Soy (Soybean, Soya, which botanical name is Glycine max) belongs to the oldest popular food products known to humans. This erect annual plant is from the Fabaceae (legume) family. It is widely cultivated these days all over the world, and various cultivars differ slightly in the looks. Thus, soy can be only 8 inches high, or it can grow as tall as 5 feet.
This herb’s whole body is covered with tiny soft hairs. The plant has large trifoliate leaves and small flowers springing in the clusters of 3 to 5 right from the axils of the leaves, close to the stems. The self-fertile blossoms can be white to purple in color. Soy fruit is a pod 1-3 inches long, containing about 4 brown, yellow, or black seeds. The latter, when mature, are covered with hard, water-resistant hull.
Soya is a subtropical plant, native to Asia – namely to China, where it has been used as health-promoting food and a component of drugs for at least 5 thousand years.
This plant prefers regions with hot summers and pretty much moisture. It can grow on a variety of soils, but alluvial ones with much organic content are the best for it.
Soy seeds are used in cuisine and in the herbal medicine.
Soy is such a multi-faced plant: it can be found in hundreds of products; it is available in tablets, capsules, and seed extracts ready to consume for medicinal purposes; it can also be purchased in the natural form - as beans.
It looks like soy is a mystery box for us for the time being. All the hustle-and-bustle with the plant’s health benefits so much talked of in the 20th century is now deeply doubted by many scholars. It seems soy chemical composition is a combination of good and evil: its seeds contain beneficial phytonutrients (proteins, vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids) and harmful antinutrients (protease inhibitors, phytic acid, etc.) capable of interfering with the absorption of key elements (calcium, zinc, iron, copper, magnesium) by the human body.
Moreover, some of these components (phytoestrogens, lecithin) were supposed to bring only benefits to the health of the humans, until recently they have been discovered to have dangerous effects on the consumers as well.
Soy plant estrogens (isoflavones), the most beneficial of which are suggested to be diadzein and geninstein, may work in the human body mimicking the action of the natural hormone estrogen without decreasing the effects of the latter. On the contrary, they may replenish the lowered levels of natural estrogen in a variety of conditions. They are also thought to have heart-protecting effects and the ability to lower blood glucose levels. Plant estrogens are also claimed by some to protect against Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, cancer, and psoriasis.
Nonetheless, recent studies report of the harmful isoflavones effect on the endocrine system, which may result in breast cancer and infertility in women, hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer. Soy consumption and supplementation in men and male infants raise concerns about the possibility of the harmful effect of the increased levels of estrogen in these populations.
Soy protein isolate and lecithins are considered by some scientists harmful because they may inhibit the absorption of protein by the body along with the previously mentioned iron, magnesium, etc. At the same time, the results of some trials on Soy reported about lecithin ability to aid in the formation of healthy cell membranes, metabolism of fats, and protection against free radicals damage and toxins effects.
Finally, it had been previously thought that Soy can be an absolute and ideal substitute of animal protein for vegetarians and vegans. These days it is suggested that Soy proteins are rather incomplete as the plant lacks a number of vitally important amino acids (cystine and methionine). Moreover, Soy products were discovered to increase body’s need for vitamins A and D.
The main health benefits ever known and traced to Soy action in the human body include:
- the reduction in menopausal and postmenopausal problems,
- lowering bad cholesterol,
- lowering blood glucose levels,
- preventing some types of cancer,
- liver protection against cirrhosis and cancer, and due to alcoholism,
- postponing Alzheimer’s disease,
- reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis.
It is finally worthy to note that these days only the fermented Soy products are said to be relatively safe to consume, as fermentation is believed to destroy plant’s antinutrients. However, when Soy is processed multiple toxins are either formed or added to it during the process, increasing the risks of various illnesses, including cancer and nervous system conditions. To sum it up, it looks like the controversy of Soy benefits and health concerns have just been raised and in the nearest future may reach their climax, but the resolving of the problems is a long way off.
Soy plant has a long history of use: first as an industrial crop and then as food. These days it is one of the most popular ...
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