Soy products are growing in popularity faster than almost any other food product. If you pick up any processed food these days you are bound to find soy as an ingredient in some form or another. Cruising down the grocery aisles you are bound to see everything from soy milk, to soy cheese and hot dogs. Well that's a good thing right? Isn't soy supposed to be good for you?
Here begins the great soy debate! If you start asking around or reading up on the subject you will more than likely find very conflicting answers. Soy is a huge topic of debate among both health professionals and the health conscious alike. As a health care provider I get asked about soy on a daily basis and I've seen both clients who thrive on soy in their diet as well as those who experience many many health conditions due to it.
My recommendation to all of my clients is to be informed and educated on the foods they eat so that they can make wise choices with certainty.
Fermented soy has been used as a health food and dietary staple in Asian cultures for centuries. Please notice I said fermented! Asian cultures have a diet that includes natto, tempeh, miso, and soy sauce which are all fermented. Tofu, and soy protein are not fermented and here is where the problem begins.
Non fermented soy contains what are called anti-nutrients. These are specific compounds found in foods and food products that inhibit the absorption or utilization of the beneficial properties of these foods. So in theory soy has many beneficial properties but non fermented these are not bio available therefore making this food unhealthy.
Let's talk about that a bit more so you understand the difference between "healthy and unhealthy" soy are.
Fermented soy has many health benefits. It is a great source of vegetarian protein which is low in cholesterol and saturated fats. Fermented soy has been shown to have bone and heart protective properties as well as cancer protective abilities and reducing menopausal symptoms. Fermented soy is a nutritional powerhouse providing a wide array of nutrients that are easily digestible.
Non fermented soy on the other hand is a whole other story. Non fermented soy has been linked to health conditions such as:
- Breast cancer
- Brain damage
- Infant abnormalities
- Thyroid disorders
- Kidney stones
- Immune system impairment
- Severe, potentially fatal food allergies
- Impaired fertility
- Danger during pregnancy and nursing
- Leaky Gut
- Skin conditions
And this is just a small list of a few of the known conditions caused by non fermented soy consumption. The reason for the dangers of soy is due to those anti-nutrients I mentioned above.
Some of these anti-nutrients include:
Goitrogens- these substances block the thyroid hormone synthesis and iodine metabolism creating a potentially serious interference in thyroid function
GMO's- It is reported that over 90% of US soy is genetically modified. A recent Russian study shows evidence that GMO soy consumption can affect the fertility of future generations.
Phytates- These compounds bind to metal ions which means that it can block the absorption of vital minerals in the body including calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
Hemagglutinin- this is a blood clumping compound. This causes red blood cells to clump together and create an inability to properly distribute oxygen to your tissues.
Isoflavones Genistein and Daidzein- These are a type of phytoestrogen. These compounds mimic the body's natural estrogen and can disrupt endocrine function, hormone balance, fertility, and promote breast cancer. Studies show that drinking 2 glasses of soy milk daily can alter a persons menstrual cycle in one month. Infants fed soy formula have up to 20,000 times the amount of estrogen in circulation as those fed other formulas!
I know many of you are probably saying that you eat soy products every day and feel fine. Remember that we often don't see the results of something until it is too late. Many chemical reactions go on in the body with no visible signs or symptoms until one day someone develops a major health crisis that could have been avoided with proper diet.
I've seen it hundreds of times in my practice with my clients and with myself and my family. When I make decisions on what to feed myself and my family I make them with education. I inform myself as much as possible so that I can make an educated decision on something.
When dealing with clients I do the same. I see so many vegetarians who once I present them with all the information, make heir own educated decision to stop eating soy.
I'm certainly not here to tell you to eat it or not but my job as a health care provider is to educate so knowing both sides of the story allows us to make proper choices.
With genetically modified soy making up over 90% of our soy it seems they are adding it to everything these days. Often times it is labeled so that you do not even know what you are getting is indeed soy. Here are some ingredients to look out for:
Obviously SOY is the first ingredient you will want to avoid.
- TVP (texturized vegetable protein) or soy protein isolate, which contains a large amount of msg, which you should definitely not consume
- Soybean oil
- Soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy yogurt
- Soy "meat" (meatless products made of TVP)
- Soy infant formula
- Hydrolyzed soy protein (HSP)
- Mono- and di-glycerides
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Soy lecithin (see above)
- Soy protein (concentrate, hydrolyzed, isolate)
- Soybean oil (see above)
- Teriyaki sauce
It's better to know than to risk it!
The better informed you are on your food choices the easier it is to avoid serious food related health risks. When in doubt......avoid processed foods. You are less likely to consume something you are unsure about when eating a diet of whole foods.
If you are currently vegetarian and using tofu and soy as your protein source, consider swapping out for fermented soy options, or other vegetarian protein sources which you can find listed in some of my other blog posts.
If you are including soy in your diet and have been experiencing fertility or hormone imbalances consider removing for 6 weeks and increasing digestive enzymes and see how hormones improve over the next couple of months.
If you are eating soy for the estrogen benefits for menopause consider switching to fermented miso soup daily. Look for organic miso paste instead of the dry packets sold in soup section. I have found in my practice that miso is one of the most beneficial soy foods for controlling menopausal symptoms.
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As always.....In Good Health and Happiness,
Brandy Augustine PhD