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Tempeh, tofu, soymilk, miso, edamame, and other soy products, including the soybeans themselves, are high in nutrients typically associated with other legumes, including fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, protein, and zinc.

Soybeans naturally contain a class of phytoestrogens called isoflavones. People hear “estrogen” in “phytoestrogens” and assume that means soy has estrogen-like effects. Not necessarily. Estrogen has positive effects in some tissues and potentially negative effects in others. Soy, it seems, lowers breast cancer risk, an antiestrogenic effect, but can also help reduce menopausal hot-flash symptoms, a proestrogenic effect. So, by eating soy, you may enjoy the best of both worlds.

Soy for breast cancer? Researchers found that women with breast cancer whose tumors were responsive to estrogen (estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer) and those whose tumors were not (estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer) and who ate the most soy lived significantly longer and had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer recurrence than those who ate less. In one study, 90 percent of the breast cancer patients who ate the most soy phytoestrogens after diagnosis were still alive five years later, while half who had eaten little to no soy had died.

Soy consumption has also been shown to benefit our kidneys, which appear to handle plant and animal proteins very differently. Within three hours of eating tuna, for example, kidney filtration rate can shoot up 36 percent as our kidneys rev up into hyperfiltration mode, yet eating the same amount of protein in the form of tofu doesn’t appear to place any additional strain on the kidneys.

As healthy as tofu is, even better is tempeh, a whole soy food. If you look closely at tempeh, you can actually see all the little soybeans. My Daily Dozen recommends three daily servings of beans, with a serving defined as a half cup of cooked tempeh, for example.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons. This image has been modified.

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