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Soy Lover Reels from Recent Health News

ED GORDON, host:

We've all heard stories about the health benefits of soy, soy milk, soy beans, soy patties and so on, but a new study questioning the health benefits of soy has commentator John McCann rethinking his veggie burger diet.

JOHN MCCANN reporting:

Now I hope this doesn't get my ghetto pass revoked, but I have a confession to make: I'm a brother and I don't eat fried chicken and I'd rather have my collard greens without that side meat. A little olive oil would do just fine, and I drink soy milk too, which means right now, I'm feeling like a lot of people who made New Year's resolutions to quit smoking, the ones who vowed at the beginning of January that their current stash of Newports would be their last.

Likewise, I found myself faced with the decision of swearing off veggie burgers. New information released by the American Heart Association Committee claims soy-based food may not be all that in terms of significantly lowering cholesterol, which I can actually stomach, because I don't eat soy stuff because the doctor said my arteries are clogged. I like the benefits of soy, the fact that I can get the flavor of meat without all the grease.

But my quest to make sense of the report from the Heart Association has left me with a really bad case of information overload. For answers, I turned to a hormone doctor who looks at how dietary and environmental chemicals affect humans. Regarding the health benefits of soy, the doctor said the jury is still out. One woman, for example, will tell you that is does wonders to modify her hormones and reduce hot flashes, but another lady will tell you all soy milk ever gave her was gas.

Unconvinced, I needed my own findings so I did research on my wife who's been an extraordinarily good mood lately, something I was chalking up to her hormones finally getting on an even keel. You've been in my soy milk? I asked. I drink regular milk, said Pam, still being sweet. Meaning the folks from the Heart Association must be right.

I clicked around on the Internet and found that soy can shrink my brain, but it also fights high blood pressure although it could cause my daughter to enter puberty early and make my nephew mentally retarded. Yet, at the same time, the stuff can prevent osteoporosis and breast cancer in my wife. Back and forth the dueling research goes on the mighty and versatile soy bean that food scientists have morphed into fake pastrami, ground beef and Italian sausage. As high as fuel prices are, I'm about tempted to pour some soy milk in my gas tank and see what happens, which is pretty scary, considering the possibilities of modern science.

So, the question is whether tofu will be my ultimate demise. The doc told me no, because I'm a grown man. The studies purporting the toxicity and dangerous side effects of soy-based products stem from research done on newborn mice that respond differently from adult human beings. However, there is room for concern about the effects of soy products on unborn babies and infants.

Okay, bottom line: Am I better off eating Whoppers and Big Macs or having a veggie burger? At which the doctor dispensed the wisdom that predates the Food and Drug Administration: he told me a little bit of anything ain't never killed nobody. Moderation, moderation, moderation.

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GORDON: John McCann is a columnist for "The Herald Sun" in Durham, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John McCann