I wrote a short piece about soy a while back, after my internship this summer. I get asked a lot if I eat a lot of tofu and soy milk because I’m so into “health food.” The answer is no, I drink whole milk from Straus when I can’t find raw milk and occasionally I eat grass-fed beef, lamb and free range chickens and eggs and wild game–basically I prefer to eat food that has been raised or grown in a way I consider to be well, normal. I don’t find genetically engineered, pesticide ridden, feedlot confined, chemically altered food normal, so I shy away from the obscure in my foods.
This article from natural news puts a lot of information about soy into perspective. The most important advice I pulled away from my education about soy is to stick to fermented products.
It is Time to Stop Consuming Soy (Opinion)
Thursday, January 28, 2010 by: Dr. Jay Davidson, citizen journalist
(NaturalNews) Soy burgers, soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy baby formula, soybean oil, tofu, all the way to soy milk – soy has taken over in America with a reputation for being all natural and good for you. About 74 percent of U.S. consumers now believe soy products are healthy. Although soybeans are considered a vegetable, that alone does not make it necessarily healthy. It is interesting to note that soybeans were not listed as a food in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) handbook in 1913, but as an industrial product.
In 2009, the soybean industry was a $6.8 billion dollar industry! The marketing for soy has been aimed primarily at the health benefits of the isoflavones it contains, which is one of the phytochemicals in soybeans. Isoflavones are the compounds which are being studied in relation to the relief of certain menopausal symptoms, cancer prevention, slowing or reversing osteoporosis and reducing the risk of heart disease. The marketing and research has helped soymilk alone go from a $2 million dollar product in 1980 to $300 million dollar product in 2001! (2)
However, new research and studies have raised very important questions over the health benefits of soy. The core of their concerns rests with the chemical makeup of the soybean. Soybeans contain a natural chemical that mimics estrogen, the female hormone. Studies have shown that this chemical might increase the risk of breast cancer in some women, affect brain function in men and lead to hidden developmental ab-normalities in infants.
Jill Schneider is an associate professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Through her extensive research she has discovered that a component of soybeans – isoflavones – significantly accelerated the onset of puberty in the rodents. (3)
She points out that many babies who are allergic to cow`s milk are fed soy-based formulas, which contain isoflavones. Isoflavones, she says, can act like estrogen, a natural hormone important in the development of both male and female humans and a baby fed soy will receive, through the phytoestrogens, the equivalent of approximately 5 birth control pills per day! (4)
Besides soy mimicking estrogen in the body it also contains a dangerous substance called phytic acid (or also referred to as phytates). This substance is present in the bran or hulls of all seeds and legumes, but none have the high level of phytates which soybeans do. Phytic acid blocks the body`s uptake of essential minerals like magnesium, calcium, iron and especially zinc. Additionally, soybeans are highly resistant to phytate-reducing techniques, such as long, slow cooking.
In addition, soybeans also contain potent enzyme-inhibitors. These inhibitors specifically block uptake of trypsin and other enzymes. Trypsin and the other enzymes are needed for protein digestion. Without them it can lead to serious gastric distress and to chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake.
Soybeans also contain hemagglutinin, a clot-promoting substance which causes red blood cells to clump together and inhibits oxygen take-up and growth. Hemagglutinin and trypsin inhibitors are both “growth depressant” substances. Although the act of fermenting soybeans does de-activate both hemagglutinin and trypsin inhibitors, cooking and precipitation do not. (5)
It is clear that soy is not suitable for human consumption unless it has gone through a rigorous fermentation process to reduce the anti-nutrient and phytate levels. Examples of fermented soybeans are the following: tempeh, miso and natto and soybean sprouts.
If that’s not enough a very large percentage of soy – over 90% – is genetically modified and it also has one of the highest percentages of contamination by pesticides of any of the foods we eat.