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NMU 90 – Soy Protein – A Complete Protein with Many Health Benefits

Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update No 90 (May 17, 2018)

with Dr. James Meschino


Topic: Soy Protein – A Complete Protein with Many Health Benefits

Source: Sports and Exercise Nutrition (Textbook fourth edition – 2013)


In North America and much of the developed world people now consume two-thirds of their protein from animal foods, whereas 90 -100 years ago protein consumption was equally divided between animal and plant-based foods. Although protein derived from animal foods provides more optimal concentrations and proportions of the essential amino acids the body requires to synthesize its key protein (muscle, immune factors, enzymes etc.), many animal products are also high in saturated fat, which raises cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Higher animal fat consumption is also linked to increased risk of reproductive organ cancers in men and women, as well as colon cancer. Animal foods also lack protective phytonutrients that help defend us against cancer development, free radicals, and environmental toxins. Most people know that by combining certain plant foods we can provide all the essential amino acids the body requires to make its key proteins. For instance, grains lack the amino acid lysine, and legumes (beans and peas) lack the amino acid methionine. But combining grains and legumes (like tortillas and beans, or pasta and beans) provides all the essential amino acids required to make all the key bodily proteins.

However, the one plant-based food that contains all the amino acids required for the body to make all is key proteins is soy protein (soy products derived from the soybean like tofu, miso, tempeh, soy protein powders, and soybeans themselves). Not only is soy protein a good source of all essential amino acids for protein synthesis in the body, but controlled clinical trials generally conclude that substituting soy protein for animal protein (steaks, ribs, pork chops, hamburgers, ground beef and pork, lamb, cheese, etc.) decreases blood pressure, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and artery-clogging oxidized LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).

Soy protein has also been shown to raise the good cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) that removes cholesterol from the artery wall and carries it back to the liver to be metabolized. It also lowers blood homocysteine levels – which is another dangerous compound the contributes to heart attack and stroke.

In addition, higher consumption of soy foods is linked to prevention of prostate and breast cancer, as well as preventing the recurrence of breast cancer. The isoflavones genistein and daidzein, as well as protease inhibitors, appear the important anti-cancer agents in soybeans and soy products.

So, cutting back on high-fat animal foods (with the exception of omega-3-containing fish) is a health strategy I would implore to follow, as well as eliminating deep fried foods, breaded and battered foods, creamy salad dressings and the like. Using skinless chicken breast and turkey breast, and Cornish hen, as well as egg whites, non-fat or 1% milk or yogurt products, are all great strategies to cut back on saturated fat. But I would encourage you to consider soy foods in your diet if have not done this already. Tofu can be added to a stir-fry or a Teriyaki dish in place of other meats or poultry. Soy-based veggie burgers or dogs are another good alternatives to high-fat meat products. The use of a soy protein shake is also a consideration to bump up your protein intake if necessary. The inclusion of soybeans or edamame at meals is another way to get the benefits of soy, as are miso soup and the use of tempeh. Textured vegetable protein can also be used as a substitute for ground beef, chicken or turkey in meat sauces, lasagnas, cabbage rolls etc.

So, one of the simple ways to help keep your cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease in the ideal range is to substitute soy products for animal products – a strategy that has shown consistent results in many clinical trials. I’ve included the reference for this information in the text below.

Sports and Exercise Nutrition (fourth edition – 2013) McKardle W.D., Katch F.I., Katch V.L. Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. P38-40.

Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great

Dr. Meschino

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