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Soy and Breast Cancer

You may have heard that soy could protect against breast cancer, but then you see headlines saying that you shouldn’t eat soy if you are at risk of the disease. So what’s the truth? Nowadays, soy is more common in the diet with its usual forms such tofu, edamame, miso and tempeh. Soy is also considered a low-fat source of protein that’s why it’s used as a meat substitutes such as soy milk, cereal, energy bars, baked goods and more.
Should you eat more of these foods or avoid them? For more clarity, get the truth behind these common myths.

Myth 1: All soy foods increase your risk for breast cancer.
• Soy had a bad reputation for years because of its isoflavones, these plant-based chemicals are similar to estrogen in composition. So the fear was that soy could act as estrogen in the body and fuel the growth of cancer cells.
• Recent studies showed that a diet high in soy didn’t increase the chances of developing breast cancer and may even reduce that risk.
• For example, Asian people have lower rates of breast cancer and they eat a lot of soy from a young age.
• As part of a healthy diet, whole soy foods are safe and there’s no need to avoid Tofu and Edamame.

Myth 2: All types of soy have the same effect on the body.
• Natural Soy in Tofu, Miso, and Soy milk may be processed differently in the body than the kind added to processed foods.
• Soy protein used in processed foods such as protein powders, meat substitutes, and supplements is usually stripped of nutrients, such as fiber.
• Soy hot dogs and shakes are much more likely to give a higher dose of soy protein than edamame, because processed foods are a more concentrated form of soy.
• Experts aren’t certain how large amounts of soy affect breast cancer risk, so they recommend sticking to a moderate amount, or about 1-2 servings, of whole soy a day.
• One serving includes ½ cup of cooked edamame, 1 cup of soy milk, 30g of soy nuts, 90g of tofu..

3. Myth: To protect yourself against breast cancer eat soy
• Researchers now believe that soy may actually block estrogen from attaching to breast cancer cells.
• Even if eating a moderate amount of soy is safe, there’s still not enough information to suggest eating more to protect against breast cancer.

4. Myth: Avoid all soy foods to avoid reccurance of breast cancer.
• Even if eating a moderate amount of whole soy doesn’t seem to raise your risk for breast cancer recurrence, still researchers recommend that breast cancer patients avoid soy supplements.
• Recent surveys completed revealed that those who said they ate the most soy were 25% less likely to have their cancer return compared to those who had the least.
• The soy foods that the study included were in its natural form: tofu, soy milk, and fresh soybeans.
• Some experts suspect that soy might interfere with breast cancer medications that lower estrogen levels. However, the same study showed that in patients who also took the drug, soy protected against recurrence of breast cancer.

Christelle Bedrossian
Dietitian-Nutritionist
Beirut, Lebanon

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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian