the dangers of modern soy

The condemnation of soy products is a touchy subject due to the fact that many people, vegetarian or not, substitute essential dietary elements with soy under the belief that it is a healthier alternative. The heavy inclusion of soy in one’s diet can be attributed to the positive media attention it has received, resulting in soy’s popularity in healthy recipes and grocery stores. What is touted as a complete protein is actually the opposite, but the soybean industry-funded press promoting soy keeps it a growing force in the health food industry.

Many promoters of soy use the traditional Asian diet as a springboard for their argument. These traditional societies ate soy that had been fermented for long periods of time. This fermentation helped to break down the proteins in soy which are naturally hard to digest because of the phytates* and enzyme inhibitors**.

Common fermented [and therefore digestible] soy foods are miso, natto, and tempeh. There is also substantial evidence to prove that Asian societies did not consume soy as a replacement for animal products and that, rather, it was consumed in very small amounts.

natto, a fermented soy product

The problem with modern soy is the way it is processed into the product you see on the shelf. The Weston A. Price Foundation [see sources] describes why modern soy products do not confer the same health benefits as traditional soy-based foods:

“Most modern soy foods are not fermented to neutralize toxins in soybeans, and are processed in a way that denatures proteins and increases levels of carcinogens.”

Another popular use of soy in American diets is in the form of protein powder marketed to athletes or those trying to lose weight. Kathryne Pirtle, author of  Performance without Pain [see sources] explains why these powders and protein drinks are dangerous for consumption:

“Commercial soy beverages and protein powders, however, are made from unfermented soy or refined soy protein isolates [sources/link] that are processed at high temperatures, which denature them.” [p. 47]

The denaturing of proteins is a process that results in the destruction of the natural helical and folded structure of a protein. There are many studies^ about the effects of denatured proteins on the body, especially when it comes to soy products, soy-based protein powders in particular. This denaturing may not render the protein 100% indigestible but it does make it difficult to digest and assimilate.

For information about a safer, healthy alternative to soy-based proteins, see Dr. Mercola’s protein supplement. For more information about which proteins contain harmful toxins and chemicals, see this study.

protein from happy cows!

A Brief List of the Dangers of Soy: as adopted from the Dr. Weston A. Price Foundation “Principles of Healthy Diets” Handbook

– Isoflavones [also known as estrogen] present in soy, when eaten as a normal part of one’s diet, can prevent ovulation and promote the growth of cancer cells. If one eats approximately 30 grams of soy protein a day [the equivalent of drinking one cup of soymilk, eating a serving of tofu, and having a soy bar snack in a day], hypothyroidism could be a result.

– Soy is believed to be a “complete protein.” Soybeans are legumes, which, by definition, are not complete proteins. They are deficient in sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine.

– Studies show that the consumption of soy causes infertility in animals. It lowers testosterone levels in men to the point where Buddhist monks used to consume tofu to reduce their libido.

– The modern way of producing soy denatures the protein and increases levels of carcinogens.

the nationally recognized symbol for anything containing carcinogenic chemicals

Though I believe in the dangers of soy, I am not trying to force anyone to believe what I have to say about this. I hope this has sparked your interest to do a little research on your own to try and decide what is right for you. This is a subject that deserves much more attention and I will address it again in the future, hopefully after learning more about it. As far as personal experience goes, I have been soy-free for about six months now. The decision to eliminate soy from my diet has left me feeling a little less bloated and a lot less worried about the level of unnatural chemicals present in my body. Looking for a great alternative to soymilk? Try coconut milk!

it's delicious!

______________________________________________________

*Phytates, as explained by Dr. Mercola [see sources]

“Soybeans are high in phytic acid, present in the bran or hulls of all seeds. It’s a substance that can block the uptake of essential minerals – calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc – in the intestinal tract. Although not a household word, phytic acid has been extensively studied; there are literally hundreds of articles on the effects of phytic acid in the current scientific literature. Scientists are in general agreement that grain- and legume-based diets high in phytates contribute to widespread mineral deficiencies in third world countries.”

**Enzyme inhibitors, as explained in the Natural News online journal

“When food is eaten, digestive enzymes such as amylase lipase and protease are secreted into the digestive tract to help break it down and free nutrients for assimilation into the body. The high content of enzyme inhibitors in unfermented soybeans interferes with this process and makes carbohydrates and proteins from soybeans impossible to completely digest. When foods are not completely digested because of enzyme inhibitors, bacteria in the large intestine try to do the job, and this can cause discomfort, bloating, and embarrassment. Anyone with naturally low levels of digestive enzymes such as elderly people would suffer the most from the enzyme inhibiting action of soy.”

^ There are many online and print resources that discuss the dangers of soy. Here are a couple that use credible, scientific sources.

  • Hunter, Beatrice. (2001). The Downside of soybean consumption. Retrieved from http://superiorsites3.com/NNF01SoyBeatrice.htm
  • Fallon, Sally. (2001). Nourishing traditions: the cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats. Washington, DC: New Trends Publishing, Inc.
  • Enig, Dr. Mary, & Fallon, S. (2000, May). Tragedy and hype. Nexus Magainze7(3) http://www.whale.to/a/fallon1.html

One of the studies these authors use can be found here:

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One thought on “the dangers of modern soy

  1. Great post, well-researched. I am not saying you are wrong, but there are a few things I would like to touch on. Soy (properly fermented) does have health benefits. I do agree that soy protein supplements are inferior to whey and/or bovine colostrum protein supplements. Then there is the question of the efficacy of any protein supplement. There was a study done showing that skim chocolate milk had the same physiological effect as protein supplements as well as providing the appropriate carbohydrate to protein ratio (4:1) for recovery from exercise. But I digress. You mentioned phytic acid as a hindrance to mineral and vitamin uptake during digestion which is true but there is also evidence to support, although the mechanism has not yet been determined, it is a cancer reducing agent (Vucenik and Shamsuddin 2003). Therefore it could be posited that a person maintaining a diet that is not low in mineral intake would not be significantly affected by the amount of phytic acid in soy as long as soy was consumed in moderation. Isoflavones, primarily geinstein and daidzein which are phytoestrogens, are a mixed bag, so to speak, there is no definitive evidence that it reduces or promotes cancer but there are claims on both sides. It is also claimed, typically by the same dietitians which say it is carcinogenic, that is endocrine disruptive. They are typically referring to it acting as estrogen in the body, which it does although it does not raise estrogen levels. In a nut shell, the phytoestrogens bind to the receptors so actual estrogen cannot. But the amount present in a “normal” human diet is not enough to elicit a physiological response in males (Collins, et. al. 2001). However, isoflavones could increase breast tumor growth in women who have had or have breast cancer (de Lemos 2001). Isoflavones are present in legumes and are not unique to soybeans. The main point I am trying to make is that soy is not “bad” as long as it is not used as a primary protein source in a diet and quality soy is consumed. The amino acid profile of soy cannot compare with animal products. So I do agree with you that soy can be removed from a diet altogether, that it is not necessary, but there is still robust evidence to support the health-related benefits of soy which should be considered. Like any dietary subject there is no real definitive answer on what is “correct.” Human physiology is a growing field and probably always will be. As Michael Pollan said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Keep it up. I enjoy reading your posts.

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