Are you scared or confused about including soy in your diet? On the one hand, soy is a health food. But on the other hand, do you wonder about the risks of soy in the diet and breast cancer?
If you know the story behind Scott’s Protein Balls, than you’re well aware that our loving Scott created delicious snacks for his wife Lori while she was undergoing treatment and recovery for breast cancer. Since Lori’s diagnosis in 2017, the family has changed their diet, adopted a plant-centric food philosophy, and seen the power of nutrition to build health firsthand.
Today we want to dive into why whole soy foods are good for you and why you might want to include them in your breast cancer prevention and recovery plan.
Soy Nutrition Facts
Soybeans are a legume traditionally grown and consumed in eastern Asia. Today, you’ll find soy everywhere!
High In Potassium and Iron
Soybeans are a good source of minerals, including potassium, iron, molybdenum, copper, and manganese. Compared with other foods high in potassium, soy is a convenient choice and offers additional health benefits.
For those following a strictly plant-based diet, it can be challenging to source enough foods high in iron, and soy and other legumes are essential sources.
High in Protein
Soybeans are one of the plant foods that provide the most protein supplying around 30 grams of protein per cup!
High in Fiber
In addition, soybeans are on the list of foods high in fiber, which supports gut health, hormone balance, and more. To learn more about the health benefits of fiber, please read The #1 Food Dietitians Want You to Eat to Stop Cravings.
In addition to micronutrients, protein, and fiber, soy is a rich source of isoflavones. Isoflavones are phytonutrients (plant nutrients) manufactured by the plant that provide benefits to humans.
Foods Containing Soy
Before we go on, it’s important to note that not all soy is created equal! As we dive into the food sources and soy health benefits, note that we are primarily talking about whole soybeans or minimally processed soy products. In addition, soy is a common allergen, so if you are allergic or sensitive to soy, please find an alternative.
Whole food sources of soy include:
- Soy sauce or tamari
- Soy milk (unsweetened and without additional additives)
Soy protein concentrates, isolates, extracts, supplements, and other highly processed forms of soy may not have the same benefits and could potentially carry some risks. Through processing, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients are lost.
Soy and Estrogen- Phytoestrogens
The soy isoflavones discussed above are considered phytoestrogens (plant estrogens). These compounds are weak compared to human estrogens but can bind to estrogen receptors in the body and have a modulating, or balancing, effect.
Does soy increase estrogen in females? Regarding soy and estrogen levels, no, food sources of soy don’t increase levels of human estrogens in the body.
Soy and Breast Cancer Prevention - Studies That Bust Soy Myths
The relationship between soy and breast cancer has been researched for over 25 years. Studies of Asian women who consume soy as a regular part of their diet over a lifetime suggest around a 30% reduction in breast cancer risk.
Those who include soy less often or begin eating soy later in life also have a chemoprotective benefit, but not nearly as strong as those who grew up in an environment where the cultural diet contained whole soy sources regularly.
While some are concerned that soy isn’t appropriate for those with higher cancer risks, the data doesn’t support that avoiding soy benefits breast health.
Soy isoflavone benefits explain why including soy in the diet doesn’t increase cancer risk.
We discussed eating whole soy for the isoflavones, but another important caveat is choosing organic soy. Conventional soy is highly sprayed with glyphosate and other chemicals that are carcinogens.
Soy and Breast Cancer Recovery
During cancer recovery, women taking certain medications may be advised to avoid soy and other phytoestrogens. On the other hand, data supports that eating soy reduces cancer recurrence and improves survival.
Each woman and each cancer situation is different, so please work closely with your medical team for guidance.
We hope this article eases your mind about including moderate amounts of whole soy foods as part of a plant-rich, whole food diet.