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Monday Health & Wellness: Soy, Not a Health Food

admin May 2, 2011

 

Soy.

It’s all the rage, and it has been for almost 20 years now.  I remember that back in the early 90s, when my father was in his early 40s and on a health kick, how much he loved soy.  Tofu, TVP, etc.  (I don’t think there was soy milk then — or at least it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now.  And yes, he was, at that time, a vegetarian.)  That’s what I grew up thinking was healthy — low- fat, vegetarian, and lots of soy.

Surprise!  Soy isn’t really that healthy for you, and certainly not the way people consume it today.  (No, my father no longer eats soy, and no, he is not a vegetarian.)

Soy Is a Health Food?

Soy became “the” health food about 20 years ago.  It was promoted as the perfect substitute for all meat products, and eventually just about any animal product.  It’s cheap, it’s high protein, low- fat, and it can be made into just about anything.  Today, you can find soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy ” butter,” soy “meat,” and so on!  It’s even made into baby formula for babies who allergic to cow’s milk.

For people who chose not to consume animal products (many of whom believe that vegetarian/vegan is the “best diet” — despite that no traditional societies were vegan and few were vegetarian), soy seemed like the perfect answer.  With soy, you can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak.

Soy also has a lot of interesting properties.  Lecithin can be extracted from it, which is used in many (well, most) commercial foods as an emulsifier to provide a better texture.  Soy, in some form, is added to just about everything these days.

What’s the Problem?

So if soy is so great — high-protein, low- fat, cheap, easily available, in a variety of forms — what’s the problem?

Well, low-fat…that’s a problem in and of itself!  If you missed it, you can read last week’s post on why low-fat diets are not healthy.

Soy is also almost always genetically modified now.  Although the mainstream insists that GMOs are exactly the same as ‘regular’ food (or even better), there are a lot of scientific studies showing that’s not true.  In fact, there are studies linking GMOs to cancer, infertility, and a lot of other serious health problems.  They are not a food item to be taken lightly at all.  Any form of soy that is used in non-organic products is probably GMO, since 80% of soy is currently grown this way.

Then there is an additional issue with soy itself: it contains something called phytoestrogens.  Eating excessive amounts of soy (almost impossible to avoid these days) is exposing you to large amounts of estrogen.  Excessive estrogen is causing baby boys to become “feminized,” and if consumed during pregnancy permanently lowers a little boy’s fertility.  It can, in large amounts, contribute to infertility as well.  This is a huge problem.  Some have even said that a baby on soy formula consumes the equivalent of 5 birth control pills of estrogen per day!

Soy is also at the top of the “allergenic foods” list as well.  Food allergies are on the rise, and soy being in so many foods is a possible reason for this.

For these reasons, soy is best avoided.

Is Soy Ever Okay?

First, let’s look at the ingredients in a soy product, and you can decide if you ever think you’d want to eat it:

TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, WHEAT GLUTEN, WATER FOR HYDRATION), WATER, ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, CORN OIL, CORNSTARCH, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF WHEAT STARCH, SALT, METHYLCELLULOSE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, DEXTROSE, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS FROM NON-MEAT SOURCES, SUGAR, MALTODEXTRIN, DISODIUM INOSINATE, SOYBEAN OIL, HYDROLYZED SOY PROTEIN, ONION, PAPRIKA, DRIED YEAST, INULIN FROM CHICORY ROOT, CARAMEL COLOR, TAPIOCA DEXTRIN, XANTHAN GUM, SODIUM ALGINATE, SPICES, YELLOW CORN FLOUR, PAPRIKA EXTRACT FOR COLOR, ANNATTO EXTRACT FOR COLOR, BAKING SODA, GARLIC, TOMATO POWDER, CELERY EXTRACT, WHEAT FIBER, LACTIC ACID, SAFFLOWER OIL, BARLEY EXTRACT, CITRIC ACID, NIACINAMIDE, EGG WHITES, NONFAT DRY MILK, SUCCINIC ACID, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, IRON (FERROUS SULFATE), THIAMIN MONONITRATE ( VITAMIN B1), PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE ( VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN ( VITAMIN B2), VITAMIN B12.

That’s typical of most processed soy foods.  And like most processed foods, it is not okay to eat.

There are some soy foods that are okay to eat, though.  Miso, tempeh, and natto are traditional soy foods which are fermented.  They contain much lower levels of phytoestrogens due to the fermentation process.  They are also eaten as condiments and in very small amounts.

This is the major difference that a lot of people miss when they talk about cultures that eat “a lot” of soy.  Soy is not consumed in the form of meat replacement products, soy milk, etc.  These are highly processed, modern foods that were not part of traditional diets.  Small amounts of fermented soy, consumed as condiments, are fine (organic so it’s non-GMO!).

Do you consume soy?  In what forms?  Why or why not?

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21 Comments

  1. It still amazes me how many folks still think soy is a healthfood. I myself was completely duped about soy years ago and even weaned my first child onto soy milk! Fortunately, I wised up and switched to grassfed, fresh whole milk within a year or so. Soy milk made my son totally hyperactive! His behavior normalized within weeks of getting off that poison.

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  2. What do you suggest as a good, cost effective, soy milk replacement? My six year old son has dairy allergies and hasn't been able to have cow's milk for the last four years. The problem we continually run into is finding anything that is even remomtely close to the same price as soy milk and even though we have questioned giving him soy over the years I've always come back to the fact that I feel it is better for him than his chronic ear infections, runny nose, and cough. We tried rice milk for awhile but our pediatrician was worried it didn't have enough fat in it and asked us to continue with soy (we have almost exclusively purchased the organic Kirkland signature brand at Costco). I just recently found your website and I am beyond thankful for your baby steps, and I am hopeful that as we continue our transition to a real food diet that all the other junk we've been pumping into his system will get out and his tolerance for dairy will increase and we can get him back onto cow's milk. In the meantime, what do you suggest we use?

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    • Coconut milk, almond milk, hemp milk. Also you don’t NEED milk in a diet! Think about it, many cultures do not drink milk in any form (besides human milk) so as long as he eats well, he is fine. He can even eat cheeses and yogurts if you really want the dairy in his diet.

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  3. We do not consume soy either (for all the reasons you mentioned above!) and thankfully eating wholefoods and making meals from scratch at home helps us eliminate it completely from our diet. Sometimes I do enjoy organic naturally fermented soy sauce a couple times a year though, that's about it.

    Thank you for sharing this! People do not believe me when I tell them that soy is NOT a health food.

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  4. Hi Gen,

    It's not easy with a dairy allergy. We typically used coconut milk. Real coconut milk is rich in fat and a lot of other nutrients and makes an excellent substitute for milk. It's best to make it yourself at home (albeit a bit annoying to do), but you can buy it in cans or boxes. The cans are fattier than the boxes. You can even make — and in some places, buy! — ice cream made from it. Coconut oil, too, is an excellent sub for butter, and a great fat anyway. Lard and beef tallow (from pastured animals) are also excellent for cooking instead of butter!

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  5. A few years ago I had trouble with a kidney stone that was embedded in my urinary tract. The doctors all warned me about soy products as it can increase the quantity or size of kidney stones in your system. Trust me – you don't want a kidney stone to release from your kidneys 🙂

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  6. Would making your own tofu and soy milk from scratch (using organic soy beans) lead to the same phytoestrogen problems? It seems at least a good way to avoid the unnatural ingredients in processed soy products.

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    • Soy products, even made at home will still contain the same amount of phytoestrogens. Unless you ferment it, you cant change the genetic properties of the soy itself. Making things at home though will definitely be healthier when we talk about the other processed junk in store bought soy items.

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  7. Kaya,

    Unfortunately not. Any soybeans will have the phytoestrogens in them (just like any beans and grains have phytates, and grinding your own flour doesn't negate that). Coconut milk is a much better sub for dairy if you need to use a sub.

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  8. Aside from a very rare indulgence in edamame, there's no soy to be found in our house. My husband abhors it in general – he grew up in South America where it wasn't found in every food item sold in a box, can or jar, and he's always been skeptical of it. Neither of us care for tofu, and so haven't considered branching into the fermented types available such as tempeh. Our protein sources are almost always animal based!

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  9. Depending on the differences between dairy allergies and lactose intolerance (I don't know myself), you could maybe try goat's milk. My grandma is lactose intolerant & has drank goat's milk as an alternative. She was even getting fresh goat's milk from my uncle during the time he raised dairy goats.

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  10. Gen,
    I hope this helps somewhat:
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/2011/01/the-three-best-substitutes-for-a-child-allergic-to-milk/

    I think we as a society focus too much on 'milk'. Everyone always ask about how much milk your child is drinking. My ped would probably cringe if I said my 15 month old is drinking NONE. No cow milk or substitutes. I still nurse but he's been eating everything in sight so I don't worry. He gets meats, broth, veggies, etc. He does eat yogurt and cheese but he's not cared for milk so I don't push it. I'm going to try cow milk again in a while and see. I'm dairy intolerant myself (and on GAPS to cure it) and we'll both be on intro shortly so we'll introduce dairy slowly and see what happens. Oh, I should mention we both eat butter and ghee – I slather it on everything!! My general advice would be focus on other foods: good fats, meats, broth, coconut, etc.
    As to soy I eat none right now because of GAPS. Hopefully I'll be able to get back to wheat free soy sauce eventually but that's the only soy I eat.

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  11. Madga,

    My kids also don't "drink milk." And they were dairy-allergic until we did GAPS and started on raw milk; now they do fine. They love their ice cream and yogurt popsicles and cheese!

    The kid's ped (well, former ped, who is very old-fashioned) asked at 1 year how much milk my daughter was drinking. "None." He wanted her on Pediasure. I read the ingredients…um, no! At her 2-year appointment, my husband took them. How much milk? My husband looks straight at him and says, "Breast or cow's?" The doctor was a bit taken aback. Still no on the cow's milk (but yes on breastmilk). By age 3 we'd switched peds and did not even get asked. In fact, that ped recommended GAPS…yup, we are lucky. 🙂

    Reply

  12. I try to avoid soy as much as I can. I am a vegan and used to load up on soy "meats" until I heard about the dangers of soy. Now I stick to organic, fermented soy products a few times a month. I do have tofu every once in a while, and I always make sure that's organic too.
    As for the milk substitutes, hemp milk is amazing! It's loaded with all the good stuff you need as it is a complete protein! I just discovered it a couple months ago and I'm hooked. It's so delicious and good for you (:

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  13. Thank you @magda for the links! Super helpful and very affordable!
    It has been a few years but when we first questioned whether or not we should give up soy milk we drove the 30 miles to buy some raw milk. Within an hour he had explosive diarrhea. 🙁 AT that point we felt that it was a genuine dairy allergy. We went completely dairy free as a family for over a year before we began to add things like cheese, butter and ice cream back into our diets. Since the initial 'dairy free' time we had, he has only had one ear infection, and that was recently, after we returned from a weeks stay in a hotel while my husband attended a class for work out of our local area. We ate out nearly every meal and I wasn't surprised that he (and the rest of our kids for that matter) came home so ill.
    Since upgrading to good milk for the rest of our family recently I've felt some turmoil about continuing to give him (and our youngest son as well) soy milk but have continued to feel that other options were out of our budget. I feel more hope, and an even stronger resolve, to do what is best for my sons' little bodies. Thank you for contributing to that!

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  14. I do soymilk right now. I'm trying to find a way to get it out of the diet, but in my current situation it isn't easy. I'm lactose intolerant (to "normal" milk) but don't have any other options available. In my store (I live overseas) I can have milk (regular or organic ultra-pasteurized), shelf-stable milk, dry milk, or soy milk. I only buy the soymilk that is soybeans, water, and organic sugar (I think; there is a brand availble with a laundry list of ingredients but it's awful…we buy the shortest ingredients that specifically states it's non-GMO soy). We do have cans of coconut milk at the store too but my husband absolutely can not stand anything that tastes like coconut. Like won't touch it. I cook with light cream instead of milk but what can I put on cereal when we eat it given those choices? We usually go with the soymilk because it doesn't go bad as quickly as regular milk and our cereal eating is sporadic at best. Any suggestions?

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  15. We don't avoid soy altogether but we do limit it. Our family enjoys Bragg's Liquid Aminos for flavoring sometimes and we do occasionally use soy milk. Normally we drink raw cow's milk though. A lot of the problem comes from extreme overuse of soy for meat and milk alternatives. We were never meant to lean so heavily on one food for our nourishment. But my personal opinion is that non-GMO soy in very limited quantities is not harmful, especially if you diet is filled with other balanced and nourishing foods.

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  16. What about just plain, organic, edamame?

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  17. So is consuming organic edamame bad? Or should just be limited?

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  18. unless you are making homemade almond, hemp, coconut milk, etc., be wary of the additives. also, coconut milk have lots of fiber, so given in larger quantities can give folks diarrea, not good for babies.

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  19. Every milk is good for human health. This is fact. but the problems occur when these natural resource related with human greed which happens during the “food process steps”.
    From the thousands of years,,, human enjoyed every kind of milk in the healthy ways.

    Reply

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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