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Eat soya only in moderation

The Jerusalem Post : Jul. 20, 2005 0:19 | Updated Jul. 20, 2005 4:48

The Health Ministry will issue a director-general's advisory recommending that consumption of soya products be limited in young children and adults and avoided if possible by infants.

After a year's work, a committee of experts said that people who eat soya products should do so in moderation, pending additional studies in the coming years that reach firm conclusions on whether it promotes cancers, harms male fertility or has other harmful or beneficial influences.

The 13-member committee, headed by Prof. Zvi Weizman, included ministry Food and Nutrition Service head Dr. Dorit Nitzan-Kalusky, oncologist Prof. Tamar Peretz, Metabolism expert Prof. Elliot Berry, gynecology Prof. Amnon Brzezinski, pediatrics Prof. David Branski and other specialists, who looked into soya products and health.

Soya contains an estrogen-like hormone (phytoestrogen) that can have some of the effects of human estrogens if consumed in large quantities. The local food industry is a major developer and producer of soya-based food.

Nitzan-Kalusky said that soya is widely used by all ages because it is a cheap protein substitute for meat. The ministry, as it said during the Remedia baby formula scandal a few years ago (in which babies died or suffered permanent neurological damage due to the lack of a B vitamin in soya-based Remedia formula) reiterated that infants should ideally be breastfed, and if not, given baby formula based on cow's milk. Only in special circumstances (such as allergies to cow's milk) should they get mother's milk from a breast-milk bank or be given soya-based formula, which is popular among haredi families who do not want to mix milk-based baby formula with meat meals for supposed kashrut reasons.

The ministry decided not to adopt a regulation allowing babies to get soya formula only upon recommendation of a physician (in effect in some countries such as New Zealand). However, because of potential dangers of significant amounts of soya in the diet, the ministry will disseminate information to the public and health system workers about possible harm from its frequent consumption.

Nitzan-Kaluski said that day care centers, which frequently serve soya products several times daily, should limit it to only one serving a day and no more than three times a week. In addition, babies and toddlers suffering from hypothyroidism and drink soya-based formula or soya foods should have their blood thryroxine levels monitored.

Middle-aged women who suffer from menopausal symptoms and do not get hormone replacement therapy can have a diet with phytoestrogens from soya and flaxseed, even though studies have not consistently shown that they are of benefit.

The ministry said it could not reach practical conclusions regarding soya and cancer, as study results were conflicting. Excessive estrogen is known to be involved in breast cancer, but since the evidence is not clear, women at high risk for breast cancer or who have the disease itself should consult their physican before starting a high-phytoestrogen diet.

Since estrogen is a female hormone, there is evidence that it may reduce male fertility, thus men who eat soya should do so in moderation, the ministry said. Soya and flax seed have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, which is beneficial, but there is no clear proof that isoflavones in these products reduce the risk of heart disease, the ministry said.

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