Before I share another recipe that drastically cuts calories and prep time by using tofu noodles, I wanted to share a little food for thought about soy…its risks and its rewards.
Though cultivated for 5000 years, it was in the late 90’s that soy became the “It Girl” of the food world as new studies indicated it was a primary reason for low heart disease and cancer rates among Asians with soy rich diets. And in 1999, the FDA agreed that manufacturers could add those health claims to food packaging.
Quicker than you could say “magic beans,” the American marketplace was suddenly swimming in soy products–from soy bars and shakes to soy supplements–all touting the growing belief that soy was some sort of magic bullet that could cure everything that ails us–from cancer to hot flashes.
But, as is the case with most over-exposed “It Girls,” (except, apparently, the Kardashians), backlash and controversy eventually followed. And, as questions about soy’s impact on thyroid, hormones and cancer emerged, many consumers and doctors were suddenly not so bullish on the bean.
But according to dozens of recent reviews of the controversy, it’s not soy foods like tofu, tempeh, miso and edamame that were the problem, but rather how the plant’s estrogens (isoflavones) were being teased apart, manipulated and concentrated and consumed in quantities that would never come from whole soy foods.
In fact, while the American Cancer Society’s latest dietary guidelines say soy foods are “an excellent source of protein” and “appear to protect against hormone-dependent cancers in animal studies,” the group also cautions cancer survivors to avoid “concentrated sources of soy such as soy-containing pills, powders or supplements containing isolated or concentrated isoflavones.”
At BreastCancer.org, cancer patients are again warned to avoid concentrated supplements, but are also advised that “it’s fine to eat moderate amounts of soy foods (about a cup and a half daily) as part of a balanced diet.”
A 2010 publication from the MD Anderson Cancer Center concurs, saying “regular dietary soy as part of a normal diet is probably safe and, in fact, may be beneficial for women with breast cancer.” And that, based on recent studies, there is “a growing body of evidence that the current advice that all soy foods should be removed from the diet of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer is probably untrue.”
(Each of those recommendations cites, among other research, a 5 year study of 34,000 Asian women released in 2010 which concluded that soy foods, as part of a diet rich in vegetables and fruit has an “early-acting protective effect on the development of breast cancer.”)
And there’s also good reason to eat soy for heart health. Earlier this year, the American Heart Association officially endorsed soy foods as helpful in the fight against cholesterol and heart disease.
But according to the Mayo Clinic’s review of soy research, it is clear that–based on current evidence– soy is not yet proven to be the panacea it was once promoted to be. And certain populations–like those with thyroid disease— might want to limit soy consumption based on the advice of their doctors.
However, the bottom line is that most mainstream sources have concluded that while soy is neither a magic bullet, nor the boogie man, in moderate amounts–and from foods rather than supplements–soy is not only safe, it’s healthy…. and deserves a place at the table.