Phytoestrogens are a hot topic these days. And why not? Reports suggest that plant-based estrogens—especially those found in soy protein—may ease the symptoms of menopause without increasing the risk of cancer. Mimicking the action of hormonal estrogen, these compounds are able to bind to estrogen receptor sites so that the body can continue its hormone-dependent functions. Because phytoestrogens are weaker than their hormonal counterparts, they may be a safer alternative to hormonal replacement therapy.
Moreover, surveys have noted that in countries where soy is a regular part of the diet, cancer rates are much lower than in the U.S. Soy may also help protect the heart and guard against osteoporosis. Scientists suspect that the active ingredients in soy protein are antioxidants called isoflavones.
How much soy do you need? For an overall antioxidant effect, experts recommend one serving of soy protein per day (the equivalent of a glass of soy milk). To reduce the risk of heart disease or osteoporosis, eat two to three servings daily.
A helpful tip: Isoflavones are only present in soy protein, meaning that some items, like soy sauce, don't count. Look for soy items with high protein content and the ingredients "isolated soy protein" or "textured soy protein" on the label.