Soy is a highly nutritious food source with a number of important health benefits. Soy protein is valued for its anti-aging effects and for building lean muscles. Soy also contains a variety of antioxidant vitamins and minerals that help boost your metabolism, reduce your stress level and prevent numerous other diseases. But the most hailed quality of soy is its ability to lower your cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular diseases. Studies have shown that high intake of soy products can reduce your blood cholesterol by as much as 30%.
Why Does Soy Reduce Cholesterol?
One reason why people choose soy over meat and dairy products is because it is naturally free of cholesterol and contains only a minor amount of saturated fat. Soy fat is mostly composed of essential monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats including omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. One of the omega-9s in soy, oleic acid, has the ability to block the transport of your liver and dietary cholesterol from entering your blood. It also facilitates the removal of non-blood cholesterol. The omega-3 and the omega-6 fatty acids are both effective in reducing your LDL as well your total blood cholesterol concentration. The omega-3s have the addition benefit of increasing your HDL, which provides even more protection for your heart and blood vessels.
The second reason why soy lowers cholesterol is because of its rich concentration of vitamin B12 and folate. These two vitamins are critical to lipid metabolism. High dietary intake of these vitamins reduces your body fat as well as blood fat. Vitamin B12 and folate also accelerate the removal of homocysteines from your blood. Lower homocysteine concentration prevents cholesterol coagulation and formation of plaque deposits.
The phytosterol in soy also has cholesterol lowering abilities. This plant sterol mimics the function of estrogen, which naturally inhibits synthesis and absorption of cholesterol. This is the reason why women show a sudden drastic increase of blood cholesterol at menopause. Eating soy-rich foods can help make up for the ceased estrogen production in postmenopausal women.
Who Should Eat Soy?
Generally speaking, both men and women beyond their reproductive ages can benefit from regular soy intake. Not only does soy prevent high cholesterol and heart diseases, it also protects men from prostate cancer and women from postmenopausal syndromes like depression, hot flashes and insomnia. You should also eat lots of soy if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or have a family history of cardiovascular disorders. Smokers also have increased risks of strokes and heart attacks and can benefit from the protective functions of soy.
Who Should Not Eat Soy?
Of course, eating soy products is not an option if you have a soy allergy. Allergic responses normally exhibit as nausea, diarrhea, swelling and appearance of hives, or it can be more severe and have life-threatening consequences.
Soy intake should also be avoided if you are trying to have a baby. Soy can impact sex hormone levels in both men and women. Though the evidence is not concrete, soy has been criticized for reducing male libido and sperm production. Soy also inhibits progesterone synthesis which is necessary for a successful pregnancy.
Women who are under treatment for breast cancer should also be avoid soy. Soy estrogen can counteract with drugs used in chemotherapy and oral medications.