Soy - Clearing up the confusion

By: Gemma Davies

It’s bamboozling that despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary mass-produced soy foods are still largely regarded as ‘healthy’! The soy latte, the tofu burger, the shelves of ‘dairy alternatives’ in the health food store; all remain fodder for so many health-seekers… Heck, even soy-based infant formulas have a dominant place in the market, promising a gentle, low-allergy alternative!

Yet, as Joseph Mercola wrote in his article for the Huffington Post:

‘Thousands of studies link soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility -- even cancer and heart disease.’

Articles like this in mainstream publications indicate that there is a slow-growing awareness that most soy foods are far from optimal, but the ‘why’ has yet to sink in. We felt it important to compile a basic primer on the dangers of mass produced soy foods and arm you with the details of their destruction!

  1. GM Roulette – unless the soy products you use clearly specify otherwise on the label, it is virtually guaranteed that they are made using genetically modified soybeans. Whilst the specific health implications of genetically modified foods have yet to be revealed, the dramatic increases in fertility problems and low birth weights since the introduction of genetically engineered foods in 1996 suggests that we’ve got some problems on our hands…
  2. Carcinogenic Chemicals – unless your soy foods are certified organic, they will have been sprayed with particularly potent herbicides, some of which have been linked to cancers.
  3. Phytoestrogens and Hormone Havoc – soy is extremely high in phytoestrogens; plant compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the human body. So much so, soy is successfully used as an alternative to hormone replacement in menopausal women. Furthermore, has been estimated that drinking only 2 glasses of soymilk per day has the potential to influence a woman’s menstrual cycle! Do we really want such potent hormonal influencers in our daily fare?
  4. Anti-nutrient Abundance – soy foods contain high levels of phytates, trypsin inhibitors and goitrogens. These compounds interfere with the absorption and metabolism of critical proteins and minerals from other foods.
  5. Formidable Fortification – many commercial soy products are ‘fortified’ with vitamins and minerals in an effort to balance out their nutritional shortcomings. This means that soy foods are often loaded with synthetic compounds, some of which (eg. vitamin D2), are toxic.
  6. Malevolent Metals – aluminum and high levels of manganese are often used in the processing of commercial soy foods. Aluminum is a proven neurotoxin and kidney toxin and high levels of manganese have been shown to negatively influence several critical metabolic processes in the body.
  7. B12 Deceit – soy foods are often considered quality sources of B12 for vegans and vegetarians, however the form of this vitamin in soy is unusable in the human body. 

All this said… are any soy foods acceptable in a truly healthy diet? Why, yes!

Proper fermentation of (organic) soybeans is the only process that neutralizes their phytates, whilst also significantly increasing their content of vitamin K2, a critical co-factor in the absorption of vitamin D. Traditional soy fermentation also yields high amounts of beneficial bacteria. Whilst it is important to remember that even traditionally prepared soy has relatively high levels of phytoestrogens and a somewhat deceptive vitamin B12 content, there are several delicious soy-based foods and condiments that have a place (in moderation!) in the nourishing kitchen, including:

  • Traditionally fermented soy sauces (including tamari, nama shoyu and shiro), which can be used to add a moreish, savoury, ‘umami’ flavour to many recipes.
  • Tempeh, a traditionally cultured, savoury soybean ‘cake’ that can be sliced and fried to delicious crispness in coconut oil, sprinkled with fermented soy sauce and served with other Asian inspired dishes.
  • Miso, a paste of soybeans (and sometimes other beans or grains), fermented with salt and Aspergillus oryzae cultures that can be used as a nourishing soup/broth base and added to recipes as a deliciously savoury seasoning.
  • Natto, a ferment of soybeans and Bacillus subtilis culture, resulting in a strongly flavoured, intensely smelly, slimy concoction! It’s very popular in Japan, but perhaps not for the faint-of-heart Western palate! Natto is so high in absorbable vitamin K2 that it is the main source of the nutrient in Garden of Life’s Vitamin Code Raw K2 Complex. Nattokinase, an enzyme derived from natto, has been shown to improve the symptoms of cardiovascular disease, inflammatory disorders and Alzheimer’s. 

As is the case with so many foods, it is ultimately the preparation methods involved in soy food production that dictates whether they’re disastrous or desirous! Traditional preparation wisdom wins again!

By Gemma Davies

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