August 1, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Soy

I eat a good amount of soy every day. What is your opinion on the studies that claim soy is anything but healthy?

-- Gretchen Trimm

Greensborough, NC

The soy debate has been going on for a while, and it only appears to be intensifying.

Whereas many people appear to focus on whether soy is inherently good or bad, I think a more helpful way of looking at this issue is to consider how we are eating our soy.

For instance, let’s take potatoes. I could easily make the case that potatoes are unhealthy if I base my research on people who only eat them as French fries, chips, or mashed potatoes loaded with butter and bacon bits.

A similar thing is happening with soy.

The studies showing the benefits of including soy in one’s diet referred to nutritious variations of it, whether it’s tossing actual soybeans into a salad, eating tempeh, or having steamed or grilled tofu.

Unfortunately, once soy became popular in the United States, it was used to make soy chips, soy pretzels, and soy ice cream. In other words, soy became overshadowed by sodium, high fructose corn syrup, and a variety of food additives and unhealthy ingredients.

Remember that the closer your food is to nature, the higher its vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant component.

If someone's only source of soy is unhealthy foods (i.e.: McDonald's hamburgers and hamburger buns contain soy by-products), their nutrition status would clearly not benefit.

Just like a plain baked potato is a better source of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium than a potato-ish concoction in a can of Pringles, minimally processed versions of soy offer health benefits not found in a convenience snack made out of soydust.

I would not suggest anyone stop eating soy or consider it a harmful addition to their diet. If anything, products like edamame and tempeh are a great source of fiber, healthy fats, and protein.

However, I also think it is wrong to view soy -- or any other food -- as miraculous or healthy if consumed in extremely high amounts.

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