Soy protein powder is made from soybeans, a member of the pea family. It is used as a protein supplement for bodybuilders, dieters, vegetarians and anyone desiring to cut back on animal protein and fat. The powder can be mixed into healthful drinks used as meal substitutes when dieting and in food and dessert preparation. In their March 2005 report on the Origin, History, and Uses of Soybean, the Iowa State University Department of Agronomy, lists food production, industrial applications and expanding health benefits among the many uses of this versatile plant. The story of soy continues to unfold through research being conducted worldwide.
Soybeans were originally grown in China as a main food product approximately 13,000 years ago. They eventually reached other Asian countries in the 17th century. By the 1900s soybeans arrived in Europe and made their way into the United States. American farmers originally used soybeans as a forage crop for animal feed and as a crop rotation plant to replenish depleted soil nutrients. As the result of scientific research into the health benefits of soybeans they have become a popular food item, with the United States ranking high among worldwide soybean producers.
In their January 17, 2006 science advisory on Soy Protein, Isoflavones, and Cardiovascular Health, the American Heart Association states that soy protein has a more beneficial effect on lowering LDL cholesterol than soy isoflavones, estrogen-like compounds found in the plant. On October 26, 1999, the FDA approved the use of health-claim labeling for soy products stating reduced cardiovascular risks and lowered blood cholesterol benefits with the daily consumption of 25 grams of soy protein. The website The World’s Healthiest Foods reviews some of the studies that have uncovered the abundant health benefits of soy protein for weight loss, lowering cholesterol, cardiovascular protection, increasing bone mass in postmenopausal women, stabilization of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes and a reduction in the risk of breast and prostrate cancers.
The Iowa State University Soybean Extension and Research Program lists more than 100 uses for soy, including industrial, pharmaceutical, agricultural and food products. Among the items included on their list are paint, varnish, linoleum, ink, lubricants, pet foods, disinfectants, antibiotics, cereals, baby food, diet foods, baked goods, ice cream, oil, salad dressings and soaps. Products familiar to dieters, vegetarians and health-food advocates include tofu, tempeh, miso, soymilk, and soy sauce.
The World’s Healthiest Foods website discuses the relationship between soy isoflavones and the hormone estrogen being studied for a possible negative relationship to breast cancer. With only conflicting reports currently available, negative factors related to soy have not been confirmed. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, in their report outlining the benefits and risks of soy, states existing thyroid conditions, a history of breast cancer and pregnancy as areas of concern being investigated for possible adverse effects. Also cited in their report is a reduction in the absorption of certain minerals (calcium, iron, and zinc) that has been linked to the use of soy. Therefore, it is recommended that vitamin and mineral supplementation and soy consumption be spaced by several hours.
The pros far outweigh the cons relating to soy protein and soy products; however, before making any dietary changes, especially in the presence of existing medical conditions, it is advisable to consult a physician.