Soy: A Dangerous Love Affair
Thursday, October 02, 2014
So is that a good thing or a bad thing?
For quite a while the news on soy was almost wholly positive. “Eat more soy!” was the cry, and the claims of the health beneﬁts were exhaustive.
According to the information spewing from across the media, some of the advantages of adding soy to your diet include the following (all found in an amazingly comprehensive search of PubMed and compiled by Bon Appetit magazine):
Soy or soy proteins may protect against cancer, slow the progression of breast cancer, lower the risk of heart disease in women and in men, minimize menopausal hot flashes, reduce cholestorol, improve insulin resistance in diabetics, prevent osteoporosis and increase longevity.
Wow. So with all this great news coming out of highly respected medical journals, what’s not to love?
You should go out immediately and buy yourself a hunk of tofu, right?
If only it were that easy. You see, for all of the great claims of soy’s positive effects on a host of health problems, there are many many articles that say exactly the opposite—often printed in the same journals just a year or two apart.
For instance, in 1994 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition posted a study that claimed that a high soy diet may be the reason that Chinese and Japanese women have a low rate of breast cancer. In 1995, however, it published an article that stated that the inclusion of soy in their diets did not account for the low incidence of breast cancer.
GMOs in Soy
In recent years the soy news has been even more mixed, partly due to the fear of GMOs — 91 percent of soybeans in America are genetically modiﬁed — partly because it turns out that soy is a highly allergenic food, and partly because there is so much opposing research that no one knows what to recommend.
Here’s what food writer Michael Pollan had to say:
“Soy isoﬂavones, found in most soy products, are compounds that resemble estrogen, and in fact bind to human estrogen receptors. But it is unclear whether these so-called phytoestrogens actually behave like estrogen in the body or only fool it into thinking they’re estrogen.
Either way, the phytoestrogens might have an effect (good or bad) on the growth of certain cancers, the symptoms of menopause and the functions of the endocrine system. Because of these uncertainties, the FDA has declined to grant GRAS (‘generally regarded as safe’) status to soy isoﬂavones used as a food additive.”
Here’s the crux of the matter: Americans are eating far more soy these days than are their Asian counterparts, and they are eating it in forms that are incredibly processed and altered.
The Right Type of Soy
The studies that suggest the beneﬁts that come from eating soy were based on consumption primarily of whole or fermented soy, and on consumption levels that were possibly as low as 1/3 to 1/6 the amount that Americans are consuming. It is commonly accepted that the more highly processed foods are, the more nutrients they are lacking and the worse they are for you.
Soy happens to be one of the most bastardized foods out there — fakin’ bacon, anyone?
As Michael Pollan suggested, the issue is that we know that soy mimics estrogen, and we know that it has been shown to have an effect on several hormonal systems of our bodies, but we don’t really have any idea if that effect is for better or for worse.
After years of research, the jury is still out about soy’s effects on our health. We do know that it has inundated our food supply, and anything in excess is usually not good.
So the recommendation would be this: eat soy in its natural or fermented state and eat it moderately. This means that edamame, real tofu, miso, tempeh and seitan are OK to be eaten occasionally.
Stay away from all those “nutrition bars” that use soy protein isolate as their protein source, and if you are a vegetarian (as I was for many, many years, so I say this with love and respect), for goodness sake, either quit eating fake soy “meat” or start eating real meat. Eating a plant-based diet has many merits, but those go out the window when that diet is based around chik’n patties and soy cheese!
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