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Nutrition for Cancer Survivors: To Soy or Not To Soy

By Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES January 29, 2014Pearls of Wisdom Blog

There has been much debate in recent years whether soy is safe for cancer survivors. However, new research studies have led scientists to conclude that cancer survivors can safely eat soy.

What’s in soy?

Soy foods have many health benefits. Soy foods are packed with nutrition: protein, fiber, potassium, good fat called polyunsaturated fat, and minerals like copper, magnesium, and manganese. Fortified soy milk can be a good source of calcium, too. Soy is also a great plant-based protein source, high in fiber and heart-smart. Soy intake during childhood and teen years has primarily the most protective benefits.

What about estrogens and soy?

One of the healthy properties of soy is soy nutrients. One such nutrient is phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogen is a plant nutrient that looks a little like estrogen in the female body but is very different from female estrogen. Soy foods do not carry estrogen.

Soy foods vs soy supplements?

As with most nutrients, it is better to eat the foods that carry the nutrients, instead of taking supplements. Studies completed on soy and cancer risk have looked at soy foods, not soy supplements. So choose whole soy foods, like soy beans, tofu, and edamame, rather than supplements.

What are the studies?

There are many types of studies regarding soy and cancer risk. Results from animal studies cannot be directly applied to humans because of the difference in body tissues. However, observational human studies have examined women living in Asia and women living in the U.S. and what foods they ate compared to cancer occurrences. The studies showed no adverse effects from eating soy. In fact for Asian women who were breast cancer survivors, eating soy reduced their reoccurrence of breast cancer.

How much soy?

Most health organizations suggest a moderate intake of 1 to 2 servings daily (10-11 grams soy protein).

Examples of a serving are:

  • 1 cup roasted soy beans
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1 cup soy yogurt
  • cup cooked soy beans
  • 1/2 cup tofu
  • cup edamame
  • 1 oz. soy cheese
  • 1/3 cup or 1 oz. soy nuts

Want to add some soy to your plate? Try this recipe for Roasted Edamame found at My PearlPoint.Always check with your healthcare team before increasing soy in your meals and snacks.

Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

Author Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

Nutrition Educator Margaret Martin is a Licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist in the State of Tennessee as well as a Certified Diabetes Educator. Margaret graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics and received her Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science & Public Health from the University of Tennessee. With more than 10 years of experience in Clinical Nutrition, Margaret has also worked in the insurance industry with WellPoint Inc. and Blue Cross Blue Shield providing telephonic nutrition consultations, service assistance, and web-based nutrition education. In her free time Margaret volunteers with the American Lung Association’s annual “Lung Force Walk" in Middle Tennessee. She belongs to the Oncology Nutrition & Diabetes Care and Education Dietetic Practice Groups of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

More posts by Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

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