It’s all the rage, and it has been for almost 20 years now. I remember that back in the early 90s, when my father was in his early 40s and on a health kick, how much he loved soy. Tofu, TVP, etc. (I don’t think there was soy milk then — or at least it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. And yes, he was, at that time, a vegetarian.) That’s what I grew up thinking was healthy — low-fat, vegetarian, and lots of soy.
Surprise! Soy isn’t really that healthy for you, and certainly not the way people consume it today. (No, my father no longer eats soy, and no, he is not a vegetarian.)
Soy Is a Health Food?
Soy became “the” health food about 20 years ago. It was promoted as the perfect substitute for all meat products, and eventually just about any animal product. It’s cheap, it’s high protein, low-fat, and it can be made into just about anything. Today, you can find soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy “butter,” soy “meat,” and so on! It’s even made into baby formula for babies who allergic to cow’s milk.
For people who chose not to consume animal products (many of whom believe that vegetarian/vegan is the “best diet” — despite that no traditional societies were vegan and few were vegetarian), soy seemed like the perfect answer. With soy, you can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak.
Soy also has a lot of interesting properties. Lecithin can be extracted from it, which is used in many (well, most) commercial foods as an emulsifier to provide a better texture. Soy, in some form, is added to just about everything these days.
What’s the Problem?
So if soy is so great — high-protein, low-fat, cheap, easily available, in a variety of forms — what’s the problem?
Well, low-fat…that’s a problem in and of itself! If you missed it, you can read last week’s post on why low-fat diets are not healthy.
Soy is also almost always genetically modified now. Although the mainstream insists that GMOs are exactly the same as ‘regular’ food (or even better), there are a lot of scientific studies showing that’s not true. In fact, there are studies linking GMOs to cancer, infertility, and a lot of other serious health problems. They are not a food item to be taken lightly at all. Any form of soy that is used in non-organic products is probably GMO, since 80% of soy is currently grown this way.
Then there is an additional issue with soy itself: it contains something called phytoestrogens. Eating excessive amounts of soy (almost impossible to avoid these days) is exposing you to large amounts of estrogen. Excessive estrogen is causing baby boys to become “feminized,” and if consumed during pregnancy permanently lowers a little boy’s fertility. It can, in large amounts, contribute to infertility as well. This is a huge problem. Some have even said that a baby on soy formula consumes the equivalent of 5 birth control pills of estrogen per day!
Soy is also at the top of the “allergenic foods” list as well. Food allergies are on the rise, and soy being in so many foods is a possible reason for this.
For these reasons, soy is best avoided.
Is Soy Ever Okay?
First, let’s look at the ingredients in a soy product, and you can decide if you ever think you’d want to eat it:
TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, WHEAT GLUTEN, WATER FOR HYDRATION), WATER, ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, CORN OIL, CORNSTARCH, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF WHEAT STARCH, SALT, METHYLCELLULOSE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, DEXTROSE, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS FROM NON-MEAT SOURCES, SUGAR, MALTODEXTRIN, DISODIUM INOSINATE, SOYBEAN OIL, HYDROLYZED SOY PROTEIN, ONION, PAPRIKA, DRIED YEAST, INULIN FROM CHICORY ROOT, CARAMEL COLOR, TAPIOCA DEXTRIN, XANTHAN GUM, SODIUM ALGINATE, SPICES, YELLOW CORN FLOUR, PAPRIKA EXTRACT FOR COLOR, ANNATTO EXTRACT FOR COLOR, BAKING SODA, GARLIC, TOMATO POWDER, CELERY EXTRACT, WHEAT FIBER, LACTIC ACID, SAFFLOWER OIL, BARLEY EXTRACT, CITRIC ACID, NIACINAMIDE, EGG WHITES, NONFAT DRY MILK, SUCCINIC ACID, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, IRON (FERROUS SULFATE), THIAMIN MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1), PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), VITAMIN B12.
That’s typical of most processed soy foods. And like most processed foods, it is not okay to eat.
There are some soy foods that are okay to eat, though. Miso, tempeh, and natto are traditional soy foods which are fermented. They contain much lower levels of phytoestrogens due to the fermentation process. They are also eaten as condiments and in very small amounts.
This is the major difference that a lot of people miss when they talk about cultures that eat “a lot” of soy. Soy is not consumed in the form of meat replacement products, soy milk, etc. These are highly processed, modern foods that were not part of traditional diets. Small amounts of fermented soy, consumed as condiments, are fine (organic so it’s non-GMO!).
Do you consume soy? In what forms? Why or why not?