and tofu, also are good sources of calcium.

"Replacing meat with soy foods may help with moving toward a more plant-based diet, which is strongly supported in the scientific literature as a good eating pattern to follow for disease prevention," says Topol.

In general, soy foods do not have as much protein ounce-for-ounce as animal-sourced foods such as meat, chicken, and fish. "However, Americans typically consume more protein than they need," notes Topol. The Institute of Medicine estimates that, on average, women should consume about 46 grams of protein per day, and men should get about 56 grams per day.

The best sources of soy are minimally processed soy foods, including tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, and soymilk. Research has shown that moderate consumption of soy foods, defined as one to two servings per day, is safe.

"Its easy to incorporate soy foods into your diet--add edamame to soups or stews, mix soynuts into your trail mix, include tofu in a vegetable stir-fry, or sprinkle crumbled tempeh into chili or pasta sauce," suggests Topol.

Soy and GMOs. If they are grown in the U.S., soybeans are one of the crops most likely to contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). If you prefer to avoid GMO foods, check the labels.

"If a product is certified organic and/or it bears the 'Non-GMO Project' label, it will not contain any GMOs," says Topol.


1/2 cup tofu                          11g
1/2 cup tempeh                        13g
1/2 cup edamame                       11g
1/2 cup cooked or canned soybeans     14g
1 cup soymilk                        6-8g
1 cup soy yogurt                       9g
1 oz (about 1/4 cup) soynuts         5.5g
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Title Annotation:PREVENTION
Publication:Women's Nutrition Connection
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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