Lifestyle Medicine Summit: Simple Strategies that Translate to a Healthier Bottom (Line)!
Coming on the heels of breast cancer awareness month in October, I decided to write about soy, a food that causes much confusion about whether or not it is safe to eat. Women are cautioned not to eat soy because of its effects on hormones and the thyroid gland. I would like to weigh in here, because just like everything else in nutrition and medicine, this is a personalized decision, and I will give you information to help you make the choice that is right for
First, let’s talk about soy and hormones…
Soy contains phytonutrients called isoflavones that are structurally similar to estrogen and bind to estrogen receptors, thus they are referred to as phytoestrogens. While this might suggest that soy is the same as estrogen in the body, it is not a hormone and, therefore, does not act in the body like the hormone estrogen. Instead, it is called a SERM: selective estrogen receptor modulator. The isoflavones in soy can bind as a blocker or a stimulator, depending on the tissue of the body, and therefore has both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic activity. This turns out to be good since it has stimulating effects where we want it, such as the bone, and blocking effects where we want it, such as the breast.
KNOWN BENEFITS: BONES, HEART, MENOPAUSE, CANCER
Soy isoflavones simulate the estrogen receptors in the bone and blood vessels, thus making it beneficial in preventing and treating osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. It has also been found to have an anti-depressant effect; reduces hot flashes in menopausal women; and reduces LDL cholesterol.
What about cancer? The evidence is pretty clear that soy is protective. Here are some facts…
The incidence of breast and ovarian cancers in vegetarians is low, and studies have confirmed that a phytoestrogen-rich diet may offer protective benefits. While initial studies done on mice showed concern about stimulating growth of breast cancer, recent studies in humans show different results. Mice metabolize the soy differently and now we think the studies weren’t valid for humans. Epidemiological studies all show that soy reduces risk of breast cancer recurrence, and it is clear that soy does not stimulate breast tissue growth like conventional hormone replacement with estrogen.
CONCERNS: THYROID, SOY QUALITY, FOOD SENSITIVITIES
Now that the concern about cancer is cleared up, the other issue to discuss is the thyroid and the type of soy food to choose.
First, let’s discuss thyroid. Soy is considered a goitrogen, which means that it can cause an enlarged thyroid and hypothyroidism by binding to iodine and preventing the thyroid from using it. This is much like kale and cruciferous vegetables as I talked about in a previous newsletter. This does not mean that you can’t eat soy as part of a regular, balanced diet. It just means that you need to make sure that you are eating food with iodine, using iodized salt, and making sure that your multi has iodine in it. This will ensure adequate iodine intake and prevent the soy from stealing all of it. I believe the goitrogenic effect of soy happens when there is also an iodine deficiency. I generally eat soy 2-3 times each week, and feel this is beneficial.
What kind of soy is good for you?
Mary will talk more about this in the Nutrition section that follows, but the focus is on organic, non-GMO soy in its whole form, like tempeh, tofu, edamame, and miso is great too. Avoid processed soy, like soy protein shakes, soy hot dogs, soy burgers, and all foods that have soy protein isolate added to it. The problem is that when soy is processed this way, it loses the integrity of the protein and no longer has the benefits or acts normally in the body, like whole soy does. And most of this soy is GMO (genetically modified organism), which is a topic for another newsletter!
And finally, some people do have food sensitivity to soy, and therefore should avoid it. The best way to know is to remove it 100% from your diet for 3 weeks and then eat it again, paying attention for any kind of reaction, whether gut, joints, headache, fatigue. If you react, then it’s not for you!
And to answer a question I am asked all the time, soy lecithin is made from the fat in the soy, and is not typically a problem if you have soy sensitivity. But, we recommend avoiding it if you have a true soy allergy requiring the use of an epi-pen. Soy lecithin is commonly used in vitamins and supplements.
Hands down, soy is one of the most important foods in the world due to its nutritional content and adaptability. Soy is high in protein, essential fatty acids, lecithin, phytosterols, insoluble fiber, and isoflavones (phytoestrogens). Its texture makes soy easy to process into other foods – from hot dogs to milk.
The following soy products are some of our favorites:
Tempeh is fermented whole soybeans mixed with a grain –
usually rice or wheat, to form a cake.
Tofu is the curd from the bean.
Edamame is whole soybeans harvested while the bean is green making it sweeter tasting.
Natto is made from small, fermented, cooked whole soybeans. It has a sticky, almost slimy coating and a cheesy texture.
Miso is a cultured soybean paste, used for soups and sauces.
Soy Milk is made from soaked soybeans that are ground and strained.
Soy Nuts are whole soybeans that have been soaked in water and then baked until brown.
Soy Sauce is a liquid made from fermented soybeans. There are different types of soy sauce.
- Shoyu is soybeans and wheat.
- Tamari is the liquid remaining after making miso.
- Teriyaki is soy sauce with other ingredients, such as sugar, vinegar, and spices.
Of course, please always buy all soy products non-GMO!
Talk about mighty meat alternatives! Tempeh presents an incredibly textured, full-flavored, easy to prepare center of the plate option, with superb nutritional credentials. It’s high in protein and lower in saturated fat than its animal protein counterparts. Adding mushrooms to the dish provides phytonutrients that are healing for your immune system and an earthy, meaty flavor with lots of yum!
Food anxiety can be so distressing-when the food that is meant to nourish and sustain you begins instead to look or feel like your enemy. Food allergies, food sensitivities, weight gain, gut symptoms, and food smells are some of the causes of food anxiety. So, too, is sometimes having too much information about the food you eat. This is particularly challenging because eating food isn’t something you can just stop. But, if you are fearful or worried about your reactions to it, food is no longer the pleasurable part of life you want to enjoy.
So how can you desensitize from being afraid of your food and the responses to food when you eat?
First, reduce or stop your Internet surfing to investigate food sensitivities, food contamination, food allergies, diseases related to food, etc. This just fuels the anxiety. The more information you get, the more conflicting opinions you will find, which just add to your confusion. Find one or more reliable sources and just stay with that. We trust that Blum Center for Health will be one of your go-to trusted sources!
Second, be careful with too much testing of your own food sensitivities. Many kinds of allergy and food sensitivity tests are not definitive, only generally helpful to if see if you are over-reactive or normally reactive to foods. Tests like the ALCAT will show many positive results in most people but eliminating those foods won’t necessarily fix the problem-working on the health of your gut where the problem with food sensitivities begins is often more beneficial than avoiding 20 or 30 foods.
Finally, as part of your daily regimen, we highly recommend affirmations to create positive thought and energy patterns around the subject of food, food safety, and healthy eating. Affirmations are a great mind-body connecting technique that works beautifully to gently shift you out of fear and into freedom. Create your own affirmations specific to your particular food concerns. Here are some examples to get you started:
- I feel nourished by food and the health and well being it gives me.
- I am grateful, relaxed, and happy as I start this meal.
- I make safe and healthy food choices when I eat.
- I take my time and enjoy savoring the depth of flavor of the food I am eating.
- My body, mind, and soul are nourished and satisfied by what I eat and drink.
- I trust my body’s innate wisdom in knowing how to assimilate the goodness from the food I eat, keeping me healthy and vibrant.