Soy Explained

Soy-ExplainedThe soya or soybean is a legume (member of the pea family) native to East Asia, and widely grown worldwide for its edible bean. In the early 1900s, it was processed solely for its oil and the remaining mash was fed to livestock. A small percentage of soy crops were processed for human consumption and today, it is made into soy milk, soy flour, soy protein, tofu and more recently many retail “health” food products.

The growth of its products as a “health” food started in the late 1960s and early 1970s as newly health conscious consumers began looking for alternatives or substitutes for meat and meat products. Its foods are high in protein, naturally cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat. It is also a good source of polyunsaturated fat, both omega-6 (linoleic acid) and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic).

Soy is the base for unfermented foods like soy milk and tofu or fermented products including soy sauce, natto, miso and tempeh. It is increasingly added to foods like breads, cereals, and meat products and used as a meat substitute in vegetarian or vegan products such as soy burgers and soy hot dogs. It is actually difficult to digest as it contains powerful enzyme inhibitors. Fermenting it neutralizes these enzyme inhibitors, making fermented soy foods such as miso, tempeh, and natto much easier to digest.

Is it really healthy? There is much debate as to whether it is good or bad for your health and much of the positive support of soy comes from groups who grow and process it or manufacture foods containing soy products.

It contains a variety of potentially healthy phytochemicals and active compounds:

Isoflavonesphytoestrogens including genistein, daidzein and glycitein.

Saponins – antioxidants that may lower blood cholesterol, protect against cancer and affect blood glucose levels.

Phenolic Acids – phytochemicals or aromatic secondary plant metabolites.

Phytic Acid – an antioxidant.

Enzyme-regulating proteins – both protease inhibitors and protein kinase inhibitors.

The dangers of soy are related to their phytoestrogen content. Phytoestrogens mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen in your body. These phytoestrogens interfere with your hormonal system and may cause painful and irregular periods in women and may also cause decreased sperm count and decreased sex drive in men.

It also contains trypsin inhibitors (enzyme-regulating proteins) that have been shown to disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women. The phytoestrogens in it are potent anti-thyroid agents that may cause hypothyroidism and promote thyroid cancer.

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