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April 2, 2006: Eat - The Soy Controversy

Soy is often touted as healthy, and it can be if you pick your soy products carefully, but most of the soy that is on the market is actually very hard on our systems.  I was completely fooled by the propaganda on soy and bought into this one hook, line and sinker, feeling virtuous switching to soy milk when I found out I was sensitive to poor quality dairy.

Like all grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, soybeans have a phytate layer to stop the beans from sprouting unless there is adequate moisture and warmth.  The phytate layer in soybeans is much thicker than in other grains and legumes and cannot be neutralized with soaking, sprouting or long slow cooking.  This means that soybeans are very difficult to digest, and the phytic acid reduces assimilation of calcium, magnesium copper, iron and zinc.  Soy interferes with protein digestion, and the soy estrogens are endocrine disruptors, (by binding with estrogen receptors) potentially creating fertility problems and breast cancer in women, and reducing testosterone in men.  These soy phytoestrogens also are anti-thyroid agents, causing sluggish thyroids, possibly thyroid cancer, and weight gain.   Soy increases the body's requirement for B12 and Vitamin D.   Soy food processing results in the formation of MSG, which is a well known neurotoxin, and soy contains high levels of aluminum which is known to be toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.  Most soybean crops in North America are genetically modified.  It is worth noting that in January of this year, the American Heart Association reversed its position recommending the consumption of soy to lower the chance of heart disease, after reviewing 22 recent studies, and noted that the FDA's original recommendation was based on a single study funded by the soy industry.  The soy that should be avoided are soy isolate products, like soy milk, soy cheese, soy meat, soy protein powders, soy lecithin, soy flour, soy oil, and even tofu isn't great.  Soy infant formula is a very bad idea, as the baby gets far too much phytoestrogen for its bodyweight, which messes with the baby's hormones even more than in adults.

For those of you that are dairy intolerant and want a milky substitute for your whole-grain cereal, you may be able to tolerate a non-homogenized  organic plain yogurt (raw is better if you can get it), or look for a rice milk or almond milk that does not have a vegetable oil listed in the ingredient list, or try organic full-fat coconut milk.  Yummy!  (No, the fat in coconut milk will not make you fat - lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty-acid that is metabolized immediately by the liver, and is very healthful for the body due to its antibacterial and antiviral factors.)

If you are a soy fan, fermented soy is very healthful, so look for foods like organic tamari (wheat-free soy sauce), miso, tempeh, and natto.  For more information on the problems with soy, read The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food by Kaayla Daniel.

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Daniel, Kaayla T. The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food NewTrends Publishing, Inc., March, 2005.
Sacks, Frank M. et al. Soy Protein, Isoflavones, and Cardiovascular Health; An American Heart Association Science Advisory for Professionals from the Nutrition Committee Circulation 113: 1034-1044, 2006.
Sharpe RM et al. Infant feeding with soy formula milk: effect on testis and on blood testosterone levels in marmoset monkeys during the period of neonatal testicular activity. Human Reproduction Jul;17(7):1692-703, 2002.
Bell, DS et al.Use of soy protein supplement and resultant need for increased dose of levothyroxine Endocrine Pract. May-June; 7(3):193-4, 2001.
Gardner-Thorpe D. et al. Dietary supplements of soya flour lower serum testosterone concentrations and improve markers of oxidative stress in men. European J. of Clinical Nutrition Jan; 57(1):100-6, 2003.
Ju YH et al. Dietary genistein negates the inhibitory effect of tamoxifen on growth of estrogen-dependent human breast cancer Cancer Research May 1;62(9):2474-7, 2002.
Doerge DR and DM Sheehan. Goitrogenic and estrogenic activity of soy isoflavones Environmental Health Perpectives June;110 suppl 3:349-53, 2002.