Many people use soybean oil in their everyday lives, but are there some health concerns that we’re overlooking?

The answer to the question, “Is soybean oil bad for you?” is not just a simple “yes” or “no.” So, it comes as no surprise that consumers may be confused. Researchers and nutrition experts believe that the nutritional value of soybean oil depends on the type of soybean oil you use. So whether it’s genetically modified or organic makes a difference.

Despite the conflicting information, on a global level, the consumption of soybean oil continues to increase faster than any other healthier oils available on the market. The number one reason for its widespread use is the fact that it is cheap to produce. A low production cost proves consumers with a less expensive cooking oil option to buy. It can be used in different ways such as an addition to soups or as a meat substitute.

Soy foods like tofu are packed full of rich nutrients. Additionally, it contains all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce by itself. This means that soy is a complete protein and is ideal for vegans and vegetarians.

The Greatest Benefit Of Soybean

Amanda Webster, a holistic nutritionist, and passionate vegan says that the greatest benefit that soybean offers is “its contribution to heart health.” Soybean consists mostly of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and help reduce inflammation. Soybean also boosts immunity and is paramount to optimal mental health.

Studies have found that soybean oil lowers the risk of prostate cancer. Researchers discovered that the consumption of soy foods had no adverse effects on testosterone levels. Additionally, the isoflavones in soybean may also help with hormonal balance in women experiencing menopause symptoms such as hot flashes.

Experts encourage the use of soy products for cholesterol and heart health, as well as maintaining normal brain functions. Dr. Maria Vila, DO, medical advisor for eMediHealth notes that using soybean products can “improve cholesterol levels by lowering the absorption of cholesterol in your intestines … Isoflavones may be of benefit for bones, skin and even cognitive decline … [though] more studies are needed to verify this.”

Because soy products copy the behavior of estrogens, Dr Vila believes it makes sense that soy products would be beneficial for people with low estrogen levels. She based her opinion on “other studies showing hormone replacement in post-menopausal women is beneficial for brain health and cognitive decline.”

Side Effects Of Soybean Oil

When asked what negative side effects soybean has on the body, Ms. Webster admitted that “The goitrogens found in soybean oil may negatively impact the thyroid by blocking iodine absorption…The most concerning  is the decrease in oxytocin, a chemical that is necessary for stress regulation.” She further explains that, “Decreased levels of oxytocin can present as depression or other neurological disorders.”  Dr. Vila admits that another issue that gives soy products a bad reputation is the fact that:

A lot of soy products are genetically modified organism (GMO) soy and we still do not fully understand the negative health consequences of using GMO soy…What we do know is that GMO soy is treated with pesticides such as glyphosate, the active compound in RoundUp, which is known to cause cancer. 

Additionally, soybean oil is “high in phytic acid, which binds to minerals in our food, such as calcium, magnesium and iron, and prevents their absorption. This can have a negative impact on our health and lead to mineral deficiencies.” A recent study using male mice fed on a diet containing soybean oil revealed that dietary oil can negatively impact neurological conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety ,and depression. This is due to dysregulation of the hypothalamic genes. 

Correlation Vs. Causation

It’s important to note there is no proof that soybean oil actually causes these diseases. Additionally, the research team discovered that there are roughly a hundred genes that can be affected by a soybean diet. In a press release to Science Daily one of the leading authors of the study, and a UCR associate professor of neuroscience, Margarita Curras-Collazo,  states that, “The hypothalamus regulates body weight via your metabolism, maintains body temperature, [and] is critical for reproduction and physical growth as well as your response to stress.”

The research team discovered profound negative effects on the hypothalamus and its ability to maintain a number of critical processes. In Webster’s opinion, while the study’s findings are concerning, “it is a reminder that one food or food group cannot dominate our diet. Like all else, soy and soybean oil must be consumed in moderation.”

Despite all the studies, researchers can’t agree whether it is beneficial or detrimental to the health. This also means they can’t determine it’s effects on the well-being of people who consume it. The main reason for conflicting conclusions may be partly due to the wide variation in how soy is studied and the amount of soybean oil administered to the test subjects.

However, what does seem clear is that we need to separate the effects of soy from the effects of pesticides used to grow soy. Margo Benge, from Miracles, states that, “Regardless of the health benefits or detriments of soybeans, the addition of pesticides on them would [have] a major effect.

How To Move Forward

As you can see, it is hard to pinpoint whether soybean oil is beneficial or harmful. It appears to be both. More studies with human subjects need to be conducted because animals metabolize soy differently to humans. Other factors also influence the outcomes of the research. They include ethnicity, hormone levels, and as previously mentioned, the type of soy used.

In a news release announcing the study’s finding, Frances Sladek, a UC Riverside professor of cell biology and toxicologist echoes Webster’s statement: “Do not throw out your tofu, soy milk, edamame or soy sauce … Many soy products only contain small amounts of oil and large amounts of healthful compounds such as essential fatty acids and proteins.” 

Kat is a freelance writer.

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