Soy: Nutritional Myths & Realities

Contributed By Amanda Loudin
Author of Miss Zippy
Just a couple of the soy staples at my house

If you’ve been reading long enough, you know that for a short period of time, I experimented with a vegan diet. I tried it, but for a variety of reasons, decided that it wasn’t right for me or my family. However, I did get exposure to alternative forms of protein during this spurt, soy being one of them. Over time I’ve adopted a well-rounded approach to how I get my sources of protein and calcium. By that I mean that I incorporate meat, fish, dairy, beans, and soy into my diet.
Soy, I know, is one source that for many people, throws up a red flag. I had my doubts about it, too, which is why I’ve done some research into how and why it can fit into an athletes’ diet. One of my sources was a recent study, “The Effect of Protein Blend vs. Whey Protein Ingestion on Muscle Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise.” What did the study uncover? That a protein blend of soy, whey and casein might be best to consume post workout for the purpose of building muscle. The study showed that this combination increased a person’s anabolic window, or the amount of time it takes for muscle building post exercise.
Why the combination? Because each separate type of protein is absorbed at a different rate during digestion. Whey protein is absorbed quickly, casein protein somewhat slowly, and soy protein falls in the middle. With all three at work, you get an extended release of amino acids to the muscles. Makes sense to me.
FitFluential led a Twitter chat the other night on the topic of soy protein and I jumped in to see what I could learn. We covered a variety of topics relating to soy protein, including how it could be used by athletes, how it can play a role in children’s diets, and where you can find soy protein. We also got into some myths regarding soy protein and I learned the following:
  • Myth #1: Anybody who has had breast cancer should avoid traditional soy foods such as tofu and soy milk.
  • Reality: The American Cancer society says that breast cancer patients can safely consume up to three servings of traditional soy foods per day.
  • Myth #2: Soy foods contain estrogen and men who eat them may experience feminization or even impair their fertility.
  • Reality: Soy foods do not contain estrogen, although they do contain phytochemicals called isoflavones that fall into the “phytoestrogen” or “plant” estrogen grouping. Clinical evidence indicates that soy foods do not feminize men, lower their testosterone levels or lower their sperm concentration.
  • Myth #3: Because the protein from soy is a plant protein, it isn’t a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Reality: Soy protein contains all essential amino acids in sufficient amounts to meet biological requirements and is therefore considered a complete protein.
I thought all that was interesting and it makes me wonder where urban myths like those about soy protein even get started. I never bought into them in the first place, but it’s nice to see the truth behind the rumors about soy.
As with anything else I eat and feed my family, I use soy protein in moderation. But it’s a perfect way to mix things up and I like the many ways you can add soy protein into your diet–via soy milk, yogurt, tofu, tempeh, and edamame. To me, it’s an obvious choice as an athlete and parent.

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