Soy: The Vegetarian Champion Food

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I got a message from a friend and fellow gym buddy yesterday asking if it was safe to eat soy? He, like many of us, have heard that soy consumption can increase estrogen in the body and cause chronic diseases like cancer. As a separate issue, people are also afraid that it can lead to feminine physical traits and reduced lean body mass. However, this is just not true. To examine this topic, I am going to share my findings from research and also the research of my classmate, Jodell Dragon. She presented clinical research on this hot topic and was generous enough to let me share her findings with you.

Does soy lead to disease?

To start, the fear of estrogen leading to cancer can be a valid one, but only in relation to hormone treatment (not to be confused with normal estrogen levels in pre-menopausal women). Studies have shown that hormone treatment in post-menopausal women (including estrogen and progesterone) increased the risk of women developing breast cancer. However, the claims that soy contains estrogen and can lead to health problems like breast cancer are invalid. Repeated studies have shown that intake of soy does not lead to increased occurrence of breast cancer. A clarifying note must be made: soy contains isoflavones that are structurally similar to estrogen; however, the isoflavones’ mechanism is different than estrogen. These soy isoflavones bind to cancer cells which actually inhibit the growth of cancer cells. In fact, consumption of soy products decreased the risk of recurrence of breast cancer in women. AMAZING!

Is soy bad for athletes/bodybuilders?

Heck no! We live in a meat-centric society, which is part of the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet). Meat is often preferred over tofu or soy because meat is automatically equated to protein and muscle building. But what about soy? Will it make me lose muscle mass? NOPE! Soy actually is what we call a “complete food” because it is a great source of high quality complete protein, fat, and carbohydrates/fiber (something meat doesn’t have). Personally, I am a huge fan of following a vegetarian/plant-based diet, and soy is a positive alternative to meat especially for athletes. I choose it because it’s healthy, chalk full of nutrients, and delicious. Even chipotle has introduced a tofu option as a protein source. It’s become a subconscious decision for me but I generally choose vegetarian/plant-based foods 50-75% of my meals, even after intense workouts.

When eating soy, you don’t just have to eat tofu! Other foods are soy based: edamame, soy milk, soy yogurt, and tempeh. They are great sources of macronutrients and micronutrients to help us grow strong muscles and sustain our health. By including soy and other plant-based foods in our diet, we reduce our red meat intake and can increase our overall health.

So there you have it. Another food myth debunked. Next time you are cooking, try a vegetarian option. Or even better, try a soy option: it’s delicious!

Thomas Ngo
Dietitic Intern
NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Special thanks to Jodell for sharing her research! Also, the Soy companies did not sponsor this blog entry hahaha. Aside from my personal stories, my goal with this blog/website is to educate you using objective research data and information without bias. I may be excited about things, but that’s because I’m just excited about the positive research findings regarding nutrition and fitness 🙂

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ash says:

    Not sure it’s quite that simple. This article cites specific studies showing negative effects of soy on men: http://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/soys-negative-effects?fullpage=true.

    1. Thomas says:

      Great read! Thanks for sharing the article/link. After reading it, I agree that there is further research that needs to be done the definitively determine whether soy intake can hinder muscular growth in athletes/bodybuilders or present any negative medical effects. I laughed when I read that the main character of the article drank THREE QUARTS of soy milk a day. I would never suggest anyone do that and I think that his case is a bit extreme. Still, it warrants further discussion about the safe consumption levels of soy in all forms. Take Tofu for example, which is highly controversial in that some brands are high in GMO. Many brands are not, but consumers question tofu in that way. Similarly, high quantities of meat is called in question with a strong correlation of high red meat intake and CVD, etc and the quality of meats manufacturers provide. All things considered, I’d still recommend that more plant based foods should be part of our regular diet and that includes soy.

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