You hear people say that soy is good for you. Words like "cancer fighting" and "phytochemicals" appear over and over again. But how do these terms relate to soyfoods and what do they mean?
Recent studies show that as little as one cup of cooked soybeans per day can provide health benefits, such as reducing cholesterol levels in the body. There are many health benefits to be found in consuming soy, and based on your own individual needs, you can determine how much soy in your diet would be most beneficial to you!
Soybeans are rich in minerals and vitamins, including protein. Soybeans are one of the few vegetables that provide a high quality protein equal to that of meat. What does this mean? Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that humans need in order to build antibodies and enzymes. Our bodies are already capable of producing 11 of them, and the 9 remaining amino acids that our bodies need can be found in soybeans.
Soy is also a good source of calcium. The calcium in soy is actually very easily absorbed into the body. One factor that affects bone health is the loss of calcium, rather than the dietary intake. Diets rich in animal proteins appear to increase the amount of calcium lost through the urinary tract. Soy protein can provide the same quality of protein as animal protein, but without as high an increase in the risk of osteoporosis.
Soy is mostly composed of "good fats." Soy is rich in unsaturated (both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) fats and very low in saturated fats. Soybeans contain alpha-linolenic acid, which can become an omega-3 fatty acid. These fatty acids are linked to reducing lowering LDL blood cholesterol, raising HDL cholesterol, and lowering high blood pressure.
Soy is very high in dietary fiber, although the amount of dietary fiber present in soy can vary depending on what form it is in. It is important to have a fiber-rich diet in order to reduce the risk of types of cancer and heart disease, as well as to combat constipation.
When discussing soy and its benefits, you will often hear the terms, "phytochemicals" and "isoflavones." But what are phytochemicals and isoflavones? According to Wikipedia, phytochemicals are "usually used to refer to compounds found in plants that are not required for normal functioning of the body but that nonetheless have a beneficial effect on health or an active role in the amelioration of disease (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytochemicals).
Isoflavones are a type of phytochemical believed to be useful in helping to lower cholesterol, inhibit the deterioration of bone mass, relieve menopause symptoms and treat cancer. They are believed to be antioxidants and mimic the properties of estrogen.
In osteoporosis, the bone density decreases. As women age, they can lose a large percentage of their bone mass, especially after menopause. The isoflavones found in soybeans may slow down the loss of bone mass. Soybeans are also rich in calcium, which is important for good bone health.
Some isoflavones found in soybeans, genistein, are thought to interfere with estrogen-dependent tumors. Studies so far have shown that servings of soyfoods are associated with decreased cancer risk. However, there are still ongoing studies on how soy can work to fight cancer.
Menopause occurs as the body stops producing estrogen. Some isoflavones in soy have effects similar to estrogen. This may help to decrease the severity of the symptoms brought on by menopause. Scientists are still studying the effects of soy on menopause symptoms.
Soy protein can reduce cholesterol levels. Soy is low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free. A diet low in saturated fat can reduce LDL cholesterol. Soy can raise HDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure as well as increase the elasticity of blood vessels. Soy also decreases cholesterol oxidation. This is related to a decreased risk of heart disease. The isoflavone genistein can reduce clot formation in the blood and plaque development.