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Natural Awakenings

A Perspective on Soy: The Risk of Overexposure to Isolated Soy Compounds

Jul 01, 2010 03:00AM

With many new soy foods on the market today, from nuts and beans to energy bars and powdered drinks, choosing those that are most healthful can be confusing. Soy has received mixed reviews, even though it has been eaten in Asia for hundreds of generations without reported adverse effects and is a staple in vegetarian kitchens worldwide. In its natural state, the soybean has proved to be high in nutritional value as a non-animal source of essential amino acids, qualifying it as the only complete plant protein.

The controversy centers on 20th-century isolation of the soybean’s beneficial compounds, isoflavones, that in their natural state have been found to protect against breast, prostate and colon cancers, menopausal symptoms, heart disease and osteoporosis. Rather than use the whole food, the manufactured food industry instead has added these compounds in isolated form to various products.

Concerns arise because the isolated plant compounds act differently in the body when they lack the supporting vitamins, minerals and plant substances present in natural whole soy. Also, their amount and concentration in manufactured foods tend to exceed what is present in whole soy foods.

To avoid the risk of overexposure to isolated soy compounds and still reap soy’s many health benefits, look for organic, non-GMO (genetically modified organism) whole soy products. Examples include tofu, tempeh, edamame and whole canned or frozen soy beans, as well as products produced from whole soy, such as soy flour, soy milk, miso and soy sauces like tamari or shoyu.

Source: Research compiled by Monika Rice, who holds a master’s degree in holistic nutrition and is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.

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