Debunking the anti-soy myths

Despite the abundance of scientific evidence demonstrating the benefits of whole soy foods, many people have been scared off from healthful foods like edamame by the anti-soy propaganda (lacking responsible scientific integrity) that continues to float around the internet.

Edamame. Flickr: cl_03

It is true that the nutrient-depleted isolated soy in protein powders and processed foods is likely problematic. And of course, I recommend steering clear of genetically modified soy, as its safety, phytochemical value, and environmental impact remain questionable.

However, research has shown overwhelmingly that whole and minimally processed soy foods (like edamame, tofu and tempeh) provide meaningful health benefits. The presence of isoflavones, a class of phytoestrogen, has sparked much of the controversy around soy. There were concerns that these plant estrogens could potentially promote hormonal cancers, such as breast and prostate cancers; however, those fears were unfounded. I have previously discussed the large body of evidence that convincingly suggests that whole and minimally processed soy foods protect against breast cancer. In addition, a 2009 meta-analysis of studies on soy and prostate cancer found that higher soy intake was associated with a 26% reduction in risk.1 In addition, it appears that isoflavones have a number of anti-cancer effects that are unrelated to their ability to bind the estrogen receptor. Accordingly, soy foods are not only associated with decreased risk of hormonal cancers, but also lung, stomach, and colorectal cancers.2-4 (For further discussion of soy foods and health, see the May 2012 member teleconference.)

An article posted by John Robbins seeks to finally put the soy misinformation to rest. He provides a balanced review of the available information, addressing all the common concerns about soy, from cancer and osteoporosis risk to protein digestibility and mineral absorption.

Soy is not a magic pill or a poison; it is simply a bean.

One can’t argue with the data – the associations between minimally processed soy intake and reduced risk of cancers has been reported over and over again. There is no real controversy here.  However, one still should not eat lots of soy products, to the exclusion of other valuable foods. Variety is crucial for obtaining diversity in protective phytochemicals, and a variety of beans are health promoting, along with many other foods.  So use good judgment, avoid processed foods, GMO foods and eat a variety of whole natural plant foods including beans such as black beans, chickpeas, lentils and enjoy some edamame, tofu and tempeh as well.

 John Robbins: The truth about soy

 

Image credit - Flickr: cl_03

References:

1. Hwang YW, Kim SY, Jee SH, et al: Soy food consumption and risk of prostate cancer: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Nutr Cancer 2009;61:598-606.
2. Yang WS, Va P, Wong MY, et al: Soy intake is associated with lower lung cancer risk: results from a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;94:1575-1583.
3. Kim J, Kang M, Lee JS, et al: Fermented and non-fermented soy food consumption and gastric cancer in Japanese and Korean populations: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Cancer Sci 2011;102:231-244.
4. Yan L, Spitznagel EL, Bosland MC: Soy consumption and colorectal cancer risk in humans: a meta-analysis. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2010;19:148-158.

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Comments (10) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Tara H - July 15, 2013 6:45 PM

Thank you so much for posting this. People often express concerns regarding soy when I tell them I eat a plant based diet. I do my best to educate them with what I know of the published data that is available on minimally processed, gmo-free soy; but the negative press has a lot of people influenced to believe otherwise. While my (GMO-free) soy intake is minimal to moderate at best, it is a welcome protein source in my diet.

Thought I'd quickly mention that I was diagnosed with Graves Disease 7 years ago, and after achieving remission from treatment, I have border-lined on hypothyroid which became problematic. Over the years I tried many holistic approaches and dietary changes to keep my thyroid and adrenals healthy but have found the most success with eating a plant based diet. I've been completely plant based for almost two years and my thyroid, adrenal and digestive health are all clinically (and symptomatically) functioning at optimum levels.

Suzie Russell - July 16, 2013 3:30 AM

Thank you for this article. I really needed the facts right now to back up why I let my son eat tofu and edamame beans as part of his balanced diet - my family kind of think he'll end up growing boobs from the phyto-estrogens! Way too much mis-information out there. You do great work, you're a great man.

Jen - July 16, 2013 8:37 AM

Thank you for this report. A June 2013 report issued by the USDA states that 93% of all soy planted in the US is now genetically engineered. I am concerned that what may have been planted as organic soy has a likelihood of being cross-pollinated by nearby-planted genetically engineered(GE)soy, and is now GMO contaminated. There is no final testing of organic products for possible cross-pollination before they go on the market and are labeled USDA organic. For this reason, I rarely eat soy anymore. Sadly, 95% of sugar beets now planted are GE as well, and GE beets cross-pollinate with swiss chard. An autoimmune disease led me to eating Nutritarian and organic. I react badly when I eat GMOs, possibly due to Bt toxin. I appreciate you making public statements to your readers to avoid GMOs. Hopefully, readers will move beyond personally avoiding them and join initiatives in their states to also label GMOs.

Rebecca - July 16, 2013 9:56 AM

Fantastic information - thank you! One question - I use soy milk in my green smoothies in the morning. Is soy milk considered highly processed or is it OK?

Dr Alexandra Solano - July 16, 2013 9:26 PM

Great article !I agree there a lot false ideas about soy. I believe in moderation, soy beans have benefits to your health.

Rosalie - July 17, 2013 5:11 PM

Hard to find organic and minimally processed soy foods. 95% of soy is GMO. I avoid it completely these days.

Deana Ferreri, PhD - July 18, 2013 9:09 AM

Rebecca,
Unsweetened soy milk made from only soybeans and water would be fine.

Soy Lover - July 18, 2013 11:50 AM

Rebecca - Soymilk is the basis for tofu, so it is minimally processed. Also, almost all soymilks are organic/non-GMO (Dream, Silk, WestSoy etc).

Dr. Fuhrman, thank you for writing this. There are far, far too many people citing bad data and misinformation. I wish more studies would be done with soyfoods rather than protein isolates, powders or supplements. And the media and naysayers don't know how to properly evaluate studies/research.

Laura - Nutritarian Aussie Girl - July 19, 2013 7:00 AM

Thank you for the this clarification I have always had a very negative view on soy because I was scared of what I had read - happy that I don't have to feel worried now if I eat edamames or tofu.

Tootsie - July 22, 2013 12:12 PM

Recently my husband had his hormone panel done and he was very high in estrogen. His P.A. strongly said no more soy lattes. Other than the soy latte's at Starbucks I do not have soy in our home. Is this the answer? Also the cross pollination of GMO soy with organic soy is a concern. Thank you for discussing this hot topic.

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