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soy story

soy-picIf you want to be a healthy vegetarian you eat tofu, right? Or, if your baby or child has an allergy to dairy, then soy formula, milks, yogurt and cheese seem like an ideal solution. Even in the fitness world the food which was once considered as solely for hippies, has made its way into protein bars and shakes. Apparently soy is so good.

Like many foods there are pros and cons to eating soy and there is currently much confusion surrounding its health benefits. Soy was initially grown in large quantities for its oil, which was used in the manufacturing of margarine and as a shortening. Hydrogenated soy oil was the original trans-fat, a substance that we now know is extremely detrimental for health. Large amounts of soy proteins were left as a bi-product of making soy oil and nobody knew what to do with it. It was considered for landfill and as animal feed but these solutions were deemed too wasteful and toxic.

Marketing success story

In the mid 1980’s the US soy industry devised a marketing strategy to launch this humble bean as a health food and in the early 1990’s soy exploded onto the scene, promoted as a panacea for health issues such as osteoporosis, menopausal symptoms, heart disease and cancer. The main thrust of the campaign was to highlight that Asian populations suffered with very low incidence of these illnesses, which was due to their consumption of soy foods. In reality Asians eat small amounts of soy, in its natural or fermented form unlike in the west were soy foods are often highly processed, unfermented and eaten in large quantities.

There are several reasons why soy may cause problems in the body, one of which is that 90 – 95% of soy currently grown is genetically modified, manipulated to withstand high levels of a herbicide called glyphosate, which is responsible for upsetting the male and female reproductive cycles, which may contribute to fertility and menstrual issues, erectile dysfunction and low sperm count.

Even if you don’t drink soy milk or eat tofu, it’s likely that concentrated genetically modified soy protein has found it’s was into your bread, cheese, cereal and sauces and less staple foods such as meat, chocolate, mayonnaise, frozen meals and baked goods. This is because genetically modified soy is cheap to produce and a good filler or bulking agent for these foods. When eaten in small amounts daily these proteins may have a profound accumulative effect in the body and may be the reason we are seeing such a high incidence of soy allergy and intolerance.

You can recognise soy on supermarket labels as:

Soy flour
Soy oil
Soy protein isolates
TVP (textured vegetable protein)
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
TSP (textured soy protein)


Soy contains hormonal mimics called isoflavones which can further disrupt the hormonal systems in the body, they also act as goitrogens, which have been linked to a suppression of thyroid function. People with an underactive thyroid are at particular risk and are advised to reduce or eliminate soy and other foods that have a similar goitregenic effect, such as broccoli and cabbage. When the thyroid is suppressed health problems result, such as anxiety, insomnia, digestive and behavioural problems, asthma, food allergies and a difficulty in loosing weight. Isoflavones are also known to have an oestrogen like effect in the body, potentially increasing the risk of developing oestrogen dependent cancers.

Of course these conditions may have a multi-faceted origin and to point the finger solely at soy would be irresponsible, however if you do suffer with any of the above conditions, it may well be worth checking your thyroid function and looking at how much soy is in your current diet. An elimination diet may help you to assess if soy is contributing to your health issues.

Is any soy beneficial?

The answer is yes. Fermented soy foods such as tempeh, miso, Japanese natto and naturally fermented soy sauce and shoyu have been shown to lower the incidence of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

These delicious natural foods also protect against lung, liver and prostate cancer and contain high levels of the blood clotting regulator vitamin K which also assists in the vital health supporting work of vitamin D.

The process of fermentation breaks down the high levels of phytic acid found in soy beans, which is a naturally occurring substance also found in beans, grains, nuts and seeds. Phytic acid binds up minerals in the body, so it’s important to remove it through soaking or fermenting. Soybeans are also high in enzyme inhibitors, including one that stops trypsin from working properly, an enzyme which is essential for digestion. Fermenting helps to remove these enzyme inhibitors and at the same time makes the protein more digestible.

It’s important to note however that fermentation does not eliminate or reduce the isoflavone content and action of soy foods.

Vegetarians & Vegans

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan who has relied upon soy products as a major source of protein, take heart in the knowledge that most foods contain protein and if you include nuts, seeds, soaked beans and protein rich grains such as quinoa and amaranth, you will fulfill your protein requirements nicely without relying on soy sausages and other unhealthful foods. If you have switched your dairy milk for soy, consider alternating with other delicious alternatives such as oat, rice and almond milk.

If you wish to include soy foods in the diet, it would appear that only small amounts of soy are suitable for children and pregnant women due to the oestrogenic effect and giving soy formula to babies is far from ideal, in the same way that dairy is an unsuitable replacement for breast milk. It would appear that many of the health issues that people have with soy may be largely down to the low quality genetically modified soy proteins that proliferate in processed foods, therefore checking food labels would be a wise choice. The ideal soy to include in the diet would be GM free and fermented such as miso, tempeh and naturally fermented soy sauce, used in moderation as Asian cultures do rather than as the cornerstone to any diet.

For more information on soy visit www.wholesoystory.com and www.westonprice.org

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