With vegetarianism gaining increasing popularity from the 1970s, and reaching its peak in the 1990s, soy has emerged as a "near perfect" food, with supporters claiming it can provide an ideal source of protein, lower cholesterol, protect against cancer and heart disease, reduce menopausal symptoms, and prevent osteoporosis - among many other things. It seems fantastic - or is it really? How did such a "healthy" food emerge from a product that in 1913 was listed in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) handbook not as a food but as an industrial product?
According to lipid specialist and nutritionist Mary Enig, PhD, "The reason there's so much soy in America is because the soy industry started to plant soy to extract the oil from it and soy oil became a very large industry." There was a lot of soy oil and with it came a lot of soy protein residue as a left over byproduct, and since they couldn't feed it to animals, except in small amounts, they had to find another big market, which, of course, was humans.
This excess soy production and its protein residue was the motivation for the multi-million dollars spent on advertising and intense lobbying of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which resulted in about 74 per cent of US consumers believing that soy products are healthy. Australia has traditionally prided itself on being a dairy consuming nation as we have such an abundant supply of cattle. However, lactose intolerance is becoming a health concern recognised by the medical profession; accordingly, soy is becoming very popular as an alternative to dairy, following in the footsteps of US consumers in believing that all soy-based products have health benefits. In reality, the research that has concluded that all soy products are healthy is far from accurate - and very much skewed by economic motives. Let's examine why...
For greater clarity, soy products are classified into two main groups: fermented and unfermented. There are also another two sub-groups: organic and Genetically Modified (GM). The GM soy is to be avoided at all costs, as the hazards of GM are some of the worst innovations of modern day biotechnology. Not only are all GM products unhealthy to humans and animals, but also to the normal plants that grow in the surrounding area, due to wind- caused cross pollination, resulting in mutated species of what were once natural variations of plants. This topic is too vast to cover in this article, but for more research visit www.non-gm-farmers.com.
The unfermented soy category is a most problematic one. It includes soy products, such as tofu, bean curd, all soy milks, soy infant formulae, soy protein powders and soy meat alternatives, such as soy sausages/veggie burgers, made from hydrolysed soy powder. So what is wrong with these products?
Soy belongs to the family of legumes. Other members of the legume family include beans, such as adzuki, red kidney, navy, borlotti, as well as chickpeas. Peanuts are included as well, as they are technically not a nut but a legume. All legumes and wholegrains, such as rice, barley, oats, wheat and rye, contain amounts of phytic acid. Being a legume, soy contains a high amount of phytic acid. So, what's wrong with phytic acid? A number of things - yet, in some cases, phytic acid can also be beneficial.
The structure of phytic acid gives it the ability to bind minerals, proteins and starch, and results in lower absorption of these substances. Hence phytic acid, in large amounts, can block the uptake of essential minerals, like calcium, magnesium, copper, iron - and especially zinc - in the intestinal tract. Soy also inhibits the uptake of one of the most important minerals needed for growth and metabolism, iodine, which is used by the thyroid gland in the production of thyroid hormones.
However, for non-vegetarian men, phytic acid may prove to be quite helpful, due to its binding/chelating ability with minerals. Since a large proportion of non-vegetarian adult males have excess iron, phytic acid would be helpful to them by binding the excess iron. But we need to bear in mind phytic acid will simultaneously bind other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. In the case of children and menstruating women, the phytic acid in soy can be a serious negative, as women and children need iron. In women, iron is needed to replace the loss during their menses and in children iron is required for growth and development.
Apart from the phytic acid-related phenomena, there are additional factors that make soy an unhealthy choice. Soy:contributes to thyroid disorder, especially in women
promotes kidney stones
weakens the immune system
contributes to food allergies and digestive intolerances
Perhaps the most disturbing of soy's ill effects on health has to do with its phytoestrogens, which can mimic the effects of the female hormone, oestrogen. These phytoestrogens have been found to have adverse effects on various human tissues - and drinking only two glasses of soy milk daily for one month has enough of the chemical to alter a woman's menstrual cycle.
Soy is particularly problematic for infants and it would be very wise to avoid giving them soy-derived products, since it has been estimated that infants who are exclusively fed soy formula receive the equivalent of five birth control pills worth of oestrogen every day. (Check out www.westonaprice.org to find some alarming research and statistics on what can go wrong when infants and children are regularly fed soy formulae.)
In order to derive some benefit from soy, consuming only fermented soy products - such as organic miso (mugi barley and genmai miso are the best), organic tempeh, soy sauce or tamari and natto - is the way to do it. This is because the phytic acid, which is inherent in soy bean, has been neutralised in the process of fermentation. Consuming fermented soy is very beneficial in recolonising the friendly bacteria in the large intestine, which neutralises the "unfriendly" bacteria and allows for greater general assimilation of foods and nutrients.
So, fermented soy is of benefit and unfermented soy is not. It is not only soy that needs to be fermented, but wholegrains as well. In fact, grains (apart from millet, buckwheat and couscous) and legumes are best consumed after soaking them for 48-72 hours prior to cooking, which allows fermentation to take place. The soaking of grains and beans is also advocated in the principles of macrobiotics, which is very popular among vegetarians. Yet many vegetarian restaurants do not have time or forget to incorporate this very important process in their vegetarian cooking and thus people who regularly eat out at vegetarian restaurants might develop severe mineral deficiencies due to the large consumption of phytic acid in their diet. It makes sense to ask before you order!
Another common fallacy is that soy foods couldn't possibly have a downside because Asian cultures eat large quantities of soy every day and consequently remain free of most Western diseases. In reality, the people of China, Japan and other Asian countries eat very little soy. The soy industry's own figures show that soy consumption in China, Indonesia, Korea, Japan and Taiwan ranges from 10 to 90 grams per day. That is grams of soy food, not grams of soy protein alone. Compare this with a cup of tofu (250 grams) or soy milk (240 grams). Many Americans and Australians today would be consuming a cup of tofu and a couple of glasses of soy milk every day. They might also add veggie burgers to this, thinking they are getting their much needed protein intake. Infants on soy formula are probably the most disadvantaged, as that is their main source of nutrition and they ingest large amounts of soy relative to their body weight. Often the side effects are not noticed but, as they are growing up, runny noses, frequent colds, irritability, severe sugar cravings and food intolerances develop.
The summary below outlines the adverse effects of unfermented soy products:
Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women.
Soy phytoestrogens are potent antithyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease.
Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and actually increase the body's requirement for B12.
Soy foods increase the body's requirement for vitamin D.
Fragile proteins are denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein.
Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods.
Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.
In contrast, consuming organic fermented soy products is quite beneficial.
Consuming even small amounts of unfermented soy on a regular basis could cause some adverse effects in our body. Next time you consider drinking soy milk, perhaps instead consider oat milk, coconut milk or goat's milk. Some people who are allergic to dairy can tolerate goat milk and goat cheese products in small quantities. Replacing soy and regular milk with these alternatives allows us to enjoy our beverages and cereals without harming our health.
By Teya Skae Holistic Kinesiologist/ Lecturer M.A.,Dip Health Sciences.
Dr Mercola http://www.mercola.com/article/soy/avoid_soy.htm
Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's FavouriteHealth Food by Kaayla Daniel