There’s a lot of confusion out there about soy. I was just speaking to a mom the other day who was buying soymilk at the grocery store for her newly diagnosed lactose-intolerant toddler. Apparently the women behind her in line stopped her and told her she was crazy to buy it and listed all of the evil things that soy would do to her poor child’s body. She was terrified. Many of us have been in similar situations, we’ve heard that soy will do everything from preventing heart disease to making men grow “man boobs” and giving women breast cancer. So, what’s the truth about soy?
Soy has a lot of great health benefits. It’s one of the few vegetables that’s high in protein and provides a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids. The reported health benefits of soy are many with multiple studies suggesting that soy consumption may decrease one’s risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, breast and prostate cancers and type 2 diabetes.
So, what are people so freaked out about? Here’s a summary of the main concerns and if I think they hold much weight and you can decide for yourself:
- Soy will give you breast cancer. Soy is chalked full of isoflavones that mimic estrogen in the body. The concern is that this could promote tumor growth in women with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. While animal studies have suggested this issue, no human studies have shown that soy (or soy isoflavones) negatively affect breast cancer markers (and it’s important to note that we are not the same as mice). Also, most concerns have resulted from studies using high doses of pills or powders that do not really translate into what would come from a normal diet.
- Soy makes men have ED and grow “man-boobs.” This is my husbands favorite objection to soy…I think he should just tell me he doesn’t like it. A resent study (published in Sterility and Fertility) that reviewed over 150 clinical studies found that soy has no effect on sperm count, semen quality, breast size, or ED in men. Remember, don’t stress out about one study…what matters is what all of the studies together are pointing to so studies like these that review the body of evidence are especially helpful.
- Soy can make you infertile. While this is probably not really an issue, because of a lack of research, some experts recommend that women struggling with infertility and women who are pregnant should moderate their soy intake (not freak out…just don’t pound tofu and soy protein bars multiple times a day).
So, my advice is to not stress out about soy. It does have some great health benefits, so having some (like 2-4 servings/day) in your diet isn’t a bad idea. And, the amount of soy isoflavones that you’ll get from real food as a part of your diet is probably very healthy. I would simply avoid high doses in supplement form and possibly consider backing off while pregnant or if you are struggling to get pregnant.
What crazy soy claims have you heard lately? Do you include soy foods as a regular part of your diet?
For tons of great nutrition tips, recipes and fun giveaways, follow Enjoy Real Food on facebook or twitter (@EnjoyRealFood)