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!
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 🙂