The Truth About Soya

Soya is increasingly hailed as a wonderfood – balancing hormones, staving off cancer, lowering cholesterol – all at good value for money. So what’s all this about it being dangerous? Natalie Savona unravels the conflicting evidence.

An Unbiased Opinion?

Before you come down on either side, it’s important to remember that, as with many issues, people will have their own agenda; every study is funded by a party with a vested interest in the results. The big soya companies (many of whom advocate genetic modification) obviously want us to think of their product as a good purchase, and have very powerful lobby pushing for official endorsement of health claims. While on the other hand, equally powerful pharmaceutical companies are loathed to have any natural (and unpatentable) products reduce the need for drugs such as HRT. What with dairy producers, who certainly don’t want trends to shift from milk to soya – there is little room for unbiased research and information.

Hormonal Superfood

In the world of optimum nutrition though, soya is regarded a superfood, and indeed, many studies have shown it to be not just a valuable part of any healthy diet but also therapeutic in certain cases. Perhaps soya’s most widely known benefit is its effect on hormonal balance. It is one of the richest natural sources of isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen, or plant oestrogen. Many hormonally-related problems such as premenstrual syndrome, polycystic ovaries, breast and prostate cancers are partly attributed to an increasing exposure to oestrogen-like, hormone-disrupting chemicals in our environment. Phytoestrogens are said to help to block the effect of any such excess oestrogen. This may initially seem contradictory, given that they are oestrogen-like, but this is how it works: phytoestrogens dock onto oestrogen receptor sites on cells, basically blocking out the stronger, more harmful, oestrogen-like substances.

At the same time, if a woman is actually low in oestrogen, such as during the menopause, they will actually act as a weak oestrogen, helping relieve her symptoms by increasing levels i.e. the phytoestrogens balance oestrogens, whether they are too high or too low. Soya is one of the richest source of phytoestrogens and countless studies have shown that eating soya or taking soya supplements can provide relief from menopausal symptoms and conditions caused by hormonal problems. Hormone balance is just one of the benefits of eating soya that is backed up by scientific evidence. Others are the lowering of cholesterol, reducing the risk of cancer and osteoporosis and helping athletes build muscle. There is a particularly strong link between protection from hormone-related cancers such as breast and prostate and the inclusion of soya in the diet. Soya is a rich source of nutrients: protein (like animal and fish protein, it contains all eight amino acids), calcium, iron, zinc, omega 6 fats, lecithin, vitamin E and isoflavones.

So Where’s the Drawback?

Given all these good points, it may be difficult to imagine that soya has any enemies. The truth is...

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