Feature Archive

How Good Is Soy?

A little does a lot.

WebMD Feature

June 26, 2000 -- Awakening to the sound of a whirring blender and the sharp scent of fresh soybeans on Saturday mornings meant only one thing: a breakfast of Grandma's warm, sweet soy milk. I loved to sit and watch as she squeezed the milk out of ground soybeans wrapped in a cheesecloth.

Countless glasses later, I discovered that soy milk has a lot more to offer than fond childhood memories. Packed in every yellow bean are estrogen-like molecules, called isoflavones, which may help fight heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, and other diseases. Based on just some of the latest findings, the Food and Drug Administration last year gave food makers permission to extol soy's cholesterol-lowering prowess on package labels.

That's great, if you happen to believe soy is a healthy choice for everyone. But with soy showing up in everything from breakfast cereal and pasta to energy bars and smoothies, some researchers now worry that too much of a good thing could be harmful.

"People ought to know that there ain't no free lunch," says Lon White, MD, MPH, senior neuroepidemiologist at the University of Hawaii. "At some point -- if these molecules are as potent as [we think] they are -- there will be potent [adverse] effects."