Since dairy became unfashionable thanks to the bad press it has had recently, soya products have soared in popularity and become a common alternative. However, how much do we actually know about soy and how do we know it actually does our bodies any good?
It has been rumoured for a few years that this so-called wonder food might actually increase the risk of some cancers and lower fertility, leading people to question whether it is safe to eat.
What exactly is soya made from?
Soy products all come from the soya bean, which is native to East Asia and is ground down to make soy milk, tofu and other soy products.
Why could it be dangerous?
The bean contains plant hormones called isoflavones, which are similar to the female sex hormone oestrogen. This is where the problems start as anything that mimics hormones found in the body can alter the body’s chemical structure and cells, which is precisely what soya is being accused of. On top of that, some scientists and doctors have said soya can cause thyroid disorders, promote kidney stones and weaken the immune system. However, many of the studies carried out on soy and which look at the way it affects humans have been carried out in labs and have been labelled as inconsistent and inaccurate. Also, soya is not all bad as it has been credited with lowering cholesterol, protecting against heart disease, reducing menopause symptoms, preventing osteoporosis and providing a great source of protein.
Where does soya hide?
Soya products are also now present in a lot more supermarket items than just the obvious labelled soy products. Pork pies, cereals, margarine and butter all contain it, meaning consuming soy is less of an active choice now than it used to be.
Moderation is the key
Toxicologists and nutritionists, however, have jumped to its defence and have stated that while there are some concerns over the use of soy in our diets there are also numerous positive studies. Like anything, they agree there could be a risk if you eat too much soy – the most serious being an underactive thyroid – but that would entail consuming more than a litre a day.
The general consensus seems to be that like every other food you should use soy in moderation and, until more studies are done that show conclusive negative effects, don’t worry too much about any side effects. Eating soy as part of a balanced diet should have no ill effects on your body, and it is still a great substitute for anyone suffering from dairy intolerances and allergies.
Soya and babies
The story is very different when it comes to babies. Many mothers feed their babies formula containing soy and think nothing of it. However, high measures of isoflavones, which raise levels of oestrogen in the blood to nearly 15,000 times that of infants fed milk-based formulas, could possibly trigger thyroid abnormalities and premature sexual development later in life. There is also the risk that feeding babies on a product that has such a high allergy rate could trigger off allergies in the future. While soya-based products are currently considered safe for the general population it is therefore best to keep them away from babies and small children.