Once you start eating healthy, you’ll notice that so many things that you have been eating all your life are controversial. Meat can increase your chances of heart disease, milk can cause cancer, sugar can cause wrinkles, the list goes on and on. You decide to go vegan and get all your nutrients from plant-based products, specifically soy. But as you keep researching soy, you wind up in this hole of contradiction: some sources say soy is a better alternative for weight loss, others say it’s linked to breast cancer and weight gain…For crying out loud, WHICH ONE IS IT?!

What is Soy?

Soy is the vegetarian/vegan alternative to protein. It’s one of the best plant-base proteins because it comes with all the essential amino acids, unlike nut butters and most beans. Because of this, soy is marked as a complete protein, paralleling the protein benefits of ordinary meat. You can find soy in tofu, veggie patties, tempeh, and in soy-based baby formulas. The health benefits of  soy, needless to say, are lengthy.

Soy contains these compounds called isoflavones, which is not found in other plants. Research suggests that these isoflavones have the ability to decrease fat in some animals. Specifically, research indicates that a diet high in isoflavone soy can help improve glucose tolerance, an indication of pre-diabetes.

Soy and Obesity

A few studies have supported the idea that soy aides in weight loss. To understand how high-protein diets affect obese patients, participants were divided into two groups, one receiving casein, an animal-based protein found in milk, and the other group soy. After 60 days, participants in both groups had lost weight. In a similar study, one group was given red meats while the other was given soy as the major source of protein. The results concluded that in each group, weight was lost. In fact, the waist-to-hip ration was significantly reduced, indicating that the weight loss had primarily came from the stomach. Not only do these studies support that high-protein diets invoke weight loss, but they also suggest that plant-based proteins are just as effective as animal-based in terms of weight loss in addition to (bad) cholesterol reduction.

So far, isoflavones seem to be the magic ingredient to weight-loss. Unfortunately, they also link soybeans to estrogen and breast cancer.

Soy and Breast Cancer

Estrogen is a hormone that helps create the female sex organs. An overproduction of estrogen can spur tumor-development in the breast.

However, soybeans have been said to inhibit the production of carcinogens with the use of their isoflavones. In fact, a study was designed to analyze the health risks and benefits of the Western diet compared to the Asian diet. Asian American woman, common consumers of soy, switched to eating a meaty, westernized diet, and the studies showed that after the women consumed more meats, their risk of breast cancer increased.

In addition, research has supported that an early intake of soy suppresses the genes that tell cancerous cells to start multiplying and growing.

Soy milk and soy, in general, are a bit complex, as you’ve known. An overwhelming amount of data falls in favor of soy milk’s positive effect on obesity and certain aspects of breast cancer, but as far as using soy milk as a treatment for breast cancer, more work research needs to be done.