For such a little bean, there seems to be almost constant debate about the merits or mediocrity of soy on our bodies. In this article, we take a little look at this mighty legume.
Oh, soy. Where to start? For such an innocent bean, there seems to be a constant debate about the merits or mediocrity of soy. And it’s fair to say views are decidedly split on whether this little legume is good or bad for you. Which is funny, given that a decade or so ago, soy would have been derided as a faux-meat wannabe for the hippy set.
And today? Well, soy is widely consumed. Not only as a plant-based protein, but as an ingredient in a tonne of processed foods. As soy’s profile has grown, so has the information, studies and divergent views on its qualities. And not just by ordinary folk. Even scientific studies seem to struggle to arrive at a consensus.
But let’s back it up a little. Exactly what is soy? Well, as mentioned above, it’s a legume – which is essentially a member of the pea family. In whole form, soy is a bean or edamame. And boy it’s versatile. From the raw beans, a huge number of products are created: from the less-processed, more wholesome tofu, tempeh and soy milks, all the way through to products almost unrecognisable as the plant food it once was. We’re talking soy protein isolate, soy lecithin and other soy extracts.
When it comes to studies, most focus on one particular part of the soy, and whether this has any health risks or health benefits. But focussing on soy’s compound elements, and isoflavones in particular (a form of phytoestrogen or plant oestrogen), studies tend to miss the wider, more holistic view of soy as a whole food.
The problem with this approach is no-one eats isoflavones in isolation. Eat a whole, intact food with other nutrients and compounds, and they act very differently in the body to a refined, isolated compound. We also have to remember most studies are done in-vitro (in a test tube) or in animals. It's a pretty big stretch to assume the same results are translatable to us as humans.
Other studies look at the effects of eating over 14 servings of soy per day. Fourteen! Hey, that might be realistic for chocolate on Christmas day. But is it’s unrealistic and irrelevant for, well… pretty much everyone else on any given day.
Soy and oestrogen
What most people seem to be concerned about is whether soy has oestrogen-like properties. Isoflavones do have a similar chemical structure to the oestrogen found in humans. This allows isoflavones to bind to our oestrogen receptors. But does it behave like oestrogen in human bodies?
Well, it turns out there are actually different oestrogen receptors in the human body. And isoflavones don't bind to all of them. They selectively bind to receptors different from the ones our own oestrogen hormone binds to. Which means they have very different effects in the body, and sometimes the exact opposite effects of oestrogen.
Isoflavones block some of oestrogen's effects, and mimic others generally associated with health benefits. Isoflavones also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. What most people don’t know – or tend to overlook – is that these phytoestrogens are also found in chickpeas and flaxseeds, amongst other plant foods. And yet we don’t have such fiery debates about those foods.
Studies show soy can actually reduce the risk of oestrogen-dominant conditions, like breast cancer, endometriosis and menopause symptoms. Some of the lowest breast cancer rates in the world are in countries, where the most soy is consumed. Worried about 'man boobs'? don’t be. That’s something we can leave to the mammalian oestrogen found in animal products, such as dairy (which, unlike soy oestrogens, DO have the same effects in our bodies as our own oestrogen hormone). Also, let’s not forget the majority of GMO soy is fed to chickens, cattle and pigs, which are then consumed by people.
A clear look at the evidence
So, what DOES the evidence say on soy?
Soy made simple
Quite a list, huh? I wouldn’t blame you if you felt a tad overwhelmed right now. So, let’s go back to basics and answer the questions that matter most; what soy is healthy to eat and how much?
I hope this article shows you there's really nothing to be scared about when it comes to soy. Remember to choose the right kind of soy and focus your diet on a variety of whole, healthy plant foods and you’ll find soy isn’t a lazy legume but one mean bean.
Let’s face it, ladies. Menopause sucks. For those going through it, it’s exhausting, unwanted and often embarrassing. For those yet to experience it, the prospect fills us with dread. But it’s not all doom, gloom and hot flushes. In this article, I explore some of the ways women can help themselves through this challenging life-stage.
The ups and downs of menopause
If you’re aged between 40 and 58, you’re statistically ripe to experience menopause. The average is around 51. And how it presents – or it’s endocrinological and clinical features – are numerous. Weight gain. Hot flushes. Mood swings. Insomnia. Fatigue. Memory lapses. Even reading the list is exhausting.
Although it’s important to remember not every woman will experience all these symptoms all at the same time, the bad news is you are likely to experience most of them at some point. But before things get too bleak, let’s look at ways to minimise some of the worse aspect of menopause.
The power of exercise
Exercise is great at any stage of life. But it’s particularly helpful for peri-menopausal or menopausal women wanting to manage symptoms. There are many benefits for women to exercise into menopause, so supporting yourself nutritionally to help you stay as active as possible is vital.
Some of the benefits are of exercising include:
Eat to treat
Hot flushes are one of the most common symptoms that often increase before menopause, peaking two to three years after onset before tapering off again.
Some of the triggers include obvious factors, like stress, smoking, a high BMI and SSRI’s. But even coffee, spicy foods, alcohol, sugar and citrus fruits can all contribute. So it’s important to keep an eye on what you consume.
Studies have shown that consuming 50-100 mg/day of isoflavones from food seems to be a safe amount to help relieve hot flushes. And not hard to find isoflavones in several delicious forms and relatively small quantities:
A small note: it’s best to get isoflavones from food rather than supplements. Isoflavone supplements might interfere with thyroid function and inhibit mineral absorption, so stick with whole food sources wherever possible.
Build them bones
Osteoporosis is another concern for menopausal women. Understandably so. But there are plenty of ways you can preserve bone mass before and during menopause:
Swing your mood to the positive
Mood swings can be a common symptom of menopause. But smart nutritional choices can play a foundational role in stabilising the most extreme mood swings.
Above all, don’t take The Change lying down. There’s plenty you can do – and plenty to look forward to.
If you’d like to learn more about how nutrition can be used as a potent tool to help alleviate menopausal symptoms, then contact me to book a consultation.
Vegan. Plant-based. Same-same, right? Well, that would explain why both are so often used as easy substitutes for each other. But not so fast. There’s a huge difference between the two. In this article, we pick them apart.
Think about all the diet and health posts you’ve come across in the past week or so. Now try to remember how many had the words ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ in them. Chances are, both terms appeared side-by-side, as if one and the same. They’re not. And the fundamental difference is that veganism encompasses more than just a way of eating.
Veganism is a life choice that categorically declares, “I refuse to use animal products. Period.” And this extends beyond simply diet. We’re talking clothing, body care products and holding a firm ethical stance against product testing on animals in any form.
But let’s bring our focus back a little. To that of diet. And in this sense, ‘plant-based’ and ‘vegan’ are kindred spirits. Both abstain from eating animal products and instead eat plant foods in their most natural forms. I know some vegans can get caught up in the whole ‘processed food and vegan treats’ debate. So, for this post I’m calling it a ‘plant based vegan diet’ (PDVD).
And PDVDs have so much going for them. Let me count the ways:
Published studies that show women in countries where they eat very little meat and animal products have much lower rates of breast cancer. Studies into men with prostate cancer have also shown that early intervention with a vegan diet can result in a reversal or decrease in the progression of the cancer. And there have been several studies showing that people following a vegan diet live on average 3-6 years longer than those who are not.
So, exactly how do you implement a PBVD? Well, it all begins with the biggest fundamental of any diet: meeting your nutritional and caloric requirements. And that’s all about planning and understanding what your body needs.
People who find they do not thrive are usually the ones who skipped doing their research. Or avoided seeking professional help to make sure they are covering all their macro- and micronutrient requirements. Because if you are consuming a wide-enough variety and a large-enough quantity of plant foods, your nutritional needs can easily be met.
And the benefits are impressive. Increased energy. Clearer skin. A reduction in PMS, allergies and migraines. More information and research is becoming available almost daily on PBVD benefits. And with so much going for them, it’s small wonder people are switching to PBVDs at rates never previously seen.
If you’re interested in adopting a PBVD (but don’t know where to start) or you already eat this way (but aren’t entirely sure if it meets your entire dietary requirement), contact me for a consultation today.