Soy, also known as soy isoflavones, soy protein and soybean (edamame), has been used as a food staple in many Asian countries for almost 5,000 years. Soybeans, unlike most plant foods, are high in protein and together with rice provide protein comparable to that found in animal products.
The active constituents of soy include protein, isoflavones, saponins, phytosterols, and essential amino acids. The isoflavones are antioxidants and phytoestrogenic (plant compounds similar to estrogen), which can help reduce cell damage and may help ease menopause symptoms. Saponins enhance immune function and bind to cholesterol to limit its absorption in the intestine. Phytosterols also help lower cholesterol levels. A number of clinical studies in Japan found those who ate the most soy had the lowest cholesterol levels, specifically LDL decreased by 10 % and total cholesterol by 7 %, although this might also be do to less consumption of meat by these populations. Studies also show soy intake may help prevent hormone-related cancers such as breast, prostate and endometrial cancer. There have also been some mixed studies showing some benefit in increasing bone mineral density in women, which may help prevent osteoporosis.
Soy comes in various forms. Whole soy nuts, soybean, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy-based infant formula, soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy powders and shakes, soy nut butters and soy containing protein bars are just a few examples of soy containing foods. Soy in general is considered safe, although it has been associated with constipation and stomach upset. Soy is considered safe for children, pregnant and breast-feeding moms. Avoid soy if you are allergic to soy. Although soy consumption has been shown to decrease your risk or acquiring breast cancer, in some laboratory studies it stimulated the growth of breast cancer cells already present. So therefore if you have breast cancer you should discuss soy consumption with your physician prior to taking soy products.
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