Do Soy based foods have health benefits as recommended?

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

Soy base food products are supposed to have many health benefits. These benefits are attributed to the high content of iso-flavones, a type of plant-made oestrogen, also referred to as phyto-oestrogens present in the soy beans.

Soy marketing by the food industry says that it is rich in proteins and other important nutrients and it makes a valuable contribution to a healthy diet, especially recommended for the Vegans.

These phyto-oestrogens seem to lower the blood cholesterol, calm hot flushes among menopausal ladies, prevent breast and prostate cancer, helps in losing weight, and prevents osteoporosis, among other benefits.

Studies did show that soy protein lowered bad (LDL) cholesterol levels in blood. They have low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, and as such believed to be associated with improved cardiovascular health.

These controlled studies revealed that you need to eat approximately 50 grams of soy protein per day to reduce harmful bad cholesterol in blood. Taking adequate vegetable proteins have the advantage that they cause less loss of calcium through the kidneys. It is also known that diets rich in animal and diary proteins create a higher risk of osteoporosis.

However, according to a comprehensive update of soy research by the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association published in 2000, eating 50 grams of soy a day lowered LDL only about 3 percent. It is supposed to be the equivalent of one and a half pounds of tofu, or 8- eight ounce glasses of soy milk a day.

Consuming such high amounts of soy proteins will have more deleterious effects than health benefits claimed.

Oestrogen activity
Phyto-oestrogen in soy protein is recommended for hot flashes among pre-menopausal women. Some studies show that soy products can help with menopausal symptoms in women and prostate problems in men.
2011 report from the North American Menopause Society supported the benefits of Soy. The report states,”From the hundreds of studies reviewed in this report there are mixed results of the effects on midlife women. Soy based iso-flavones are modestly effective in relieving menopausal symptoms: supplements providing higher proportions of genistein providing more benefits. Some studies have not found this to be the case. When the American heart association reviewed the evidence in 2006, it concluded that it was unlikely that soy isoflavones have enough oestrogen activity to have an important impact.

Breast Cancer
Phyto-oestrogens though they mimic human oestrogen, are supposed to block action of oestrogen. Soy food consumption is associated with lower risk of breast and endometrial cancer in observational studies.
Oestrogen seems to stimulate the growth of breast cancer and the male hormone seems to block the dependency. Most studies show no association, and in fact soy proteins may actually stimulate the growth and spread of breast cancer.

Soy milk:
Soy milk is made from soaking, grinding and boiling soy beans in water. It is a nutritious drink by itself. The macro and micronutrients in the milk provides energy and keep your body functioning at its optimal level.
Soy milk is low in fat, high protein substitute, vitamins and minerals and sales have increased and most popular among people allergic to dairy milk, and also consumed by the vegans.
Some people may develop allergy to Soy products, otherwise drinking as little as 1 cup of soy milk per day is a great way to gain some of its health benefits. A 1-cup serving of soy milk contains 3.6 grams of fat, 6.3 grams of protein, 104 calories and only 0.5 gram of saturated fat. This milk also contains about 0.5 gram of fibre, and a cup may provide 7.6 percent of daily sodium requirement.
Unlike dairy milk high in saturated fat, soy milk is mostly unsaturated with zero cholesterol. It also contains mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids which are heart healthy and also inhibits the transport of cholesterol into your blood stream. Regular consumption of soy milk is supposed to significantly lower the blood triglyceride levels.

Type 2 Diabetes prevention
People with low levels of vitamin D and magnesium have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A 1-cup serving of soy milk thus may help to prevent this condition by providing 8.6 percent of your magnesium and 18 percent of your vitamin D. In addition, soy milk is a safe food for people with Type 2 diabetes, with a low glycemic index of 31.

Cancer prevention
According to Doctors Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno, soy's high isoflavone content makes it the single best dietary factor in the prevention of prostate cancer. One cup of soy milk contains approximately 30 percent of your daily calcium requirement which prevents cancer of the bowel. Soy milk also has antioxidants, which help to eliminate cancer causing free radicals in your body. These antioxidants include riboflavin and zinc, with 5.7 percent of daily intake in a cup serving, respectively.

Soy milk contains no lactose
Most people cannot tolerate yogurt, cheese, and dairy milk containing lactose. Soy milk is a good substitute for such individuals to drink daily. Furthermore, soy milk contains prebiotic sugars like stachyose and raffinose which boosts the immune system.
Soy milk contains no hormones
Cow’s milk contains natural hormones but also synthetic hormones.  Soy milk has no such hormones other than phytochemicals.

Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks
Tofu is a good source of protein and contains all 8 essential amino acids. It is an excellent source of iron and calcium, and minerals like manganese, selenium phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1.
Tofu is supposed to provide the same sort of protection against cancer and heart disease as soy beans.

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