Do soy products cause cancer
As a breast cancer survivor of almost 15 years (yay!), I have had a very complicated relationship with soy. Most minimally processed organic soy foods are safe and healthy, but a lot has been written about the dark side of soy – specifically the phytoestrogens and soy protein isolates. Soy protein isolates is an ingredient you probably see a lot, and unfortunately so, because it is just chemical crap disguised as food. A new soy study came out and it’s filled with some great news which will help determine whether or not soy products cause cancer.
Before I get to that, I wanted to mention that I have made the choice to keep organic soy in my diet. In my plant-strong kitchen, you’ll find edamame, miso and tofu, which I consume about 2-3 times a week, with the least being tofu, since it is one of the more processed choices of soy. I don’t have any push-back from my oncologist, who understands that including organic, minimally processed soy in my diet provides me with lots of protein options and more variety overall.
What’s in soy?
Soy foods are rich in antioxidants, nutrients, protein, phytoestrogens and essential omega-3 fatty acids. Be warned, though, that almost all soy is genetically modified, so please be sure to buy organic and search for that non-GMO label. You need both because the organic label doesn’t guarantee 100% GMO-free food.
Soy protein and omega-3s are important for heart health, keeping your arteries clear and cholesterol low. The phytoestrogens may help to reduce breast cancer risk among premenopausal woman, and soy foods are easy to digest as compared to their processed soy competition.
An added bonus is the microflora in fermented soy products, such as miso and tempeh, which are your belly’s best friends.
Is soy a good option for me and how much should I eat?
Is minimally-processed organic soy a good option for you? Certainly if it is non-GMO! It’s always good to keep processed foods to a minimum, and with soy, especially so. The soy protein isolate or concentrate is at the top of my AVOID food list.
Soy dogs, soy ice cream, fake meats, faux chicken nuggets and soy cheese all contain processed soy, in addition to a long list of food additives and preservatives. These foods aren’t real, and while they are okay for once-in-awhile, should not be considered a dietary staple.
The tendency is to stick to processed soy foods because of our protein paranoia. But we know that protein doesn’t need to be the go-to at every meal. Yes, we need protein, but if you are constantly eating a varied, plant-strong diet of beans, seeds, grains, nuts, legumes and vegetables, then you are getting an abundance of protein-rich choices. Soy, then, becomes optional.
Still concerned about protein?
Use the following formula to calculate your daily protein requirement: Your body weight in pounds, multiplied by .36, which equals the amount of protein in grams you need as a moderately active adult. So for example, a 140 pound person needs about 50 grams of protein per day.
One cup of lentils = 18 grams of protein
One cup of quinoa = 8 grams of protein
2 tablespoons of almond butter = 7 grams of protein
So it is pretty easy to meet your protein needs without having to eat soy.
What’s the skinny on breast cancer and soy?
The latest study
The Breast Cancer Registry, a National Cancer Institute-funded program, ran a study on soy and breast cancer, results printed in 2017, which include 6,235 American and Canadian breast cancer patients. They collected clinical and other data on participants since 1995. The researchers analyzed this diverse population’s intake of soy, and the results were pretty astounding:
- Higher survival rates. Eating foods rich in isoflavones, which are the phytoestrogens in soy foods, is associated with overall mortality. Researchers found a 21% decrease in death among women with the highest intake of soy foods. This was mostly true in women with hormone-receptor-negative breast cancer, which is typically the more aggressive kind.
- Increasing soy could increase survival rate after a diagnosis. This is the best news of all — that recent diet is important! If you’ve been diagnosed with ER-negative breast cancer, like I was, soy could play a significant role in your survival. As a matter of fact, even if you never ate soy before, eating it now, the study shows, could improve your survival rates.
- Soy isn’t only for ER-negative survivors. Research found that soy is also is beneficial for ER-positive, and both users and nonusers of hormone therapy.
Reap the benefits of prevention
So now that we know that eating soy can help prevent breast cancer in women of all ages, let’s just remember that it can’t just be any type of soy. Highly processed soy products won’t allow us to reap those preventative benefits. The less processed versions, like tempeh, miso, edamame, and tofu are best, and always, always, make sure they are NON-GMO, and organic.
Asian women have the lowest incidence of breast cancer in the world, probably because they ate minimally-processed soy during puberty while breast tissue was forming. Even if you are past puberty, it pays to add unprocessed soy to your diet. By the way, this goes for guys, too. While it is rare for men to get breast cancer, it happens, so don’t be afraid of a little miso or tofu in your soup.
Don’t forget to check with your doctor to make sure they are up on the latest news on soy and breast cancer.
It is your choice, ultimately, but just know that a plant-based diet with minimally-processed soy is very beneficial, and at least according to this study, soy products do not cause cancer. Yippee!