Soy & Breast Cancer – the short story

Written by: Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN

Does soy causes breast cancer or is it protective for breast cancer as well as other cancers – which is it and how do we know?

Some say eating soy causes breast cancer and others say eating soy is protective for breast cancer as well as other cancers – so which one is it?

🔥 Soy has been under fire for as long as I can remember. In fact, 15 years ago, my final project for my “Nutrition and Chronic Disease” class focused on the link between soy and breast cancer.

My mom had just passed away from breast cancer and I was determined to find out why. If her disease wasn’t genetic, could it have been her diet?

🐁 The main criticism of soy has been that it contains isoflavones. And the theory is that these compounds can act like estrogen and therefore increase risk of estrogen-dependent breast cancer. Evidence of this has been seen in lab animals given very high doses.

But interestingly, human studies have shown soy to be protective against breast cancer, and other cancers for that matter, especially when consumption begins at a young age.

🙅‍♀️ You may also hear that processed soy is “very bad for you” but that whole soy won’t hurt you. To me, this is misleading. I’d reframe it by saying the more processed any food is, the less health benefits it has to offer.

The bottom line is that soy can be a healthful part of any regular diet (as long as you don’t have a soy allergy!).

Personally, I eat a wide variety of foods, some of which contain soy, such as tofu, edamame, and soy sauce. In fact, Ann has a delicious recipe for a Crispy Spiced Tofu Broccoli Bowl that has become my new favorite lunch.

And I probably eat some processed soy from packaged foods, but I don’t scrutinize every label.

👩‍⚕️ I have a family history of breast cancer and am fortunate enough to have been followed very closely by an early intervention team for the past 20 years. As a part of this process, I’ve had extensive genetic testing.

Significantly, not one person I have worked with has told me to avoid soy. In fact, I have been told over and over that we just don’t know enough to know why some people get breast cancer and others don’t.

This is consistent with the research I’ve done personally and professionally as well. There is no evidence that any one food causes or cures breast cancer.

And though nutrition is a hot area of interest right now, and a lot of claims get made about how food impacts us, remember that individuals have their own unique nutrition needs. What feels right for one person may not work for another. It’s best to speak with a physician and/or dietitian before cutting out any foods or food groups in the name of health.

❤️ As always, if you have any questions or comments about this post, please feel free to share below!

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