When thinking about soybean uses, what comes to mind? They’re in everything from socks to lotion to ink, but now research is showing that eating the versatile beans may help prevent certain types of cancer as well.

In an article by Mark Messina and Virginia Messina, authors of “The Simple Soybean and Your Health,” people who live in countries that consume soy foods on a regular basis are said to develop certain cancers less often. According to the article, women in the United States are four times more likely to die of breast cancer than women in Japan, where soy is a large part of the diet.

Liz Gunderson, who works with Food Communications Services as a food consultant, said that “research continues to be done” on the health benefits of soy foods.

According to www.mnsoybean.org, eating at least one serving of soy foods each day might protect against lung, colon, rectal, stomach, prostate and breast cancer. A serving is equal to a half-cup cooked soybeans or one cup soymilk.

“There are theories out there that certain phytochemicals in soy may mimic estrogen, which could prevent cancer, particularly hormone-dependent kinds,” Gunderson said.

“Recently what has been crystallizing is the connection between soy and breast cancer prevention,” she said. “With studies in the U.S., sometimes it’s proven to be effective, sometimes not. Some people say that eating soy as an adolescent, while breast tissue is growing, may be beneficial in preventing cancer later on. But if you eat it at age 40, it might do nothing.”

Even if soy foods don’t give cancer-preventing benefits, there are still many reasons to include them in a healthy diet.

“Whole soy foods have all three of the macronutrients: protein, complex carbs and good fats,” Gunderson said. The soybean is also a good source of fiber, potassium, folic acid and other essential vitamins and minerals.

The Food and Drug Administration states: “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

“When you have very high cholesterol levels, consuming soy will help lower your cholesterol,” Gunderson said.

Soy is good for diabetics as well. “Soybeans are very low in the glycemic index scale, which means they give you a slow, steady release of energy,” Gunderson said. “This is good for anyone, but is especially beneficial for people with diabetes.”

Although it hasn’t been officially proven, it’s possible that soy could reduce menopausal symptoms. Some women have told Gunderson that their hot flashes disappeared after they incorporated whole soy foods into their diets. A phytochemical in soy that is similar in structure to estrogen may also help promote healthy bones, Gunderson said.

With many different ways to enjoy soy foods, such as soy flour, soy nuts, tofu, soymilk, soy shakes and soy pasta, there’s something for everyone, Gunderson said.

“There’s so much you can do with it,” she said. When making bread or other baked goods with soy flour, Gunderson said to use up to 25 percent soy flour with yeast leavening, and up to 1/3 soy flour with recipes calling for baking powder or baking soda.

Soy flour not only adds protein and other nutrients, it also keeps bread fresher longer, Gunderson said. “It’s more of a whole product, so it helps bread retain moisture better.”

“Soy is something fun that can be included in a healthy diet,” Gunderson said. “But it’s not like a magic pill that will solve all your problems.”