You probably have heard of the many health benefits of soy over the past few years. Or maybe you have now heard that soy is bad? What is going on? Is it good or bad? What is a consumer to do?
Soybean products have been used by Asian cultures for thousands of years as food and medicine.
Most people in countries that have used soybeans extensively typically eat them only when fermented in food such as miso, tempeh, tofu, shoyu or tamari. These are popular also in the United States for vegetarians/vegans and in Macrobiotic diets as a good source of plant protein. Natto (made from fermented soybeans) is used in Asian cultures for circulation issues and is sold in health food stores in the United States for the same reason. It is a fairly well-known fact that women in Japan who eat a less-processed diet and more soy-based food generally experience fewer menopausal symptoms and less breast cancer than women in the United States. In addition, soy is also high in choline an amino acid that helps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease by increasing the acetylcholine levels in the brain. Soy is high in phytoestrogens (estrogen-like chemicals in plants) and may be used to enhance estrogen levels and protect against xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are the ‘bad’ estrogen-like chemicals that come from plastics and pesticides. Soy contains isoflavones which bind estrogen receptor sites in the body. They don’t stimulate estrogen sites as strongly as the body’s own estrogen. This is how they can reduce or moderate the effects of estrogen in the body. This is how it protects the body from the estrogen-like effects of pesticides.
In 2000 the FDA recommended getting 6.25 grams of soy protein in our diets to help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Soy may also be helpful for some prostate problems.
Soy products are considered beneficial for A blood types. Given that the A (blood type) antigen is more susceptible to the xenoestrogens in the environment, the phytoestrogens in soy can reduce cancer risk and improve glandular function. Foods that contain phytoestrogens are believed to tie up estrogen receptor sites and prevent stronger estrogens (like those produced by the body or chemical estrogens like pesticide residues) from binding to the same sites. And finally, the hormone progesterone can be synthesized from compounds in soybeans.
First off, soy is considered to be one of the top 10 common food allergies worldwide. Unfortunately, soy is in thousands of products including lecithin which helps to emulsify fat and feed the nervous system. Lecithin is in so many products such as bread, candy, chocolate, etc. You name the packaged product and most likely it contains lecithin or another soy derivative. Thousands of everyday foods, including margarine, cosmetics and industrial products such as inks, cardboards, paints, cars, and mattresses contain soy or derivatives thereof.
Second, a 1999 study reported that “soy sauce produced a 50% inhibition of aggregation response. These significant amounts of anti-platelet compounds were uniformly contained in commercially available soy sauce.” Which means if you are taking a blood thinner such as Warfarin or Coumadin, and you are eating a lot of soy sauce, it is important that you are having your blood checked regularly by your doctor as the soy could be a factor in any problems you may be experiencing.
Next, progesterone needs to be balanced with estrogen in our bodies and these hormones, along with many others, require cholesterol for combustion and transportation. If your cholesterol is too low (that is right – too low) it can cause hormone imbalances causing all kinds of health concerns. Eating too much soy for some people can have this effect.
It turns out that that 1998 claim by the FDA to eat more soy was not recommended by doctors or public interest groups, but rather by the soy industry itself. Isolated soy protein, is just that, isolated, and eating any food in an isolated form instead of the form in which it was created in nature is typically not a good idea. Our bodies cannot utilize the isolate, and it may then cause problems as mentioned above. Unfortunately, soy-based infant formulas contain more than 10,000 times of hormone-mimicking substances which is very disturbing.
Finally, most people don’t realize that all corn, potatoes and soy products on this planet are genetically modified (GMO). Even some of these products that are marked organic may NOT be truly organic.
Case in point, a 2009 study done by Cornucopia entitled “Behind the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry” explains how all soy products are not the same and that there are companies that are providing truly organic fermented soy products, such as Eden, Vermont Soy, Small Planet Tofu, Farmsoy, Twin Oaks and Unisoya or Green Cuisine (in Canada). Then they also list companies such as Trader Joe’s, Vitasoy, Pacific Natural Foods, and Westsoy (Soydream) as companies that refused to provide their sourcing information. This most likely is because costs have driven purchases of soy to China instead of local organic farmers. In the processing of soy at these inorganic sources, the neurotoxin pollutant Hexane is used which Steve Demos (founder of White Wave Foods) states is “the dirty little secret of the natural foods business.” Hexane is a petroleum by-product of gasoline refining.
Unfortunately, DHA (a beneficial essential fatty acid for our bodies) is often isolated from soy products and placed inside supplements and infant formulas causing sickness (rashes, diarrhea, vomiting, failure to thrive) and hospitalizations in babies. Martek’s Life’s DHA is produced by immersing fermented algae in hexane to extract the oil and the companies Kentucky plant emits nearly 200,000 pounds of hexane into the environment in 2006. (more information at www.cornucopia.org)
The Better Choice
So the key is to find a balance. It would be great if we could eliminate soy from all of our food, but if you eat out at restaurants, or purchase any packaged food, this is most likely not going to be the case in the near future. Instead purchase products from the companies listed above who are truly selling organic soy, and don’t support those that are not. Limit the amount of soy you eat and pay attention to labels so that the soy you are eating isn’t genetically modified soy (GMO). It is not something we recommended as a daily protein source, try eggs, nuts or plant proteins (hemp, chia, pea, rice, etc.) as they are much better and safer choices.
Soy milk available at many coffees stands now as an alternative to milk. But better choices are almond milk, coconut milk or hemp milk as these are alkaline, are not typically known to cause allergies and taste pretty good. Rice milk is another healthier option to soy milk. Talk to your barista about switching to these healthier choices. Avoiding soy is challenging. But similarly, other toxins like trans fatty acids, which most everyone is aware of how bad they are now, have been eliminated in most states and food products because of the public outcry and the mighty dollar as people stopped purchasing these products. We can all work to eliminate them from our diet if we pay attention and get manufacturers to eliminate it from their products. We do this by telling people what we want and by the purchases we make.