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Tofu, soymilk, miso, tempeh, edamame—these and other soy products, including the soybeans themselves, are high in nutrients you tend to associate with other legumes, including fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, protein, and zinc.

Soybeans naturally contain a class of phytoestrogens called isoflavones. People hear the word “estrogen” in the word “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. For example, high levels of estrogen can be good for the bones but can increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer. Ideally, you’d like what’s called a “selective estrogen receptor modulator” in your body that would have proestrogenic effects in some tissues and antiestrogenic effects in others. Well, that’s what soy phytoestrogens appear to be. Soy seems to lower breast cancer risk, an antiestrogenic effect, but can also help reduce menopausal hot-flash symptoms, a proestrogenic effect. So, you may be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Soy consumption has also been shown to benefit our kidneys, which appear to handle plant protein very differently from animal protein. Within hours of eating meat, our kidneys rev up into hyperfiltration mode. But, an equivalent amount of plant protein causes virtually no noticeable stress on the kidneys. Eat some tuna, and within three hours, your kidney filtration rate can shoot up 36 percent. But eating the same amount of protein in the form of tofu doesn’t appear to place any additional strain on the kidneys.

I recommend eating 1.5 cups of beans, including soy, per day. If you eat tofu, choose varieties made with calcium (you’ll see it in the ingredients list), which can weigh in at a whopping 550 mg of calcium per (3 oz) slice.

 

Image Credit: Amarita / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.

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