Soy - The Ultimate Women's Health Food

Prior to about 10 or 15 years ago, if someone mentioned "soy," most of us thought of the sauce, that perennial condiment of Chinese cuisine.

But the Chinese have known for thousands of years -- and we North Americans are finally jumping on the bandwagon -- that it is much more than a seasoning; it's a dietary staple that provides many health benefits, particularly for women.

In fact, soy just may be a woman's ultimate nutritional aid. Cindy recently started drinking a chocolate flavoured drink as a way of getting extra soy in her diet.Soy is about 35-38 percent protein and contains a full complement of essential amino acids. It also is an excellent source of fiber, antioxidant vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc. And it provides omega-3 fatty acids and contains isoflavones, also known as phytoestrogens (plant compounds that mimic the hormone estrogen). That's a relatively complete package for good health!

In this country, soy's rise from occasional ingredient in Chinese cooking to important dietary supplement may have started when several studies indicated that Asian women -- who typically eat a high-soy diet -- have a much lower incidence of reproductive and hormone-related disorders, as well as a lower incidence of heart disease, than their Western counterparts. If you think it might have more to do with genetics, consider that when Asian women move to the US and adopt low-soy diets, their risk of developing "women's" disorders and heart disease significantly increases. It is so clearly important to heart health that its claim is recognized by the FDA, which has stated that eating a diet that includes "25 grams of soy protein per day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."

While that's good news for everyone, it's especially noteworthy for women. Heart disease -- not breast cancer --is the No. 1 cause of death for women in the US. (Women who have a heart attack after age 45 are twice as likely as men to die from it.) Eating soy helps lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increases HDL ("good") cholesterol, a fact confirmed by a research paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

And while eating soy is healthful for women of any age, those who have reached menopause can reap particular benefits. The isoflavones in it help alleviate symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, insomnia, headaches, mood swings and night sweats. As such, it is an effective alternative to hormone replacement therapy. (Studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy may increase risk of breast and endometrial cancer.) Soy also appears to reduce risk of osteoporosis because its isoflavones help slow bone loss and may even stimulate bone formation. In fact, Oregon Health & Science University reports that it has a more favorable impact on bone density than calcium.

How do you get this dietary wonder? A variety of foods are available, often at traditional supermarkets. You could try the originals, such as tofu, tempeh and miso; or you might prefer the newer products, such as soy cheese, milk, burgers, hot dogs, chips, breads, cereal, yogurt and ice cream. You also might consider a nutritional supplement, which often delivers a more concentrated form of the beneficial isoflavones.

Some foods, taken as supplements can also have beneficial health effects...Read our pages on:

Flax Seed Oil

Benefits of Soy

Benefits of Whey Protein

Benefits of Vitamin C

Benefits of Co Enzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Arabinogalactan for your immune system

Colostrum for your immune system

Importance of Potassium

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