Soyfoods have long been prized among vegetarians for both their high protein content and versatility. Soybeans differ markedly in macronutrient content from other legumes, being much higher in fat and protein, and lower in carbohydrate. In recent years however, soyfoods and specific soybean constituents, especially isoflavones, have been the subject of an impressive amount of research. Nearly 2,000 soy-related papers are published annually. This research has focused primarily on the benefits that soyfoods may provide independent of their nutrient content. There is particular interest in the role that soyfoods have in reducing risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and certain forms of cancer. However, the estrogen-like effects of isoflavones observed in animal studies have also raised concerns about potential harmful effects of soyfood consumption. This review addresses questions related to soy and chronic disease risk, provides recommendations for optimal intakes, and discusses potential contraindications. As reviewed, the evidence indicates that, with the exception of those individuals allergic to soy protein, soyfoods can play a beneficial role in the diets of vegetarians. Concerns about adverse effects are not supported by the clinical or epidemiologic literature. Based on the soy intake associated with health benefits in the epidemiologic studies and the benefits noted in clinical trials, optimal adult soy intake would appear to be between two and four servings per day.
Keywords: breast cancer; cancer; coronary heart disease; feminization; intake; isoflavones; osteoporosis; safety; soya; vegetarian.