Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Great Soy Controversy

Soy. Talk about a volatile subject. It seems everyone has an opinion about soy - a strong one. I am not one to readily jump into debates. Really, I flee conflict like one would flee anthrax... but I am going to share a few simple thoughts in hopes of clearing some confusion. If this post seems long, just remember I'll get back to light reading and recipes tomorrow!

You know from reading past posts of mine that I don't think very well of over-processed foods. The more food is altered, the more dangerous it becomes. Splenda is a case in point. I think margarine is another fine example, but I haven't posted about hydrogenated fats yet... you know me... these posts take time! But I digress...

The majority of soy products out there are highly processed. And the majority of studies on soy are conducted with highly-processed and/or GMO soy. But, here is a very pivotal point about soy: soy should not be consumed raw. In its raw state, soy contains anti-thyroid compounds, phytates and other components that make it difficult to utilize. For thousands of years, people groups in the far east have know these facts and have consumed their soy in a slightly fermented state. The fermenting or aging neutralizes the negative components of soy. Consequently, these people groups have benefited from the complete protein and nutritional profile of this little green bean.

What have food manufacturers today done with soy? Well, most often the soy beans are washed with alcohol, which destroys many of the phytonutrients and proteins in the raw bean. In addition, the soy beans are processed by heating to levels that further denature the remaining proteins. The result is a fractionated, over-processed "food" that has the potential to be very harmful to a body. As with most foods, when we take away the beneficial plant properties that are paired with other macro nutrients (such as protein) and micro nutrients (such as minerals), we are left with a product that our body cannot thrive on.

All that said, the most prolific argument against soy is "What about its estrogen-like effects?" The isoflavones found in soy are very similar to the human hormone estrogen. So much so, that they can interact with our body's receptors in place of estrogen. This is thought to cause harm to our body in throwing our hormone levels off balance and perhaps contributing to the risk of breast cancer. However, soy isoflavones are actually very weak compounds, 1000 times weaker than synthetic estrogens. When they bond with our body's estrogen receptors, they prevent other stronger estrogens from taking hold. Our diets, including our consumption of hormone-laden dairy and our exposure to plastics that leach stronger estrogen-like chemicals, have left us with very high levels of metabolically active estrogens. This excess can lead to an imbalance of hormones in our bodies, contribute to a host of endocrine-related problems, and are implicated in the increase in female cancers. It is thought that a moderate soy intake, with its weak isoflavones attaching to our estrogen receptors, would prevent some of the excessive stronger estrogens from taking hold.

Am I saying that we need to eat a lot of soy? Certainly not. No more than I would say we need to eat a lot of red meat or a lot of coconut oil or a lot of strawberries. The keys to nutrition are variety and moderation. Soy is everywhere in our food products, so we need to be wary of overuse. (And, on a side note, we also need to be extremely wary of more dangerous estrogens from commercial dairy and plastics.)

Am I saying that we might benefit from soy? The most recent studies show that moderate soy consumption leads to a variety of health benefits. For me, I see a huge benefit from the increase in bioavailable protein in my diet. This additional protein steadies my blood sugar, stabilizes my mood and gives me prolonged energy.

What about the studies that show negative effects of soy products? Well, first, the soy used in most of those studies was a highly fractionated and processed product, not a food. Second, the studies were done on rats who may have an intolerance to soy similar to dogs and chocolate. Remember, we are not rats. Third, the amount of soy injected into those rats is comparable to 2000 servings of soy for our body weight per day. Now who would eat that much soy? Really, who would eat that much of anything? I could certainly project that one would have serious digestive issues if one ate 2000 servings of strawberries... or some serious bowel issues if one ate 2000 servings of healthy, pastured chicken... not to mention metabolic difficulties with 2000 servings of anything.

What types of soy do I eat? I steer clear of as much soy as possible... except Shaklee soy. Why? It is the only soy product that I have been able to verify is safe for consumption. Shaklee uses an Identification Preserved Program to ensure that all their raw soybeans come from non-GMO sources. They do impeccable tests for purity. They have developed a processing procedure that removes the anti-thyroid and other anti-nutritive properties while keeping the delicate phytonutrients in tact, so we have the benefits of a whole raw food without the negative effects. Furthermore, they are they only company that has provided proof (or even a comment) about their soy processing when I have contacted them. I have called other companies and have been told that too many processing plants and suppliers are used to be able to tell how their product was processed or where their raw ingredients came from.

As I gave my word last week, I will now post my favorite, most beneficial breakfast: a simple shake made with Shaklee Vanilla Soy Protein and Orange Juice. Blend both ingredients together and drink. It's that simple. I find it very refreshing. It only takes three minutes to make! I usually have a few bites of granola or fruit that the children are eating as well. My children eat eggs for their morning protein... read about why eggs here.

I hope that this post has been beneficial. I don't really like opening up cans of worms, but I feel compelled to share my breakfast with you. I would love for it to be as helpful to you as it is to me.


Mrs.KAOS said...

What about Miso? I love it but do worry about GMO's.

Amy Ellen said...

Hi Mrs. Kaos,

On Miso, I consider moderate consumption of fermented soy products to be just fine... the Japanese have been doing this for centuries and have very good health to show for it. I would stick to organic and non-GMO though...

Hope this helps! AE

Noel said...

My first question after reading the post at the top about the power bars was "what about the soy, isn't it full of estrogen?" good thing I scrolled on down. It does make me feel a little better about soy, but I'm still worried about the estrogen, taken in its natural form, I'm sure moderate soy intake is just fine, but it's stuck in soooo much food today!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! My husband introduced me to soy when we went on the low carb diet together, I am still unfamiliar with soy products but this was an educating post that I needed to read. Thanks!

Christian Frugal Mama said...

Thanks for the info! What do you think about edamame (?). Probably spelled it wrong! The frozen stuff that comes at the grocery stores and you boil/steam? Just wondering. Thanks!

Amy Ellen said...

Hi Christian Frugal Mama,

Hmmm... edamame... lightly cooking these fresh/frozen soybeans will not neutralize the anti-thyroid components or the phytates (which hinder digestion and absorption of minerals). If you don't have a thyroid problem, you could soak the soybeans overnight in water with a few tablespoons of yogurt in order to deal with the phytates.

Organic, non-GMO, properly soaked edamame in moderation is okay.

Hope this helps!