Why You Need Soy

You know those miracle cancer-fighters making big headlines lately? New compounds that may stop the growth and spread of cancer cells?

Want some?

You have two choices: Wait years until one gets approved as a drug. Or go to your supermarket today and buy one off the shelf. It’s called genistein — and you’ll find it in foods made from soybeans. It may help explain why in Asia, where soy foods are eaten every day, rates of breast and prostate cancer are so much lower than our own.

Overcoming fear of soy. No wonder we found American doctors and scientists adding soy to their diets, and now recommending you do the same. But suppose you think yuck when you think soy. Tofu? To you, it’s a sponge! Soy milk? Too beany — and beige!

To change that, I came up with 16 scrumptious ideas to make you love soy. If research pans out, any of them could become a lifesaving ticket to less risk of breast or prostate cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and other serious illness.

No weird stuff allowed. Here’s what you’ll find on these pages:

  • Flavors and textures you’ll love. Nothing that takes getting used to. We do use soy milk (liquid pressed from soybeans that have been soaked and pureed)and tofu (soy milk with a curdling agent added to form a moist cake). But everything’s disguised in delicious ways.
  • No-fuss prep. Why would we ask you to spend time making something you think you might not like?
  • Enough soy to provide about 30 to 50 mg of isoflavones per serving. Isoflavones are estrogen-like compounds that are abundant in some soy products, and they’re at least partly responsible for soy’s benefits. (Genistein is one isoflavone.) So far, no one knows how much soy is enough. But since the average Asian eats enough soy to get about 30 to 50 mg of isoflavones daily, experts say that’s a sensible goal for most Americans.

Do soy burgers, tofu hot dogs, etc., have isoflavones? Yes, but in smaller amounts, because soy is one of many ingredients. Levels may be very modest if soy protein concentrate is used. Soy sauce and soybean oil have no isoflavones.

Where to buy soy products. Tofu is found in most supermarkets today (often in the produce section). About two-thirds of supermarkets nationwide carry soy milk. All products we used, except mail-order items, were also found in natural food or health food stores.

1. Velvety latte. (30 mg isoflavones) Drink soy milk all by itself? Not if you’re a soy sissy. Instead, heat 1 cup of plain or vanilla soy milk in the microwave for 1 minute, stir in a teaspoon of instant coffee, and soy milk becomes a smooth latte. Vanilla soy milk is sweet, so you won’t need sugar. Hint: Look for fat-free or reduced-fat soy milk that’s fortified with about 30% DV for calcium and vitamin D.

2. Rich mocha latte. (30 mg isoflavones) Same directions as above. But use 1 cup of chocolate soy milk. (We recommend White Wave Chocolate Silk.) This could become your favorite brew.

3. Almond chocolate cooler. (30 mg isoflavones) Use 1 cup of cold chocolate soy milk. (Again, we like White Wave Chocolate Silk.) Then add three drops of almond extract (or to taste). It goes down too darn fast!

4. Extra-comforting cocoa. (30 mg isoflavones) Make instant hot cocoa with 1 cup plain soy milk. What could be easier?

5. Heavenly chocolate almond pudding. (30 mg isoflavones per 1/2 cup) Use Mori-Nu Mates Chocolate Pudding/Pie Mix. Make per package directions with firm or extra firm silken light tofu, but add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon almond extract. Bliss.

6. Chocolate espresso creme. (30 mg isoflavones per 1/2 cup) Use Mori-Nu Mates Chocolate Pudding/Pie Mix. Make with tofu per package directions, but add 1/4 cup strong coffee instead of water. Dessert decadence! (To make strong coffee: Dissolve 1 teaspoon instant coffee in 1/4 cup room temperature water.)

7. Presto butterscotch whip.(30 mg isoflavones per 1 cup) Mix 2 cups soft tofu with fat-free butterscotch instant pudding mix. A perfect flavor marriage.

8. Fabulous black soybean chili. (41 mg isoflavones per 1/2 cup of beans) Add black soybeans to your favorite chili, using 1/2 cup per serving. Lorna Sass, author of The New Soy Cookbook (Chronicle Books, 1998), says black soybeans are “in a class of their own” — chestnutty and creamy. Look for cans of Eden Organic Black Soy Beans.

9. The best bar in town. (49 mg isoflavones per bar) I was extremely impressed with three flavors of GeniSoy Soy Protein Bars. Chocolate Mint won top raves. (“This is so good it must be bad for you!”) Also yummy: Café Mocha and Peanut Butter Fudge Coated.

10. Breakfast for dinner. (30 mg isoflavones per 1/2 cup tofu) Here’s a quick, comforting dinner: One 16-ounce package of extra firm tofu, crumbled and browned, seasoned with a package of TofuMate Breakfast Scramble Seasoning Mix (including turmeric, to turn everything a pretty golden yellow). Add sautéed onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Enjoy with toast.

11. The Rolls Royce of tofus. (30 mg isoflavones per 1/2 cup) Please slice up some Thai-style baked tofu in place of chicken in your next stir-fry! (We love the White Wave brand.) Not spongy or beany like regular tofu. Just chewy squares of golden brown, pressed tofu, beautifully seasoned with sesame and peanut oil and prebaked. We dare you not to like it.

12. Carmen Miranda smoothies. (30 mg isoflavones) Blend 1 cup of soy milk, assorted frozen fruits, and flavorings for thick, frosty treats like Mango Berry or Piña Colada.

13. Ice cream shakes. (52 to 57 mg isoflavones) Blend soy protein shake mix with milk (per package directions), then blend in a scoop of nonfat ice cream for a luscious shake that only seems sinful. Not all soy protein shakes have isoflavones; look for isoflavones on the label or call the manufacturer. We used Take Care High Soy Protein Health Shakes (available in chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla; order from Nutritious Foods by calling 800-445-3350) and GeniSoy Protein Powder Shakes (available in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry-banana or natural; call 888-436-4769 or visit GeniSoy.com for more information or to place an order).

14. Breakfast cereal booster. (60 mg isoflavones per 1/4 cup) Add 1/4 cup Nutlettes, the only ready-to-eat soy breakfast cereal, to your favorite cereal. Nutlettes resemble Grape-Nuts in appearance. Taste? Very mild and slightly nutty. (Order from Dixie USA at 800-233-3668.)

15. Creamy, dreamy oatmeal. (30 mg isoflavones) Use 1 cup of soy milk, plain or vanilla, to make a serving of quick-cooking oatmeal. It’s richer this way — and sweeter if you use vanilla soy milk.

16. Go nuts. (30 mg isoflavones) Add pizzazz to salads, steamed veggies, stir-fries, or frozen yogurt by topping them with 3 tablespoons of salted, roasted soy nuts — they look like small peanuts. (Soy nuts are delicious as a snack — but watch portion size. In 3 tablespoons there are 145 calories and 7 g fat — and it’s easy to eat lots!)

Note: The levels of isoflavones in most of these foods are averages because amounts vary from brand to brand and batch to batch.

The breast cancer debate. You may have read about concerns that the weak estrogens in soy might actually stimulate breast cancer rather than fight it.

What’s the truth? Seven experts in breast cancer and soy that I contacted think this is highly unlikely — though it is still being investigated. They point to many studies — in Asia, Australia, and the US — that link diets high in soy with lower rates of breast cancer. None has ever linked a high soy diet with more breast cancer.

As a sensible course, however, some experts advise women to stick with no more than one serving of soy a day – until we learn more.

Eight Reasons to Eat Soy

“There almost isn’t a disease soy can’t help with in some way,” says John Glaspy, MD, of UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, where he’s leading a study of soy to help fight breast cancer. Here’s a partial list of research suggesting how soy can help. Though scientists are excited, they stress that many of soy’s benefits are still tentative.

1. Fights heart disease. Soy has been proven to reduce high cholesterol levels-often around 9%-in many studies.

2. Wards off osteoporosis. In preliminary clinical studies, soy increased or maintained bone density in postmenopausal women.

3. Tames menopausal symptoms. Soy modestly reduced hot flashes in number or severity in some (but not all) recent studies. (In Asia, where soy is eaten daily, women experience much less trouble with hot flashes.)

4. May fight breast cancer. In Los Angeles and Detroit, women with breast cancer are being studied to see if special diets including soy can make a difference. (Rates of breast cancer are far lower in Asia.)

5. May fight prostate cancer. At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, men with prostate cancer will soon begin a study to see if a special diet that includes soy can slow the progression of their illness. (Prostate cancer rates are far lower in Asia.)

6. May protect against colon cancer. In a study of almost 1,000 Californians, people who ate soybeans in some form at least once a week had half the risk of developing polyps that are precursors to colon cancer.

7. May protect against endometrial cancer. A Hawaiian study found that women who regularly eat the most soy — such as tofu, soy milk, and roasted soy nuts — have less than half the risk of endometrial cancer.

8. May prevent stroke. In postmenopausal monkeys, soy worked as well as Premarin hormone replacement therapy to keep carotid arteries (to the brain) free of cholesterol. This still needs confirming in humans.

Note: Although many studies use soy with 80 mg isoflavones or more, most experts still advise staying near the 30 to 50 mg per day range, which is the average Asian intake, until we know more.

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