With so many healthy foods available to us, we sometimes forget about omnipresent soy, which will take on any flavor or form you give it. Soy is our go-to meat alternative, our crunchy snack, our miso soup base, our protein powder. In the same way that Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman are still superheroes in their daily norm-core lives, soy is actually a superfood in disguise and, according to USDA researchers, can possibly help lower harmful cholesterol. It also acts as an anti-cancer agent and protects the body against obesity, diabetes, digestive-tract inflammation, and bone and kidney disease.
Soy is about 40% protein—its closest legume cousins weigh in only at about 20% to 30% protein. It’s high in fiber, vitamin K, folate, copper, manganese, omega 3s, and vitamin B1 and is low in carbs. Perhaps most important—and controversial—is that soy is high in phytoestrogens, which are a weak form of plant estrogen that can replace other estrogen and reduce the risk of breast cancer and minimize menstrual symptoms, according to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. Numerous researchers have suggested that because of these phytoestrogen compounds, soy could be drafted into combat against osteoporosis in menopausal and post-menopausal women. It can also help with hot flashes.
More good news: Consumption of soy has been linked to lower rates of breast and prostate cancers.
Soy Stirs up Controversy
Soy has its share of controversy. For starters, you should never eat the beans raw, as they contain some “anti-nutrients” that can inhibit blood clotting and prevent mineral absorption. You can find a soy version of almost anything—meat, nutritional shakes and even ice cream—but the most beneficial forms are in soy’s fermented state as tempeh and miso, because the fermenting process deactivates some of the harmful anti-enzyme agents. (Tofu and other preparations do this to some extent but not as completely.)
High doses of soy extracts can interfere with some cancer medications, however, and may interfere with thyroid hormone absorption for those who are undergoing treatment for hypothyroidism. The Mayo Clinic deems consumption safe at some levels but advises to wait four hours after taking medication.
And some people may have digestive sensitivity to soy, which will leave them with an upset stomach and diarrhea.
The upshot: Enjoy your soy! And if you have any concerns, talk to your doctor. Here are some great ways to add more soy to your diet: