The humble little soy bean. Promoted as being used by Asian societies for centuries, a great source of protein (especially for vegetarians), contains no cholesterol, linked to lower rates of some cancers, helps hormone balance, the list goes on. It sounds great doesn’t it? Perhaps not.
It is true that Asian societies have used soy as part of their diet for centuries, but it was not a staple of their diet, nor was it used in the forms that we use it today. The Asians knew something about soy that we as Westerners have seemed to have overlooked. That is that beans, especially soybeans, are high in naturally occurring toxins, or anti nutrients. They knew how to process it in a way that broke down these anti nutrients that made it a relatively healthy food in the end. Something which is quite time consuming and requires a lot of patience, which the modern processors don’t have a lot of!
The forms of soy that the Asians ate were things like tempeh, natto, miso and soy sauce. Foods that required extensive fermentation that could take a year or so to do correctly. Otherwise the soybean was not used as a food substance. Some say that it was used in farming processes to simply add nitrogen back into the soil when rotating crops.
These anti nutrients that they were trying to get rid of are known as enzyme inhibitors, or more specifically trypsin inhibitors. Trypsin is a protease, an enzyme essential for the digestion of proteins. If these trypsin inhibitors aren’t removed, or broken down, the protein, which soy is known for, remains undigested and can actually cause stomach upsets, inability to digest any other proteins eaten together with the soy, and diets high in these trypsin inhibitors have been linked to pancreatic cancer. The modern food industry is aware of this problem, but their solution is to heat the soy protein to high temperatures, which does break down some of the trypsin inhibitors, but also denatures the protein itself. Kind of counter productive…
Another issue with soy is its effect on the thyroid. If you have been a long time consumer of soy products and have thyroid issues, they are most likely linked. The thyroid is essential for energy production and your body’s metabolic rate. Low thyroid function will leave you lacking motivation and inhibit weight loss. Along with the high levels of phytates (mineral blockers), soy really is something that is best avoided. The minerals phytates have the biggest effect on are zinc (essential for healthy brain function, protein synthesis, immune system function and blood sugar regulation among many others), magnesium (essential for muscle function and preventing cramps, correct bowel movements, blood sugar regulation, and many other functions which reach into the hundreds), calcium (building strong bones) and iron (healthy red blood cell creation).
The reasons for avoiding soy far outweigh any potential benefits you can get from it, but really, I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. The biggest problem is that soy has made its way into so many foods that it’s not funny. Some baby formulas are predominantly soy protein which is crazy as babies need the fat and cholesterol more present in whey protein formulas. In some processed foods, part of the meat content is replaced with soy and labeled as a vegetable protein, soy milk is being consumed at high rates in people who are lactose intolerant, breads are being filled up with soy flour, even our farm animals are being fed with soy. Most grain fed animals are fed with soy content in their feed as it is a simple, cheap product. One of the many reasons I promote avoidance of grain fed animals.
The best way to avoid soy, and especially hidden soy products, is to stick to the whole, unprocessed foods like your vegetables, fruit, nuts and meats. Foods that are unprocessed and unadulterated. I avoid soy like the plague and haven’t knowingly eaten it in years. So be careful and more importantly EDUCATED when choosing your food. You never know what dangers may be hiding inside!
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