Soy: To Eat or Not to Eat?

Mar 27, 2012 by

Soy Controversy

 

I have recently received many questions about the nature of soy products and whether or not they are a good addition to a plant-based diet. With so many products on the market, ranging from soymilk to the infamous tofurkies, it is no wonder that people are confused. It is supposed to be healthy, right?

Soy is the most marketed product targeting vegetarians and vegans today, and is backed by the largest food industrial companies known. These companies are intimately tied to the big giants such as Monsanto, the world’s leading company in pesticides and genetically modified foods manufacturing. Therefore, soy is now a food that is grossly overfunded and therefore has become a mere commodity. With the company’s bottom line as the biggest motivation, soy has crept into our “health” market under false pretenses that pray on America’s fear of chronic disease and a lack of protein, and has successfully become an integral part of the vegetarian diet, despite its false claims and so-called health benefits.

Dried Soy by sathyan

 

The Truth

 

The truth is that soy is not a health food… well at least not in the way that the US manufactures it. And yes, the word is manufacture, not grow.

 

1. Genetically Modified

Right now almost every soy product that is purchased in the US is Genetically Modified. Genetically Modified foods are made by using a virus or bacteria to attack a cell thereby allowing the insertion of an artificial gene. Therefore, the DNA is engineered and altered, allowing the seed to grow into a new form of plant. A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and even cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.

GMO Soy Fields

2. Anti Nutrients

Soybeans are high in phytic acid, an acid that is present in the bran or hulls of all seeds. Phytic acid is also termed the “anti nutrient” because it can block the uptake of essential minerals – calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc – in the intestinal tract. The soybean has one of the highest phytate levels of any grain or legume that has been studied and therefore puts you in risk of a mineral deficiency. Furthermore, soy foods contain trypsin inhibitors that inhibit protein digestion and affect pancreatic function.

 

Phytic Acid

 

3. A Small Dose of Birth Control?

Last but not least, there is the concern of soy’s phytoestrogen (isoflavones) content. Soy isoflavones are phyto-endocrine disrupters, meaning they mimic the body’s naturally occurring hormone functions. This is the biggest concern because soy has the ability to disrupt normal hormone balance. Soybeans contain the phytoestrogen, genistein, which has the ability to increase thyroid-stimulating hormone, and therefore interfere with normal hormone production and inhibit the intake of iodine (necessary for function and to prevent goiters). The thyroid gland is responsible for heart rate, balance blood pressure, maintain body temperature as well as a normal metabolic rate, which is responsible for converting food to energy, all which is disrupted by soy. Furthermore, genistein, has shown in studies to lead to a decline in fertility, ovulatory dysfunction and irregular menstrual cycles. According to a study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (April 31, 2011), “clearly demonstrate that environmentally relevant doses of genistein have significant impacts on ovarian differentiation, estrous cyclicity, and fertility.” A few consequences of an unbalanced hormone system are: prostate and breast cancer, early puberty, endometriosis and infertility, irregular and painful menstrual periods, handle bar and stomach weight gain, acne, and depression. Keep in mind, that the consumption of soy is not the only exposure that most people receive from estrogenic foods, or xeno estrogens. Dairy, animal meat, plastics and even personal care products also contain estrogen and estrogen-like substances that add to the imbalance.

Classic Hormone Imbalance: Muffin Top

 

Traditional Use of Tempeh (Indonesia)

What about Soy Consumption in Asia?

While traditionally soy is an integral part of Asian cuisine, this soy is far different than the soy that which is consumed in the US. For one, it is typically cultured, which changes the nutritional profile as the phytic acid is broken down. These would be foods like tempeh, Nama Shoyu and miso. Secondly, it is said that that the traditional average consumption of soy foods in Japan and China is 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) per day, not the basis of most meals, snacks and beverages (this is most likely different in today’s modern world). Asians consume soy foods in small amounts as a condiment, and not as a replacement for animal foods. Finally, it is said that soy products in the US are processed in a way that denatures proteins and increases levels of carcinogens. In fact, one of the most common uses of soy is to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein (the typical basis of processed and packaged foods, especially vegan and vegetarian products), which creates free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin (excites your cell’s to death, literally).

 

Cancer Prevention?

The food industry also touts soy products for their cancer preventing properties. Isoflavone aglycones are anticarcinogenic substances found in traditionally fermented soybean products. However, in non-fermented soy products such as tofu and soy milk, these isoflavones are present in an altered form, as beta-glycoside conjugates, which have no anti-carcinogenic effect. Furthermore, the majority of soy products sold in today’s US market, are highly processed and have added preservatives and chemicals and even use the process of using hexane to extract the soy. Yes, hexane is what they use to make gasoline. I was even surprised to find companies such as Luna, Gardein, Morningstar, Silk, VitaSoy, WestSoy and Yves Cuisine use this technique. The main companies that did not use hexane extraction was Eden Foods, Small Planet Tofu, Farm Soy, Twin Oaks, Unisory, Wildwood and Organic Valley.

 

Now What?

My philosophy is to stay away from soy products, especially if you are dealing with estrogen dominance or hormone imbalance. If you are not dealing with these issues, the occasional local, organic fermented miso, tempeh and Nama Shoyu is good. The fermented organic forms also have great benefits such as increasing healthy bacteria (probiotics) in the gut, which help to maintain and healthy immune system. Fortunately I have found some great local sources of these fermented soy products that I include in my diet a couple times a week, but I know that the soy does not come from the US, and is not GMO. As for other non-fermented processed soy products: soy deli meat, soy sausage , milk, yogurt, ice cream, burgers and other meat alternatives, I would advise finding healthier alternatives (the occasional organic tofu is okay).  Besides does something called Tofurkey or Fakin’ Bacon really sound healthy?

Tofurkey Meal

I have worked with so many vegetarians and vegans that rely heavily on soy, and as a result deal with significant hormone imbalances. It is all to common to suffer from hormone imbalance, which manifests as stubborn weight gain, especially around the stomach and waist (handle bar or muffin top), PMS, mood swings, irregular periods, fatigue, hair loss and poor skin. Therefore, find other alternatives to replace that source of protein in your diet. There are many other options out there such as nuts and coconuts, which also can be made into milk, yogurt and cheese, and there is seeds, beans, and superfoods such as hemp, salba, nutritional yeast and brown rice protein powders. To learn more on how to make the change, read the article “Vegan Protein” and refer to my “Plant-Based Protein Chart.”

To research further, check out this great resource: http://www.westonaprice.org/soy-alert

 

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♥ L

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43 Comments

  1. Great article! My friend are I were just talking about this tonight because she’s on a very unhealthy SAD diet, and after a year of mono and severe endometriosis she’s ready to shift to more whole foods. She asked about soy products and we discussed some of this, but you’ve put it together very thoroughly. I rarely eat soy; just the occasional local tofu in a rice/veggie bowl. I also switched from nut mylks to coconut, simply because of the sugar content, or I make my own.

    • lauren

      What great timing then :) Now she has something to reference. This is going to be especially important to her since she is suffering from endometriosis, but I think that she will find it quite surprising how her condition can improve just by eating a clean plant-based diet! Good Luck to her :)

  2. Zosia

    Thanks for the great article!
    (When I had my period) I noticed a big shift between heavy, painful periods and light ones!

    Miso is really good, though :) Luckily, it’s fermented :)

  3. Stacey

    Hi Lauren,

    I agree with your advice and I have been reading lots on soy and trying to get my head around it… just wondering what your thoughts are on this article on soy and the testing on animals v’s humans? http://www.johnrobbins.info/blog/what-about-soy/

    Confused Stacey!

  4. Eliza

    How often do you think it’s okay to eat tempeh? A couple times a week?

    • lauren

      I usually eat tempeh, Nama Shoyu and Miso a couple times a week. Just always make sure to get an organic brand, local small companies are usually the best since you can have more trust in their product.

    • lauren

      I think tempeh, miso and nama are okay a couple times a week. Just make sure to find a high quality, organic source. I usually buy from local producers as you tend to be able to trust smaller local companies… more love and quality put into their product.

  5. I stopped eating soy products since 8 months and I really felt the change; less hormonal imbalance !

  6. (Except occasionnal shoyu and miso.)

  7. Jorean

    I just stopped eating soy products when I went to the ER with Kidney Stones and the Doctor and I talked about my diet and that the most likely culprit was soy products (mostly soy milk).
    Very interesting. Thank you. I enjoyed reading this.

  8. Marie

    The “10g soy asian consumption” appears to be common misreading of studies, in fact asian people consume 10g of soy protein not 10g of soy foods, so a lot more than the 2 spoons a day, since soy drinks and tofu are really popular there (so not fermented soy foods) Here is a link about soy consumption in asia: http://www.theveganrd.com/2011/03/soyfoods-in-asia-how-much-do-people-really-eat.html About the isoflavones, I’m surprise to read such a simple affirmation because in vivo studies (on humans) tend to show on the contrary that isoflavones have a oestrogen regulator role. I know it’s in french, but here is a very complete article on soy by a french specialist linked with lots of studies references that you might be interested in: http://www.vegetarisme.fr/ressources.php?content=ressources_articles_detail&article=60 I am not saying there is no problem with soy,like the phytic acid, and I also agree it should not be the daily alternative to meat and dairy, but I am really surprised to read the same aproximative arguments that the meat and dairy industry uses about soy here. I also sugest the reading of this meta-analysis showing that soy products have a protective role on gynaecological cancers: Myung SK, Ju W, Choi HJ, Kim SC; Korean Meta-Analysis (KORMA) Study Group. Soy intake and risk of endocrine-related gynaecological cancer: a meta-analysis. BJOG. 2009 Dec;116(13):1697-705. Epub 2009 Sep 19. Review.

    • lauren

      Thank you Marie for these good links! The soy consumption was being referenced to traditional uses not to current consumption as those areas have also been greatly affected by the food industry as well. The main point is that the US consumption is far too high, as in most everything we eat here. Soy milk, soy cheese, soy burger, soy deli meat, soy turkey, soy protein, soy in food bars, cereals… the list goes on. It is right up there with GMO corn (toxic and processed in most cases). These products are far different than tempeh, nama shoyu, miso… which do have some health benefits. In regards to cancer, it has a estrogen-like quality, so depending on the type of cancer, higher levels of estrogen might be indicated, but that would be the same as using hormone replacement therapy or birth control as a drug-like substance which I believe should be recommended by a doctor, not our desire to eat soy products. Thanks for the input!

  9. Miranda

    What about soy sauce or tamari?

    • lauren

      Nama Shoyu is the unpastuerized (raw) version of soy sauce… it has active enzymes and live probiotics which makes it much healthier. Also no risk of MSG and added sodium.

  10. YES YES YES to all of this! Thank you for spending the time to compile such a great resource and teaching tool about soy. I am constantly nagging about the harms of soy consumption and I will literally send this to every person who needs the convincing. High fives, pretty lady.

  11. Really great article, gave me a lot to think about. Do You know anything about soy products in Europe? My boyfriend is vegetarian and we eat a lot of tofu, he drinks soy milk. Now I wonder if this is safe for us…

    • lauren

      Unfortunately I have not been able to do much research on the soy there. You have a much better chance of it not being GMO, Europe has stricter regulations, but it would be better for him to find an alternate source to avoid too much estrogen exposure. Making homemade nut milks are actually really easy. Just take 2 cups soaked organic almonds, and put them in a blender with 3 cups purified water. Blend until creamy, then filter through a cheese cloth or painters bag. And that’s it! You can add raw honey or dates to sweeten it up also.

  12. Shaheen

    What about edamane?

    • lauren

      Haha, sorry – great catch. I meant edamame… the whole soybean that is popularly served with Japanese Cuisine.

      • Shaheen

        I might be confused but it sounds like your article is mainly refereing to processed foods made from soybeans. I am asking about the eating the soybeans themselves. My family enjoys the edamame as a snack.

  13. Linda Weller

    I have been having Trader Joe’s Organic soy milk every morning with my cereal, I don’t see that on your list. Should I switch to almond milk? Also, my granddaughter was born with a milk protein allergy. My daughter in law stayed away from milk products while nursing. Now that my granddaughter is 14 months old she has been giving her soy milk, Is there a better alternative? Thanks for your help.

    • lauren

      Hi Linda, I just referred to my source and it looks like Trader Joes only received 2 stars out of 5 for safety and hexane use. Surprising actually as Trader Joes usually seems to be pretty conscious. I would have him switch to almond or rice milk. Rice milk is typically really easy to digest. As for your granddaughter, I would most certainly get her off soy. To expose her to soy at such a young age will expose her to too many estrogens which can interfere with her hormone development and put her at a great risk of developing prematurely (early period, hair growth etc). It could also possibly lead to hormone problems such as PCOS, endometriosis etc. Furthermore, since the soy milk she is consuming is most likely toxic (GMO pesticided), she will be at risk of developing allergies as well. She should also look to rice milk, homemade is going to be the best. All the milk alternatives have some additives in them and I would not want to expose her to those. Therefore, it would be imperative to have your daughter make her own milk alternatives. * She should be wary of nut milk because nuts can sometimes contain mold, which at her young age might be toxic.

  14. As a person who works with cancer patients, I also suggest that my clients say “no” to soy products, esp clients who have hormone-based cancers. I have read articles supporting sprouted, organic soy, but I have not read any research supporting that type of soy. Do you think sprouted, organic soy would be any different from other soy products?

    • lauren

      The process is sprouting is used to active enzymes in the food which makes it more digestible (it helps to reduce phytic acid levels) and increases its nutritional value. While this is a great process for preparing food, it does not address the estrogen levels which is what is your concern.

  15. Ali

    I get so confused over the soy topic. I LOVE tofu and I love soy milk. I have two amazing healthy vegetarian children and I have been vegetarian for around twelve years. I feel AMAZING! I breastfeed both my children and the youngest I feed every hour all night (he doesn’t sleep well :-) ). I had no problems conceiving them. I guess what I don’t understand is how I can eat something, and feel so healthy, yet hear that is in fact really bad for me. I find it all so confusing. So my philosophy is to just listen to my body. It ALWAYS tells me what I need or don’t need. But it has said yes to soy :-)

  16. Great post! I’ve always heard “soy is bad for you” but never really took the time to research why. I am not vegetarian, so I don’t eat tofu very often, but I always try to purchase Nasoya organic since they don’t use GMO products. I like tempeh and miso, but since I eat meat, I don’t eat either of those very often. I have been trying alternate milks, though, since I prefer non-dairy milks to make oatmeal and smoothies. So far, I really like coconut, rice, and hemp milks. :)

    • lauren

      I absolutely LOVE coconut products, so much creamier and hearty than the other forms, and definitely healthy too :) Love that coconut fat helps with weight loss too!

  17. Hi Lauren, I was going to reference the same article as Marie because I hate to see all the misinformation about soy from places like Weston Price Foundation pinging around out there– consumption is more like 1.5 servings of soy per day in places like Japan, far from just a condiment. And yes, tofu and soy milk are traditional foods. I’m a long-time vegetarian, fully veg for decades though now eat and serve a little salmon. Raised three boys who are now tall, healthy young men. They ate plenty of tofu, tempeh, miso, etc. along with lots of other good foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and brown rice. It’s not hard or expensive to buy organic tofu and unsweetened organic soy milk. Check your Asian market for fresh local producers if you don’t want something made by a large chain– though really, I feel fine buying things like tofu and soy milk at TJ’s.

    • lauren

      Thank you Mary for your insight. Everyone has a different body type and physiology and therefore eating organic soy can be less harmful to some than others. This article was meant to convey that soy is something that people should be conscious of and informed about especially with the mass push of soy and processed soy products on the market today. In the end we all have to do what is right for our own bodies, and as long as we have all the information we can feel more empowered to do just that.

  18. Kelsey

    Because this article reffers so much on manufactured and genetically altered soy goods, does the same harmful effects apply to organic sources?

    • lauren

      Organic soy and non-organic soy both have anti-nutrients that inhibit mineral absorption in the body. These enzymes can only be broken down when you ferment the soy, like in Tempeh. Organic soy and non-organic soy are both estrogenic as well. So the only difference between organic and non-organic is that the non-organic is not, or should not be, genetically modified. At this point I am not always sure that organic soy really is not GMO because of the gross cross-contamination of soy. Therefore, if you are going to eat soy products, the best are organic tempeh, miso and tama shoyu.

  19. TUpelo

    This is great info that is compactly put together. When I keep telling people to avoid soy, I can now send them here so my brain does not flounder at pulling up all the reasons why. One thing you could use is an editor, since there were a few spelling errors in an otherwise well done piece.

  20. Hi Lauren :)

    I nutritional question. I have very high levels of DHEA-S hormone. My doctors do not know why? Last time they checked they were just under 800. Normal is 100 to 200 range. Mine keep increasing. I have weight gain in the stomach, I cannot lose weight no matter what I do? I have been on a juicing diet with my Vitamix and Breville juicer for 5 weeks now. I only lost 4 lbs. I don’t eat dairy, meat, junk food or sugar. I am not sure what to do at this point? I need to bring my levels down but I am also concerned as to what is causing it. I have extreme sweating, anxiety and now mood swings. My moods are more angry and just grumpy in general. I am also having heart palpatations in the last year. I have heard this hormone can cause them. Any thoughts? Thank You!

    • lauren

      Hi Tammy, so sorry to hear what you are going through. This is a difficult question to answer directly since there are so many factors involved, the most common being adrenal dysfunction. The adrenal glands are in charge of DHEA production and all of your symptoms indicate adrenal dysfunction, especially the anxiety. I am going to email you directly to review this.

  21. B. dugan

    Ive recently read the whole soy story and you can be certain that I will never … Never eat a soy based meal ever again. The truth about soy will never be told by Monsanto, Kellogg’s, or ant of the other if business players out there. As I’ve use the saying before, “soy, it’s not about you, anymore”! You cannot trust it business to feed you well……

  22. G

    Maybe it’s the gmo’s, the chemicals and additives, the fertilizers, pesticides, of course the hexane.
    Top certificated Nutrisoya, unmentioned in your article, claims otherwise and proves well.

  23. Beth

    A lot of what you say here is very contradictory to the many sources I have examined. When you reference the Weston A. Price foundation as a reliable source you damage your argument – they are an unreliable source of information as they have a vendetta against vegetarian lifestyles and aim to promote raw milk and grass fed beef. I advise you read the article below written by a vegan MD and referencing numerous additional studies of soy.

    http://freefromharm.org/health-nutrition/vegan-doctor-addresses-soy-myths-and-misinformation/

    • Lauren aka The Holy Kale

      Hi Beth, while Weston A Price may have an “agenda” that does not make all of their information unresearched or incorrect. I have done a lot of work on the subject and the information I reference from them is credible. There are innumerable research articles about the affects of soy, and having worked directly with patients and countless MDs, NDs, DOs, DCs, and LAcs, there seems to be no doubt that the information I have provided on soy is correct. I am glad to see you are looking further and researching more into the topic, but I suggest that you do not stop there. Regardless of whether a soybean is good or bad for you as a food itself, the majority of soy you will find is GMO, genetically modified, and that is not something that anyone should eat. I encourage you to keep researching – this is a great habit for everyone.

  24. Ashley Oliverio

    This article really helped me in my pain and inflammation hell, which I believe has been caused by a surge in my uptake of soy in the form of processed cereal. I started this consumption to increase my protein, since I eat very little animal protein, and for the health benefits I believed could result to address my perimenopause. After several months of eating the cereal (Kashi Go Lean) at 2-3 servings per day (or over 30 gms protein), I started experiencing extremely painful cramping for 7-12 days before my period, with symptoms mimicking appendicitis without the fever–only the pain is both right and left; I also experienced bloating, constipation, indigestion, joint pain and irregular periods coming 5-7 days early each cycle. My arthritis symptoms are worse than ever before. When you tell your doctor about these problems, they attribute symptoms to premenopause (almost every problem fits the premenopause symptom set) and they say soy is good for you, since it is an estrogen mimic you might need at this stage of life. They do get concerned that these symptoms are so pronounced in someone who exercises daily, is at ideal weight, and eats low-fat with an array of fruits, veggies, and other healthy choices. However, your article and others online highlight the difference between potentially healthy soy products and the processed kind I’ve been consuming. I am cutting it off cold-turkey and watching for results. Hopefully, my body can recover fast. Thanks for the alternative point of view, contrasting with the glut of info online that says soy is healthy, even for people with inflammation and premenopausal conditions like me.

    • Lauren aka The Holy Kale

      You are so very welcome Ashley! I look forward to hearing about your progress :)

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