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The power of soy

August 20th, 2014


The power of soy

Balanced diet is vital for the body, whether you are a sport player, recovering from an illness, or just looking to maintain a good health. However, each person needs different nutrients based on the activities, age, weight, height and strength.

Moreover, patients often ask me why some people can eat so much and not gain any weight, while they eat so little but don’t lose any weight. It is not so easy to compare, since everyone needs a different amount of nutrients.

A well-balanced diet which contains carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals is recommended for everyone. However, it is important to consider both the calories and the nutrients when you’re choosing your food.

Soy is a great source of energy and protein, and the level of saturated fat is not high. It is also nutrient-rich, offering all kinds of essential fatty acids, fibre and iron. Those who exercise heavily or sport players are recommended to consume 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per Kilogram of body weight, and those who use their muscles a lot are recommended to consume 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per Kilogram of body weight.

Sport players also need carbohydrate as much as they need protein, to make up for the glycogen lost during the exertion. Fat is just as important since it gives energy and helps dissolve some vitamins, but be cautious about cholesterol level.

Soy is high in antioxidant, which helps the body fight free radicals. These free radicals damage our cells, resulting in aging. Research has shown that antioxidants can help prevent a number of diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

While exercise is good, too much exercise turns out to increase free radicals and peroxides in the body. Eating soy-based food prior to moderate exercise can help reduce the production of peroxide. According to a research, those who exercise regularly for nine weeks and consume 33 grams of soy protein every day can fight free radicals better than those who eat whey protein.

Soy is also good for the muscles and helps with oxygen delivery to muscles. Muscles burn off the sugar in our body, so those with diabetes would benefit from building up their muscles in order to keep their sugar level in check.

Soy protein is easier to digest than meat, but the benefits are the same. A research compares male weight-trainers who consume soy and beef, and it was found that their muscle gain was no different. Additionally, high-protein diet is a good way to lose weight without losing muscle mass (but keep the calories in check!).

More than 50 researchs found that soy protein can help reduce cholesterol level by 3 – 5%. The US FDA greenlights such claim for products containing 6.25 grams of soy protein. By consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day, and avoiding fatty, high-cholesterol food, we can reduce the risk for heart disease. Over the past decade, a lot of research has confirmed that soy protein can reduce cholesterol level by 13-14% compared to other kinds of food.

Some researchers warn that soy protein needs to be consumed with caution, but there is yet no research which finds soy protein to be bad for the body. Contrary to popular belief, no research says that soy protein leads to reduction of testosterone, breast cancer or reduced sperm count. A research gave men 50 grams of soy protein every day for 12 weeks and found no change in testosterone level, and the National Cancer Institute in the US said that breast cancer patients can consume three servings of soy every day without any health risk. Another research found that soy protein does not increase the risk for breast cancer, and might even help prevent it, especially if consumed regularly since childhood or teenage years.

Soy food is good for everyone. Soy-based artificial meat is a great source of protein just like real meat, and soy milk is as good as or better than cow’s milk. You can eat soy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Soy protein might not be as effective as medicine in lowering cholesterol level, but it still offers good benefits. It is one of the few kinds of food which have been approved to make such claim.

After I described all of this to a patient of mine, she wanted to try lowering her cholesterol level by eating more soy. However, three months later, she came back 5 kg heavier than before, and her cholesterol level was even higher. She said that she had been eating tao suan (soy in coconut milk and syrup) after every meal, hoping to lower her cholesterol level!!


Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.


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