When I speak on childhood nutrition, a common concern is soy intake and it's relationship to children's hormonal status. Many mothers have been taught (by people paid by the Dairy Council, I believe) that the plant estrogens in soy can mess up a child's development.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. A brand new study just proved this, again.
A study called "Childhood Soy Intake and Breast Cancer Risk in Asian-American Women", published online in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention Journal (vol.18), shows that Asian women who consumed the greatest amount of soy as children (under age 12) had a 60% lower risk of developing breast cancer as adults.
The study also showed a lower risk of breast cancer in women who consumed the most soy in adolescence and adulthood (20-25% less risk).
One of the reasons why I believe we see this enormous benefit of plant estrogens in children is because those who consumed the most soy were likely to enter puberty later. Myriad studies show that the later girls enter puberty, the lower the incidence of breast cancer in adulthood. Because plant estrogens in soy and other plant foods (fruit, veg.s, whole grains and legumes) lower real estrogen levels when they are unnaturally high by blocking the receptor sites on cell membranes, girls consuming more plant estrogens - whether in soy or other plant-based foods - would enter puberty at an optimum time, believed to be around age 17.
If entering puberty at age 17 sound far-fetched to you, know that plenty of young girls eating a vegan or vegetarian diet have this experience. It also used to be common in Western countries up to the turn of the 20th century, when meat was a luxury, due to lack of refrigeration. This age is still common for girls today in developing countries, where a plant-based diet is the norm for families who are not wealthy. In contrast, breast cancer is extremely uncommon.
One more thing: I am not a huge proponent of processed soy foods on a regular basis. You know, where you just exchange a hamburger for a Boca burger. Don't get me wrong, a Boca burger is a million times better than a hamburger, but because it's processed, as opposed to tofu, tempeh, miso, edename, or soy milk, it's lost a lot of nutrients and I put it in the category of "processed foods" as opposed to "plant foods". So make those fake meats only an occasional part of your diet.
And help dispel the myth that soy estrogens are anything but beneficial!
Labels: soy estrogens
While we're on the topic of preventing breast cancer (wouldn't that be SO much better than "fighting" it?), apparently mushrooms and green tea help tremendously.
A study in the International Journal of Cancer (Volume 124 Issue 6, Pages 1404 - 1408) compared over 1000 Chinese women with breast cancer to the same number of women with no history of breast cancer. When the researchers looked at dietary differences, they found that women who consumed mushrooms (fresh or dried) and green tea daily had 81% less risk of breast cancer than those who did not consume mushrooms or greent tea regularly. In particular, women who consumed 10 grams of fresh mushrooms (the equivalent of one small white mushroom) and drank green tea daily had 89% less risk of breast cancer.
I think this study is pretty incredible, considering how few mushrooms are necessary to see such a risk reduction. But it isn't surprising, considering that all plants (whether mushrooms or tea - or kiwi or tomatoes) have powerful compounds known as "phytochemicals" or "phytonutrients". Phyto is latin for "plant", and decades of research have shown us that all plants contain compounds that are beneficial for preventing cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and myriad other chronic illnesses.
In fact, most pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants, using "phytochemicals" that occur in nature. The difference is that in drugs these compounds are isolated and concentrated to a degree that is unnatural. They work, but create unnatural side effects.
So let's get the benefits of plants the old-fashioned way: eating more fruit, veg.s, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, lentils, nuts/seeds). And let's drink green tea to wash them down.
This just in, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April 2009): legumes help prevent breast cancer.
Actually, the study authors said it more like this, "Our results suggest that a diet characterized by a low intake of meat/starches and a high intake of legumes is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer in Asian Americans".
This study, titled "Dietary Patterns and Breast Cancer Risk in Asian-American Women", looked at the diets of over 1200 women with incident breast cancer and compared them with similar women with no history of breast cancer. They made three patterns of diet to describe the diversity of food intake, a "western-meat/starch" diet, an "ethnic-meat/starch" diet, and a "vegetable/soy" diet. Women consuming a high "western-meat/starch" and low "vegetable/soy" were over twice as likely to have breast cancer in study participants.
By the way, there is no doubt in my mind that these findings apply to ALL women, regardless of their genes, since nutrition studies tend to find the same results across race and cultures.
Don't forget Sacramento-ish locals, a very amazing woman will be speaking here soon:
“When Hope Never Dies”
Monday, April 6th
6:30 p.m. Healthy plant-based food tasting
7:00 p.m. Presentation
$10 per person – Call 916-482-8123 for reservations
4120 S. Market Ct., Sacramento CA 95834
Once diagnosed with terminal cancer, Marlene has been cancer-free for 22 years. She follows a macrobiotic diet and in her early 60's, is an inspiration for anyone who's had a run-in with cancer.
One a side note, just wanted to share an interesting study just published in The Journal of Nutrition (March 2009):
Increasing Total Fiber Intake Reduces Risk of Weight and Fat Gains in Women
In the study, 252 women were tracked for 20 months. Researchers found that the women who consumed the most fiber were the least likely to gain weight over the study period (almost 50% of the women gained weight and fat during the 20 months).
In fact, the statistical analysis showed for every 1 gram increase in dietary fiber consumed, weight decreased by .25 kg and body fat decreased by .25 percentage points. This was even true when the study accounted for physical activity and dietary fat intake.
So just in case you haven't read my little book, The UnDiet, which tells you all that - be encouraged that weight loss is much easier than you've been lead to believe. Just get 25-40 grams of fiber in your diet a day. And that's easy when you remember that fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, avocados and popcorn are all high in fiber!
A recent article published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry shows soybeans may help prevent Alzheimer's disease. Natto, a fermented food made from boiled soybeans, contains an enzyme that has been demonstrated in lab experiments to dissolve amyloids - the tangled proteins involved in Alzheimer's disease.
Since natto is consumed throughout Asia, "western" foods likely to contain the same amyloid-busting properties would be miso (as in miso soup), tempeh and tofu.
Hsu et al., "Amyloid-Degrading Ability of Nattokinase from Bacillus Subtilis Natto," Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 57 (2009).
Since this was such a short blogpost and so many of you seem to love the recipes I post from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home cookbook, I thought I'd post a new favorite of mine: Bulghur Burgars. These are so delicious served with lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup and veganaise on whole wheat buns.
3 cups water
2 garlic cloves, minced
1&1/2 cups bulghur
2 TBSP vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/4 cup tahini
2 TBSP tomato paste
2 TBSP soy sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Bring water to a boil. While it is heating, use a heavy pan or skillet to saute the garlic and bulghur in the oil on medium-high heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the boiling water. Return to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat tot low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the bulghur is soft but still chewy.
When the bulghur is ready, stir in all the other foods. With moistened hands, form the bulghur mixture into 6-8 burgers. Cook them in a lightly oiled heavy skillet on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, flipping the burgers once when the outside is crunchy.
For those of you who have heard me speak, you may have heard me share what I plan to say when I'm on the Oprah show(someday). I have it all planned: I'll lean over, look at the audience then at Oprah and say, "Oprah, beans are the new meat".
Actually, make that "legumes". And they really ARE the new meat. In fact, they were the old meat before agricultural subsidies made meat so affordable.
Legumes: beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds are the new meat because they are high in protein and make us full, like meat, but plant protein is infinately more healthy than animal protein. Also, unlike animal protein, legumes are so high in fiber and myriad other nutrients, including beneficial fats like Omega-3 and monounsaturated fats.
Meat is SO 1999.
A scientific journal last month published an article("The low-methionine content of vegan diets may make methionine restriction feasible as a life extension strategy," Medical Hypotheses February 2009) confirming that rats and mice consuming lower amounts of methionine - an amino acid very high in animal protein, and significantly lower in plant protein - live longer. The article called the effect of methionine restriction an "aging retardant" at the cellular level.
Interesting also that excess methionine also converts to homocysteine, a well-known compound involved in all sorts of cancer and chronic disease, as well as premature aging. Homocysteine levels are routinely checked for people with heart disease, although most people are simply told to take a folic acid supplement to lower homocysteine (folic acid is a natural antagonist to homocysteine).
I recently had a woman tell me she had a stroke and when doctors checked her biomarkers (blood pressure, cholesterol, lipids, etc.) everything was normal... except she had high levels of homocysteine.
If we all cut back on (or cut out) animal protein and replaced it with legumes, we would have very low levels of methionine and homocysteine - as well as naturally high levels of folic acid, since legumes are the best source of this nutrient.
So get with the times, and tell your friends: "beans (and other legumes) are the NEW meat."