The general understanding is that soy is a heath food. I would just like to present the other side of soy that is not widely known, just to get the facts out there
I do on occasion get a soy latter at Starbucks, have a miso soup, but I am not consuming too much nor do I eat soy products regularly.
- “Studies showing the dark side of soy date back 100 years,” says clinical nutritionist Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story (New Trends, 2005). “The 1999 FDA-approved health claim pleased big business, despite massive evidence showing risks associated with soy, and against the protest of the FDA’s own top scientists. Soy is a $4 billion [U.S.] industry that’s taken these health claims to the bank.” Besides promoting heart health, the industry says, soy can alleviate symptoms associated with menopause, reduce the risk of certain cancers, and lower levels of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol.
- Epidemiological studies have shown that Asians, particularly in Japan and China, have a lower incidence of breast and prostate cancer than people in the United States, and many of these studies credit a traditional diet that includes soy. But Asian diets include small amounts — about nine grams a day — of primarily fermented soy products, such as miso, natto, and tempeh, and some tofu. Fermenting soy creates health-promoting probiotics, the good bacteria our bodies need to maintain digestive and overall wellness. By contrast, in the United States, processed soy food snacks or shakes can contain over 20 grams of nonfermented soy protein in one serving.
- “There is important information on the cancer-protective values of soy,” says clinical nutritionist Ed Bauman, head of Bauman Clinic in Sebastopol, California, and director of Bauman College. Bauman cautions against painting the bean with a broad brush. “As with any food, it can have benefits in one system and detriments in another. [An individual who is sensitive to it] may have an adverse response to soy. And not all soy is alike,” he adds, referring to processing methods and quality. “Soy is not a food that is native to North America or Europe, and you have issues when you move food from one part of the world to another,” Bauman says. “We fare better when we eat according to our ethnicity. Soy is a viable food, but we need to look at how it’s used.”
- Soy is everywhere in our food supply, as the star in cereals and health-promoting foods and hidden in processed foods. Even if you read every label and avoid cardboard boxes, you are likely to find soy in your supplements and vitamins (look out for vitamin E derived from soy oil), in foods such as canned tuna, soups, sauces, breads, meats (injected under poultry skin), and chocolate, and in pet food and body-care products. It hides in tofu dogs under aliases such as textured vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and lecithin — which is troubling, since the processing required to hydrolyze soy protein into vegetable protein produces excitotoxins such as glutamate (think MSG) and aspartate (a component of aspartame), which cause brain-cell death.
- Soy also is one of the foods — in addition to wheat, corn, eggs, milk, nuts, and shellfish — most likely to cause allergic reactions. Most people equate food allergies with anaphylaxis, or a severe emergency immune response, but it is possible to have a subclinical sensitivity, which can lead to health problems over time (and is exacerbated by the lack of variety common in today’s American diet).
Genetically Modified Soy is a big problem too. Kaayla Daniel says: “One question I get all the time is, ‘What if I only eat organic soy?’ The assumption is that GM soy is problematic and organic is fine. Certainly, organic is better, but the bottom line is that soybeans naturally contain plant estrogens, toxins, and antinutrients, and you can’t remove those.”
- The highest risk is for infants who are fed soy formula. “It’s the only thing they’re eating, they’re very small, and they’re at a key stage developmentally,” says Daniel. “The estrogens in soy will affect the hormonal development of these children, and it will certainly affect their growing brains, reproductive systems, and thyroids.” Soy formula also contains large amounts of manganese, which has been linked to attention deficit disorder and neurotoxicity in infants. The Israeli health ministry recently issued an advisory stating that infants should avoid soy formula altogether.
- Antinutrients in soy block enzymes needed for digestion, and naturally occur-ring phytates block absorption of essential minerals. This is most worrisome for vegans and vegetarians who eat soy as their main source of protein, and for women in menopause who up their soy intake through supplements.
- Soy contains phytochemicals — plant nutrients with disease-fighting activity — called isoflavones. Studies claim isoflavones can mimic the body’s own estrogens, raising a woman’s estrogen levels, which fall after menopause, causing hot flashes and other symptoms. On the other hand, isoflavones may also block the body’s estrogens, which can help reduce high estrogen levels, therefore reducing risk for breast cancer or uterine cancer before menopause. (High estrogen levels have been linked to cancers of the reproductive system in women.)
- Although soy’s isoflavones may have an adaptogenic effect (contributing to an estrogen-boosting or -blocking effect where needed), they also have the potential to promote hormone-sensitive cancers in some people. Studies on the effects of isoflavones on human estrogen levels are conflicting, and it’s possible that they affect people differently. In men, soy has been shown to lower testosterone levels and sex drive, according to Daniel.
- “Primary sources of food are a good thing. Once there was a bean, but then it got cooked and squeezed and the pulp was separated out, and it was heated and processed for better shelf life and mouth feel. Soy milk is second or third level in terms of processing.”