The Joy of Soy

According to the latest research, people with diabetes should include soybeans and foods containing soy in their meal plans. Because soy foods are high in fiber and have a low glycemic index, they offer many health benefits for people with diabetes, such as lowering blood-glucose levels after meals and helping to control weight.

Soy foods may prevent or slow the progression of diabetes-related kidney disease because of their vegetable, rather than animal, protein content. In addition, soy foods are good for the heart—they have been shown to decrease total cholesterol and LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels. In a study published in the August 3, 1995, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, J.W. Anderson, MD, and colleagues found that those who consumed 47 grams of soy protein daily significantly decreased both their total and LDL cholesterol levels. Soy foods also help protect against the development of coronary artery disease, which is associated with diabetes.

What Are Soybeans?

Soybeans are nutrient-rich legumes containing complex carbohydrates, fiber, phytoestrogens (natural substances in plants, some of which are antioxidants), vegetable protein and minerals.

Isoflavones—particular types of phytoestrogen that are neither vitamins nor minerals—are responsible for the antioxidant properties of soy foods. Isoflavones can also be found in chickpeas and other legumes, but soy foods contain the most concentrated amount.

It is the complex carbohydrate and dietary fiber content of soybeans that contributes to their low glycemic index. What distinguishes soybeans from other dry beans is that they are complete, with all essential amino acids. Soy protein is now recognized as a “complete” protein, equivalent in quality to animal protein sources such as milk and egg whites.

Other Joys of Soy

There is evidence that increasing the amount of vegetable protein and decreasing the amount of animal protein in your meal plan may protect against osteoporosis. One such study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and published in the January 2001 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers found that post-menopausal women who ate a large ratio of animal to vegetable protein had a higher rate of bone loss and a greater risk of hip fractures compared to those who ate a small ratio of animal to vegetable protein. Soybeans are also low in sodium and are excellent sources of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and iron—minerals that are important in reducing the risk of osteoporosis and high blood pressure.

Studies also indicate that soy foods protect against breast, uterine, prostate and colon cancer. China, Japan and other Asian countries where people eat large amounts of soy foods have a lower prevalence of these cancers.

An additional benefit for women is that the estrogen-like activity of the isoflavones may ease hot flashes, mood changes and other symptoms associated with menopause.

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