Soy is often considered a health food in America, and is frequently used as a substitute for dairy on casein free diets. But it may not be an ideal food. In fact, it may be downright dangerous if not consumed responsibly. Highly allergenic, full of anti-nutrients with potentially harmful estrogenic effects and other significant health risks. Does that sound like a health food to you? Let’s talk a bit about soy.
Why So Much Soy?
Because the Japanese consume soy and live longer, healthier lives, Americans took a leap and assumed that the soy in their diet was a big contributing factor. Then we took another leap and decided that more soy was better and began consuming unfermented soy in large amounts. We now actually consume more soy than the Japanese or Chinese, and we often eat it in ways those cultures would never recognize. Not only do we prepare it improperly, we often eat it in highly processed forms such as “textured vegetable protein” and “soy protein isolate”.
Some argue that since most of the soy in America is genetically modified, consuming organic soy is safe and healthy. While GMO soy does contain more pesticides, this is not the primary problem.
What’s Wrong With Soy?
Soy is a highly allergenic food. It is one of the top allergens now, thanks to the prevalence of GMO soy and the fact that it is very difficult to digest in the ways we consume it. Soy is broken down by DPP-IV, the same enzyme needed for the proper digestion of gluten and casein that is so often lacking. Traditionally, in cultures that have thrived on soy as a part of their diet for generations, soy is usually eaten fermented. But with our modern ways we tend to eat it unfermented and in processed forms that denature the soy protein, making it even more difficult to digest. Then we go and put it in everything because it is supposedly so good for us. Soy is a very challenging ingredient to avoid if you eat any processed food.
Soy is high in phytic acid. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient because it reduces our ability to assimilate minerals and can lead to deficiencies. In order to neutralize this phytic acid, you must ferment soy for a long period of time, as was traditionally done.
Soybeans are very high in trypsin inhibitors. Trypsin is an enzyme that breaks protein down into amino acids so that they can be used by the body. Trypsin inhibitors block the action of trypsin so they can’t break protein down. This can lead to digestive problems, but this is another negative of soy that can be overcome by fermentation.
Soy is also high in lectins, anti-nutrients that destroy the villi of the small intestine and increase gut permeability. Soy is high in oxalates, which cause kidney stones and many, many other health issues. The way we process soy creates MSG, an excitotoxin that damages our neurons by exciting them to death. The vitamin B12 analogues in soy create an even greater need for B12 in the body. The list of negatives goes on.
And we are just now getting to the worst part of soy. Soy has estrogenic properties due to high content of phystoestrogens called isoflavones. This is a problem that cannot be overcome with fermentation. These suppress the thyroid and have very questionable effects on hormones, especially in men and children. They will have different effects on women during infancy, puberty, pregnancy and menopause, and while they are purported to be beneficial to woman, they may have very negative effects during particular stages of life.
Excess soy consumption during pregnancy has shown in many animal studies to promote birth defects involving sex organs.
Soy’s high manganese content may be dangerous to children. Did you know that the symptoms of manganese poisoning are indistinguishable to autism? Soy formula, anyone? Soy formula is also associated with growth disorders, improper physical development and maturation, problems with hormones and sex organs, asthma and allergies, and disorders of the brain and nervous system.
Soy may lower testosterone in men and is not good for fertility. In Asia this is traditional wisdom. Did you know that Japanese wives feed extra helpings of soy to unfaithful husbands? It is also popular with Zen monks to help them keep their vows of celibacy.
Without the benefit of traditional wisdom we are eating this powerful food improperly, with many undesired effects.
Soy Falls Flat on its Promises?
The claims that soy lowers cholesterol or prevents heart disease are shaky at best. Evidence is now showing that cholesterol may not be a good marker of heart disease. Soy is also known to increase certain heart diseases and heart arrhythmias. It is likely to increase homocysteine in the body, which can cause heart disease, aging, cancer, and more. Homocysteine pathways are already known to be disordered in autism and related conditions.
The claims about soy helping breast cancer are misleading. In fact, some governments have proclaimed that soy accelerates breast cancer risk. Cornell University has said that women diagnosed or with a family history of breast cancer should be careful with soy. Soy is said to be helpful for Menopause but the evidence is showing thyroid problems with long-term use. Some governments and agencies have actually issued warnings against high soy consumption.
What’s the Final Word?
If you are dairy free, and thinking about replacing cow’s milk with soy milk, instead of drinking cow’s milk that is promoted for its calcium benefits, you are drinking something that actually prevents the absorption of calcium. When you weigh pros and cons, soy milk is probably not the best milk replacement.
I tend to think that organic, fermented soy is probably fine in small amounts, perhaps even beneficial, as long as you weigh the considerations above. But we should learn from traditional wisdom and eat it with respect as a food that has very powerful properties and requires proper preparation as the Asians do. It is probably best eaten within the context of a traditional Asian diet, which likely includes complementary nutrients. In my opinion, it always goes back to learning from the wisdom of traditional diets. Because if our ancestors have thrived on it for generations, we probably will too.
For More Information:
Soy Alert, by The Weston A. Price Foundation
The Dark Side of Soy, by Mary Vance
The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food, by Kaayla Daniel
This post was featured at Beyond the Peel’s Keep It Real Thursday, Weekend Whatever at Creative Christian Mama, and Healthy 2Day Wednesday at Authentic Simplicity, Young Living Oil Lady, Whole Intentions, and The Cheapskate Cook.