Is soy healthy?

From being the miracle bean, to the lean, mean cancer causing machine, media has been confusing us on our decision whether or not to have soy. So let’s take a closer look.

Okinawa, Japan is considered one of the healthiest places on earth, due to longevity and low cancer risk. They consume a significant amount of soy in their diets. So how are they so healthy, considering multiple studies indicating soy has cancer causing properties?

Okinawan diet

Comparing the Okinawan and American dietary sources of soy, Okinawan sources include whole soy foods like tofu, soy sauce, tamari, tempeh, miso, edamame, and unsweetened soy milk. Standard American sources include processed soy protein powders, and processed soy foods (texturized vegetable protein, soy extracts). In a meta-analysis review of 18 studies looking at soy and breast cancer, the studies indicated that it was the type of soy consumed determined the risk, rather than the amount. Soy isoflavones resemble estrogen and bind to human estrogen receptors, which can have varying effects on endocrine system and some cancers.

Genetically modified

Another concern is that 90 percent of soy is genetically modified, which has been linked to health problems including damage to the digestive system and food allergies and sensitivities. Neither Crohn’s nor ulcerative colitis is caused by a food allergy, but some people with IBD may also have food allergies, making symptoms worse. So if an allergy or sensitivity is present, it is recommended to avoid soy. However, recent studies have suggested that soy protein may be an effective therapy to improving symptoms due to antioxidant properties.  

As with anything, when it is in its processed form, it is easy to get too much. In addition, many products that contain soy, also have high amounts of sugar and processed fats such as bars, shakes, and cereals. Since soy extracts and processed soy may stimulate cancer cells so it is best to avoid these. However, rather than avoiding soy at all costs, we should first consider the type and source of soy. Eating whole soy foods is likely beneficial, considering soy’s quality protein, fiber, and antioxidant properties.