The soybean was introduced to the United States in the 1800s, but people in Asian countries have been enjoying soy for thousands of years. As more people have become aware of the benefits of soy, an increasing number of products have been developed. In most grocery stores, one is able to purchase a myriad of products, including roasted soybeans, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt and even soy ice cream. Some of the benefits of soy include lowering one's cholesterol, relief from diarrhea for infants and young children, obtaining many important nutrients and having a healthier alternative to red meat.
There are additional possible benefits of soy, but they are controversial and more research is needed to substantiate many of the claims, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some researchers claim that soy can help reduce the risk of cancer and can even have a hand in treating it. Researchers also have studied soy use in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, Crohn’s disease, menstrual migraines and osteoporosis, along with treatment of many other medical issues. Research in these areas is conflicting, and solid evidence is as yet unclear.
One of the most important proven benefits of soy is that it contains several necessary nutrients. Soy products are a good source of protein and fiber. They also contain Omega-3 fatty acids and isoflavones, which are thought to be beneficial. There is some evidence that soy increases antioxidant status in those who consume it.
The addition of soy protein to the diet has been shown to moderately decrease total cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, or “bad cholesterol" levels. Soy also can help reduce triglycerides. Researchers speculate that this decrease could be because of the presence of isoflavones in soy, but it is not completely clear.
Some studies have shown that, for young infants and children who experience diarrhea, soy formulas can reduce the occurrence of loose bowel movements. One of the possible reasons for this is the additional fiber content in soy formulas as compared to dairy products. Parents should discuss formulas with qualified healthcare providers before making the decision to feed children soy.
One of the major benefits of soy is that it can provide a healthier alternative to red meat that is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Compared to animal sources of protein, soy has low saturated fat content and cholesterol. Soy often is an important source of protein for vegetarians and individuals who wish to reduce the amount of red meat in their diets. When used to replace foods with higher fat contents, soy possibly could help with weight loss or weight management.
Soy foods and beverages have become increasingly popular and available. While there is evidence that incorporating soy into one’s diet can be beneficial in some ways, certain claims are controversial. Individuals who wish to consume more soy should choose products that are low in cholesterol, sugar and saturated fat. It also is a good idea to discuss dietary changes and nutrition with one’s doctor.