Vegetable minced meat: what are the risks of consuming textured soy?

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Paula, a reader and member of, asks us the following question: "I don't know if this subject has already appeared in an article, but now that I have started to use textured soy often in my dishes as alternative to minced meat, some friends have told me it's harmful because it blocks estrogen or something, causing breast cancer and thyroid disorders. What's true about that?"

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What is textured soybean?

Since the subject is tricky due to the seriousness of the assumptions, first of all the most sensible thing to do is to explain what textured soybean is, a soy protein preparation that many vegans use as a substitute for ground meat of animal origin. Textured soy is obtained from the remains of soybeans after pressing them to obtain soybean oil.

The remaining paste, defatted, is rich in protein at a rate of 20 to 30%, as well as other typical components of soy milk (here we explain how to make soy milk at home): hydrates, phytates, isoflavins, calcium, iron, etc. In particular, this pasta stands out for its high content of high-quality protein (What is high-quality protein), which is essential in the diet of vegans by providing essential amino acids that are otherwise only obtained from animal products.

The pasta should be heat-treated (preferably steam) before being consumed, while it will be crushed to achieve a grainy texture similar to that of meat in the Bolognese sauce. Then it will be dehydrated to improve its storage and conservation. Therefore, before being consumed, the textured soybean must be hydrated again.

Breast cancer risks?

Textured soy, like all soy derivatives, is rich in isoflavins, a powerful antioxidant that is similar in structure to certain female sex hormones called estrogens. Hence, its consumption has caused some misgivings. The reason is that imbalances in estrogen, as well as high doses of estrogen in the blood, can stimulate the growth of cancerous breast cells, once cancer has developed (to learn more about Estrogen Therapy and its risks in menopause)

Vegetable minced meat: what are the risks consuming textured soy?

This increases the risk that the tumor, in addition to accelerating, will become metastatic and spread to other organs. Thus, there has been a fear that soy isoflavins have the same effect on certain tumors, the fear that soy isoflavins have the same effect on certain tumors capable of being stimulated, the so-called "hormone receptor-positive tumors" . However, a broad-spectrum study from Texas Tufts University, presented in 2017 and carried out over nine years on 6,275 Canadian and American women, showed that far from accelerating them, soy reduces the risk of cancer or at best has a neutral effect.

Fang Zhang, director of the study, said in an interview in the journal Cancer that "isoflavones, that is, components of soy with estrogen-like properties, have been shown to slow down the growth of breast cancer cells. in the laboratory. In addition, epidemiological studies carried out with women with breast cancer in East Asian countries have shown an association between higher soy intake and lower mortality."

Even so, an additional concern comes from the fact that some therapies against breast cancer involve the consumption of additional estrogens, with which the addition of isoflavins could create a state of high blood levels of these hormones, or at the same time less give this false signal, given the presence of isoflavins acting as endocrine disruptors.

However, the study did not reveal any harmful effects in women with hormone-receptor-positive tumors, while those whose tumors are not stimulated by hormones (triple negative), reduced their risk of mortality by 21% when ingesting daily soy in its different derivatives.

Dr. Fang Zhang specified, "Based on our results, we have not seen a detrimental effect of soy consumption among women receiving endocrine therapy. Also, for patients not receiving hormonal therapy for their breast cancer, breast, soy also induces a benefit, albeit weaker."

Real risk in cases of hypothyroidism

Although in the case of breast cancer the studies seem to indicate zero risk and even benefits, Jordi Galisteo and Ester Baena, managers of the Vegan Nutritionists website and office , ensure that it is advisable to limit intake in case of subclinical hypothyroidismsubclinical hypothyroidism, that is, a slight deficiency in thyroid hormone production that is barely detected in the tests, since isoflavins can interfere with thyroid hormones and convert hypothyroidism into clinical, that is to say in disease.

Regarding patients with clinical hypothyroidism, both nutritionists recommend that in case of taking soy they talk to their doctor, since isoflavins could interfere with medications that provide synthetic thyroid hormones, so the effects of soy intake should be the less controlled. In the same way, they recommend making sure that we consume enough iodine daily, since soy can interfere with its uptake by thyroid hormones and lead to induced hypothyroidism.

Finally, the two experts warn: "some products that imitate meat and some foods that contain isolated soy protein are processed with hexane. In the final product, small residues of hexane have been found and, although it is not known for sure, whether or not this may be harmful, it is advisable to avoid all brands that use hexane to process soybeans."

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Vegetable minced meat: what are the risks of consuming textured soy?
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