Soy, touted by many as a wonder food, seems to be living up to its lofty accolades. In 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that 25 grams of soy protein a day, along with a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). While declaring this health claim was a big step for the government agency, there are many other benefits belonging to soy.

Soy also:

Reduces breast cancer risk. Herman Adlercreutz, a soy expert and physician at Finland's University of Helsinki, says soy products contain anticarcinogenic compounds and, therefore, are effective cancer preventatives. This is especially important for women at risk for breast cancer.

Strengthens bones. A study in 1998 found that bone density increased with soy intake.

Lowers cholesterol. A 1995 analysis of soy showed that it reduced total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The study found that upping soy consumption can lead to as much as a 20-30 percent decrease in risk of heart disease.

Balances emotions. Soy contains thiamin (vitamin B1), known to clear the mind and stabilize mood.

Reduces colon polyp risk. Men who eat one or more servings of soy per week reduce the risk of developing colon polyps by half, according to a study published in 1996.

Provides a nutritious option to milk. Soy offers a healthy alternative to milk—good information for those who are lactose-intolerant, on a vegan diet or who just don't like milk.

Offers relief from menopausal symptoms. Because of its estrogen-like effects, soy consumption can ease hot flashes within two weeks, according to Mayo Health Clinic research.

Cuts cancer. According to a Mayo Health Clinic study, soy may also lessen the overall likelihood of cancer. This may be because soy's naturally occurring isoflavones, specifically genistein, act as antioxidants which are known to quench free radicals.

—Marti Stephens

Source: Soy Smart Health, (Woodland Publishing, 2000).