Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the “soy issue” has come up a few times. Not from doctors (who appear to care little about what you eat – hah!) but from friends. Well-meaning friends who wish to warn me about the “dangers of soy”, particularly for people with hormone-related cancers.
I’m a vegetarian. I eat soy. I love tofu and eat it in some form almost every day. (I go through a tub of Toby’s Tofu Pate a week. I must have put their kids through college by now). I like miso, but it’s so salty it’s more like a condiment than rib-sticking food. I admit I do like “vegan junk food” like tofurkey slices, smart dogs, and the like. I don’t eat this kind of processed stuff every day, but a couple of times a week I’ll indulge. I don’t like tempeh but will eat it very occasionally if it’s well-disguised. I don’t like soymilk, and rarely drink it. The exception is the occasional winter drink of hot soymilk with maple syrup and a dash of salt. Somehow, maple and salt make it divine.
Aaaaanyhow, my point is, I eat a little bit of soy, often. I don’t believe it gave me cancer. And I don’t believe omitting it from my diet will reduce the risk of cancer returning. Quite the contrary.
Japanese women have the lowest rate of breast cancer in the world. A lot has been written about the Japanese diet, and many epidemiological studies have demonstrated a correlation between soy consumption and reduced breast cancer risk there. Now I know that correlation is not cause, but epidemiological studies are all we have when it comes to understanding the long-term relationship between diet and health. You can’t do a double-blind, controlled experiment following several thousand people for 20 years, during which half of them eat real soy and the other half eat placebo soy. It’s just won’t work. So epidemiological studies are what we have, and particularly useful are meta-studies of those studies.
When a Japanese woman has breast cancer, she is more likely than an American woman to survive long term. Her cancer will likely be slower-growing, less aggressive, and hormone receptive. When a Japanese woman gets breast cancer, her tumor is easier to beat.
My tumor was slow-growing, less aggressive, and highly hormone receptive. There’s no way I’ll ever pinpoint the cause or my cancer, but based on what I understand, it might be the case that my 20 years of soy-eating (and general healthful practices) gave the tumor a less favorable terrain to get really nasty. It’s out now, and my task for the rest of my life is to make sure it doesn’t return. It’s a statistics game: I could do everything possible that’s right and good for health, and the cancer might still come back. But if I do everything that’s right and good, at least I’ll know I did everything I could.
So why does soy have such a bad rap among the general public, and also some alternative medical practitioners such as naturopaths?
If you look at the history, it’s apparent that soy’s reputation has slid for political reasons rather than scientific ones.
Here’s a link to a good article about soy and why the bad rap it’s gotten is based on politics rather than science: Is Soy Safe?
More info on soy and health can be read here: Soy improves breast cancer survival
One government that has particularly obvious anti-soy policies is New Zealand. New Zealand’s small economy is based heavily in animal agriculture. Milk there is like corn here: a massive surplus that the food industry mops up by adding milk products to a lot of processed foods, the way corn products are added to many foods here. (New Zealand is a hard place to be if you’re lactose intolerant!).
New Zelanders internalize anti-soy propaganda to the point where, e.g. my brother in law won’t eat tofu because it will “give him titties”. (Ironically, NZ has one of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease, due to high meat and dairy consumption).
Here in the US the economy is so huge and based on so many variables that pressure comes less from the federal government and more from particular industries. The effect is the same: spread of misinformation and fear-mongering.
So, say yes to soy! Food of the gods, in my opinion.