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> What Makes Soy So Good For You?, Article
Kate
post Aug 25 2004, 09:52 AM
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What Makes Soy So Good For You? All Miavita Features

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Think about it: Its protein is complete, like the best animal sources -- but it has almost no saturated fat. Soybeans have numerous minerals, including iron and, if the processing method is right, calcium.

Soy foods are also rich in isoflavones - unique plant compounds that fit particular human hormone receptors like keys in a lock, and may open the door to special health benefits. The combination of soy protein and isoflavones reliably lowers high blood cholesterol. Isoflavones also improve overall cardiovascular health, provide some protection against cancers of the prostate and uterus, help build bone and may ease menopausal hot flashes.

A fine bean, to be sure. But it's no panacea - no one food is. What really improves health is a balanced dietary pattern that relies mostly on whole foods, including fruits, vegetables and grains. Enjoy a tempeh burger instead of a beef patty, and you double your benefit - first by eating soy, and second by taking some red meat off your plate. Soy foods have amazing culinary versatility: From faux fajitas to authentic Asian feasts, they cook up as a tasty alternative to red meat.

Protecting Your Heart

The FDA has approved this health claim for soy on food packaging: "25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease." Left unsaid is research that's shown the combination of soy protein and isoflavones to be more effective at lowering blood cholesterol than soy protein alone. Isoflavones have other cardiovascular benefits: They act as antioxidants, inhibit blood clotting and improve the elasticity of blood vessels, which benefits blood flow and lowers blood pressure.

A Weapon Against Cancer

Soy's isoflavones are believed to play a role in inhibiting cancer. In the lab, isoflavones introduced to a cell culture medium where tumor cells were attempting to grow have blocked the cancer cells' progress. If a tiny tumor does form, one isoflavone in particular - genistein - helps prevent it from developing a blood supply and subsequently getting bigger.

The most direct cancer protection you receive from soy foods, however, relates to the way isoflavones interfere with hormone-related cancers, particularly of the prostate and uterus. For example, isoflavones inhibit testosterone from turning into a form that promotes prostate cell growth, and thus, cancer.

The breast cancer story is more complex. Although there's some evidence that soy foods rich in isoflavones may help protect against endometrial, breast and other hormone-related cancers, there is conflicting data. While many experts believe that soy foods are health-protective for all women, several raise concerns about isoflavone supplements.

A Special Benefit During Menopause

By fitting into estrogen receptors, soy's isoflavones may play a special role in helping women undergoing menopause do so comfortably and healthfully. Some, but not all, studies find that eating soy may reduce hot flashes. Soy foods rich in isoflavones also help prevent the bone loss that often accelerates after menopause, which can progress to osteoporosis. Like estrogen itself, soy builds bone. By lowering cholesterol and protecting the heart, soy foods help reduce the risk of heart disease, which can become greater as natural heart-protective estrogen levels fall.
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