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What’s the deal with Soy?

More and more people nowadays have started adapting or incorporating sources of plant-based proteins in their diets. In my family alone, I have two vegetarians, but I also have friends and colleagues who either are vegetarian or vegan. Or perhaps you are considering adopting a more plant-based diet.

In either case, let’s examine some of the most widely talked about sources of plant-based proteins: Soy.

Animal protein has a higher level of digestibility than protein from whole plant foods. We digest about 95% of animal protein versus 80% of plant proteins. If you’re eating only vegetable proteins, be sure to eat at least 15% more of these to ensure optimal protein intake.

Plant sources of protein, such as legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds, are considered incomplete protein because they do not contain all of the essential amino acids. Each plant food has a different amino acid profile, and certain food combinations - e.g. legumes and grains - complement each other and yield all essential amino acids. Incorporating a combination of complementary foods is essential in plant-based diets. Sidenote: complementary foods do not have to be eaten all in the same meal, but throughout the day.

When it comes to the most popular sources of plant-protein, Soy reigns supreme. Soy, however, is a controversial topic due to various studies on whether its use as a plant protein heavy-hitter is healthy or harmful.

Soy products, however, contain a chemical that mimics estrogen, which some claim helps reduce menopausal hot flashes and the risk of developing breast cancer. Unfortunately, no satisfactory studies have been done on the subject, though statistics show that women in Asian countries, where soy is consumed on a daily basis, do not report menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, skin cell aging, sleep problems). Breast cancer rates in these areas are also much lower than in the Western world. So although there is probably a connection, studies have not yet been able to confirm.

Alternatively, some claim increased consumption of soy may impair thyroid function and accelerate the production of cancer cells. From the research I have done on the subject, I argue that it is probably the consumption of processed foods that contain soy that are to blame. Therefore, it is not recommended to consume dietary supplements or processed foods containing soy because the chemical in them appears in large quantities. In addition, soybean oil should be avoided as its exposure to light and high heat creates oxidation that can develop cancer cells.

So, is soy good or bad for you?

If eaten in its natural state or with minimal processing, such as in tofu, dried soybeans and tempeh, soy can be a great source of plant-based protein. To ensure you are getting the best quality of soy sources, make sure your soy is organic and whole and avoid all others. Fermented soy, such as tempeh, miso and natto are even better.

For better protein absorption, combine your plant-based protein with whole grains and/or nuts and seeds. Sugar-free soy drinks are enriched with other plant-based milks because they are a source of protein. In contrast, soy-based cheese substitutes are low in protein and high in fat due to their intensive processing and are therefore less recommended.

While you should do your best to avoid processed products, if choosing a processed product then I recommend consuming with a dietary supplement - one that is not made from processed soy - to balance the nutrients.

Finally, our bodies' reaction to certain foods can be unique. When changing or incorporating our diet, it's important to do your research and to monitor our health and reactions to ensure we live a balanced and healthy life.

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