As the “plant-based diet” has gained mainstream momentum, so has the popularity of soy, and more and more people seeking out dairy and meat alternatives. Where did this idea of eating mass quantities of soy (soy milk, soy ice cream, soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy burgers, tofu, soy flour, soy chips, soybean oil, soy lecithin, soy protein isolate) come from? A general rule of thumb that I find extremely insightful: Follow the money.
The History of Soy
After World War I, soy was used to regenerate the soil during the “Dust Bowl” and drought stricken “Dirty Thirties” because of its nitrogen fixing properties. Henry Ford became a great voice promoting soybeans and the soy industry, spending approximately $1.25 million (this was in the early 1930s) on soy research, helping to develop its use as both a food and industrial product. By 1935, soy was involved in the manufacture of every Ford car, using the crop as a paint base on his automobiles and in the fluid of the shock absorbers. It didn’t stop there. Ford even went so far as to make an entire car out of soy. Government demands for soy grew stronger, and more farms began increasing their production of the crop. By the 1940s, soy farming really took off.1,2 During World War II, the US experienced a “dizzying rise” in soybean production that “exceeded even the wildest expectations or hopes,” as farmers produced more to help aid the wartime effort, making plastics, oils, lubricants, and other industrial products.1,3 After the war, with increased prosperity in the United States and a higher demand for meat as peoples’ diets improved, it was soymeal that was used to feed the livestock. “Chickens, turkeys, cattle and hogs were fed diets containing tens of millions of tons of soybean meal each year.”2 The United States soon become the world’s biggest producer of soy, where it still remains today.
With what was now a huge surplus of soy on their hands, of course manufacturers couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eventually capitalize on this cheap source of revenue. They began spending a lot of money to market this processed gunk as a health food and meat replacement. “Meatless Monday” was born.
Soy has grown into a monster, becoming one of Monsanto’s major “biotech foods” (meaning it’s genetically modified). In 1995, approximately 8% of all soybeans in the US were genetically modified. By 2011, that figure reached 94%.
Considering that soy has found it’s way into the majority of processed foods (including the actual packaging materials of these foods, such as the plastic), combined with the fact that many Americans are willingly consuming soy in it’s more obvious forms of milks, ice creams, tofu, and the like, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the top food allergens. Genetically modified soy is particularly problematic because of the GM connection with increased food allergies in general. Additionally, because it’s actual taste is totally unappealing, chemicals, “natural flavors” and “yeast extract” (aka MSG) are often thrown into the mix to make it more palatable.
Soy Problems: Anti-nutrients and Toxins
Traditionally, soy was fermented, a process that breaks down its anti-nutrient properties, making it more digestible. The tofu and processed soy products of today are a far cry from traditionally eaten soy, such as natto. Furthermore, fermented soy was eaten in condiment portions, and not as the main meal.
(Traditionally fermented natto.)
Because plants can’t run away from predators like animals, they’ve evolved to defend and protect themselves in a variety of other ways. The following is a list of some of the components of soy that make it particularly problematic.
Protease inhibitors. Soy is often consumed as an alternate source of protein. The issue here is that soy contains something called protease inhibitors. Protease is the pancreatic enzyme that allows for the breakdown and digestion of protein. Thus, the protease inhibitor component of soy actually inhibits the protein it contains from being accessible to the human body. Furthermore, foods containing protease inhibitors overburden the pancreas, as it desperately tries to pump out more of the enzymes that are being blocked.5,6
Phytates. Phytate containing foods, such as soy, are considered “anti-nutrients” not simply because they are devoid of nutrients, but because the phytates in the food actually bind tightly to minerals (e.g. calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc), thereby blocking their absorption into the body. Consistently eating a big hunk of tofu with some whole grains is a sure fire way of making yourself mineral deficient and developing ailments like osteoporosis, anemia, rickets, immune deficiencies, etc.5,6,7 Mixing tofu with some veggies? The phytates in the tofu will halt the absorption of the minerals in the veggies as well. This is a serious and real problem.
Lectins. Lectins injure the gastrointestinal lining, thereby contributing to leaky gut. In fact, pathological lesions develop in animals injected with kidney bean extract (legumes in general are high in lectins).7 This is because lectins agglutinate (adhere or stick). In your gut, they stick like glue to the lining of your small intestine, eventually damaging it enough to pass through (along with other particles) into your bloodstream. Once the flood gates are open, these lectins are now free to stick to other tissues in your body (e.g. your thyroid).7,8 As noted by Cornell University’s Department of Animal Sciences: “When given orally to experimental animals, lectins interact with the mucosa of the gastrointestinal tract causing acute gastrointestinal symptoms, failure to thrive and even death.” It is also believed that lectins negatively alter the function and properties of cell membranes.7 In short: you definitely don’t want to mess around with these guys.
Phytoestrogens. Soy’s Effect on Reproductive Health. Soy contains compounds called phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) that mimic the body’s own estrogen and lower testosterone levels. These phytoestrogens have the ability to attach to the body’s estrogen receptor sites. Because of this, soy is an endocrine disruptors (even moreso than BPA). High consumption of soy has been linked to infertility, including lowered sperm count in men, and changed sex hormone status.9
Goitrogenic. Soy is goitrogenic, meaning it promotes the formation of goiter, an enlarged thyroid, and suppresses thyroid function in general. The thyroid may be especially vulnerable to soy if paired with a deficiency in iodine or a preexisting thyroid disease. The agent in soy that appears to be most destructive against the thyroid are the isoflavones. Dr. Mike Fitzpatrick, an internationally known expert on soy, has implored that manufacturers at least remove the isoflavones from infant soy formula. Studies have indicated that autoimmune thyroid disease is more likely to be found in children who have been fed soy-based infant formula.9
No. There’s definitely no joy in a product like Soy Joy. Soy is something I make a concerted effort to stay away from. Checking labels, as always, is paramount. For instance, I’ve recently found out that soy is even present in some canned tuna!
I never recommend processed soy to anyone. I think that fermented soy is okay in small amounts if you don’t have an allergy and if it is properly fermented.
I hope this article was enlightening and perhaps makes you rethink the soy health craze.
6. Dr. Kaayla Daniels: “Myths and Truths about Vegetarianism” Weston A Price Conference, Detroit.
This guest post was brought to you by my friend and fellow practitioner:
Ann’s main interest is in what our ancestors ate. She discovered that the answer is very simple: real food. Real food is what we humans evolved to eat and what we have thrived on until just recently. When we eat real food we aren’t plagued by the diseases of modern civilization: obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc.
Ann offers Nutritional Therapy, a holistic approach to health and wellness that caters each person’s unique needs.
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Lydia Joy Shatney is a certified Nutritional Therapist Practitioner through the Nutritional Therapy Association. Additionally, she is the chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation in Delaware County, Pa. (Find the group here on Facebook). Lydia is also a member of the Nourished Living Network. Lydia founded Divine Health From The Inside Out in March of 2010. You can find Lydia on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest. Sign up for the Divine Health From The Inside Out newsletter! Pick up a copy of Lydia’s eBook; ‘Divine Dinners: Gluten-Free, Nourishing, Family-Friendly Meals’.
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