The Anti-Soy Madness – Debunking the Anti-Soy Arguments
There has been a lot of press recently on the dangers of soy foods. Articles have been posted on the internet, in various magazines and publications, and on reputable websites run by medical doctors who specialize in alternative medicine. You would think these people would spend their time warning you about the dangers of eating too much fat, sugar, dairy, hydrogenated fat, eating too much period, the dangers of prescription drugs, or even visiting your local hospital. I think that people should be more concerned with the high hormone and bacteria counts and allergens in meat and dairy, fluoridated water, environmental toxins, and the long lists of chemicals added to processed and packaged foods. I like Dr. Andrew Saul‘s comment that “tofu harms too few.” I strongly believe unless you have an allergy to soy, that the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Soy provides a vegetarian source of quality, complete protein, without the cardiovascular risks associated with animal proteins. Feed lot beef, processed meats preserved with nitrates and nitrites (which convert to nitrosamines and are linked to cancer) and commercially produced milk and dairy may pose more significant health risks than soy. If you avoid milk and meat, and also avoid soy, unless you want to hunt wild game, there aren’t many other options for quality, complete protein.
The anti-soy “madness” is fueled by the American Dairy Association and the Weston A. Price Foundation, through articles written by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, Ph.D. Both organizations stand to lose the most money due to soy consumption. The ADA wants you to keep drinking lots of milk and consume dairy products. The Price Foundation wants you to eat more lard, beef fat, lamb fat, butter, and all the poultry fats. I agree that butter has health benefits (especially when compared to the plastic alternatives), and there are many who feel chicken and duck fat have health benefits too, along with chicken soup. Saturated fat consumption is a controversial area. Some studies have shown that saturated fat improves cardiovascular health, while other studies have shown it to be a health risk. Most of the world thinks coconut oil, because it is a saturated fat, is a health hazard, but some recent studies have found coconut oil to be one of the healthiest of all oils. Public opinion is that saturated fats are loaded with cholesterol. While the entire cholesterol issue is suspect (over 50% of those who suffer cardiovascular events have low cholesterol), saturated fats from vegetable sources like coconut and palm do not contain cholesterol.
While Fallon criticizes soy based on reports of soy in infant formulas, in 1998, K. O. Klein, from the Dept. of Clinical Science at the A. I. DuPont Hospital for Children reported that infant formulas have been using soy for over 60 years, being fed to millions of infants, with absolutely no indication of thyroid or other endocrine problems. Klein states that the medical literature shows “no evidence of endocrine effects in humans from infant consumption of modern soy based formulas. Growth is normal and no changes in timing of puberty or in fertility rates have been reported in humans who consumed soy formula as infants.”(1) The Journal of Pediatrics conducted an earlier study that came to a similar conclusion.(2)
Fallon states that learning disabilities among male children have reached epidemic proportions and that soy infant feeding, which began in the 1970s, “cannot be ignored as a probable cause for these tragic developments,” yet there is no supporting evidence or citations listed to backup these claims. Fallon indicates that one percent of all girls show signs of puberty before the age of three and quote a 1997 report in The Journal of Pediatrics. But that report makes no mention of soy.
Those that claim that soy, because it contains phytic acid (IP-6, or Inositol Hexaphosphate), binds with important minerals and can cause health problems due to mineral deficiencies fail to indicate that soy is actually lower in phytic acid than just about every other grain or legume, including wheat and rice. The paradox is that phytic acid is proving to be another miracle health supplement that can fight cancer, osteoporosis, depression, heart disease, and more. Look for studies based on research by Dr. Akm Shamsuddin, or read the book Too Good To Be True, by Dr. Kim Vanderlinden and Dr. Ivana Vucenik.
Fallon points out that Japan and China consume fermented soy, as fermenting minimizes the phytic acid content and “anti nutritional” factors in soy. In actual fact, there is very little fermented soy consumed in China, which has low rates of the types of cancers that are so common today in western countries. Japan does consume more fermented soy products than China, but both countries consume soymilk and tofu, which are unfermented. Studies on the health benefits from soy have been based on unfermented soy. If you want fermented soy, which is still a very healthful food with the added benefits of probiotic (healthy, or friendly) bacteria, you can find it at most health food stores. Even the soy bashers recommend fermented soy.
Another common misconception is that the flavones (isoflavones) in soy are “phytoestrogens,” While almost everyone is calling isoflavones phytroestrogens, the fact is phytoestrogens aren’t related to estrogens or any other human hormones whatsoever. Flavones are flavonoids, which are plant pigments. Estrogens (estradiol, estrone, estriol) are steroids secreted by the endocrine (ductless) glands and found only in mammals. There is no relation at all between the two. The studies that show goitrogenic effects from soy isoflavones were with rats with low levels of iodine. Many leading nutritionally-oriented doctors are concerned that many health problems are related to low levels of iodine in the blood. Those who have low levels of iodine or have an existing thyroid condition should consult with a qualified health professional.
With all due respect to Dr. Joseph Mercola, who is basing his information on writings by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, Ph.D., and whose website provides a wealth of valuable information, the anti soy propaganda doesn’t make sense to me. There is evidence that eating too much of any food can have negative consequences. If you search for articles by Bill Sardi, Dr. Suzanne Paxton, and John Robbins, you will read rebuttals to the many claims of Sally Fallon, as many of the references in her articles are not backed up by well designed human studies. One of the problems with the Internet is that anyone (including me) can write an article and before you know it, the world is reading it; with most believing it.
According to an FDA scientific review, soy does not interfere with childhood growth, induce early puberty, interfere with fertility, cause pancreatic or breast cancer, or interfere with mineral absorption as long as dietary consumption is adequate. Soy is not alone as an allergen, as proteins in wheat, dairy, corn, eggs and seafood produce allergic reactions for many people as well. Epidemiological studies do not confirm that soy accelerates the rate or incidence of brain aging nor does soy increase the prevalence of thyroid disorders.
Scientists acknowledge that there are major differences between animal and human studies, particularly when it comes to foods. Scientists cannot infer that animal data always applies to humans. Remember Thalidomide, the drug that caused so many birth defects? The data on that drug based on animal studies, found it to be safe. Most of us are now wondering how the COX-2 Enzyme inhibiting class of drugs ever got approved for human use, but the relationship between drug companies and the FDA will have to be covered in a future article.
Some writers say that Archer Daniels Midland is behind a worldwide plot to promote dangerous soy products. ADM does want to sell soybeans, and naturally promotes the proven health benefits, but every benefit they have claimed is factual, and based on published, independent research.
Information on the internet stating that the modern soybean is genetically engineered is also untrue. The modern soybean (glycine max) has been made to produce higher oil and protein content, but it has not been genetically engineered. The claims that eating soy causes thyroid conditions, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies (mineral loss), pancreatic disease, brain dysfunction and cancer are not based on actual proof. Recent studies confirm the lack of evidence that soy is goitrogenic (adversely affects thyroid function). Mark Messina, Ph.D., and author of The Simple Soybean and Your Health reports promising data that soy isoflavones may be good for alcoholism, that genistein may serve as a prototype drug for cystic fibrosis, and that isoflavones may be useful for the treatment of malaria.
The steadily increasing consumption of soymilk and other soy products threatens the ADA and the Price Foundation, so it is understandable that they will be doing their best to put doubts in the minds of soy consumers. While the soy lobby and soy industry is promoting the many health benefits of soy, the lobby for dairy (ADA), as compared to the soy lobby, is far more powerful. Have you seen any “Got Milk” billboards lately? I’m amazed that university trained dieticians are still being told dairy is health food, when there are numerous published studies on health problems caused by dairy products. The vast majority (if not all) of nutritionally oriented medical professionals have linked dairy, wheat and sugar to Crohn’s, colitis, and a host of other health problems, but cows milk seems to be implicated more than any other single food.
Benefits of Soy
A number of published studies indicate the value of soy supplementation for lowering total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, while raising HDL (good) levels. While other dietary changes and exercise may improve blood lipids substantially, soy consumption alone will make a significant improvement. When soy supplements are combined with lifestyle changes, benefits are even more dramatic. Soy acts to balance blood lipids, and will not adversely affect those with normal levels.
Soy isoflavones help build bone density for those at risk for osteoporosis. One of the most important supplements proven to build bone without the side effects common to bone building drugs is Ipriflavone, a soy isoflavone derivative. In a two-year Italian study involving 453 women age 50 to 65 with decreased bone density, participants who took 600 mg of Ipriflavone plus calcium daily maintained bone density; while those who took calcium alone suffered significant bone loss.
Many studies have found that soy isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flushes and flashes, and there is surprising new evidence of soy’s therapeutic power in preventing two of the biggest complications facing people with type 2 diabetes: kidney disease and heart disease. Researchers have also found that soy consuming countries have the lowest rates of prostate cancer.
The Okinawans, with the world’s longest life expectancy and one of the lowest rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other degenerative diseases, consume soy as their main source of protein. The people of China, Japan and other Asian countries where soy is a staple of the diet, have lower rates of most cancers, including cancer of the breast and prostate gland.
As early versions of soy products didn’t appeal to the western palate, many who remember their first taste of soy got a bad first impression. Today, there are many delicious soy milk products, soy foods, and great tasting soy protein supplements that provide valuable soy isoflavones and high quality protein.
You can make soymilk for pennies a quart with easy to use soymilk machines and organic soybeans. Other forms of soy include miso, tofu, tempe and natto. Miso is a fermented soy paste that is used to make miso soup (with tofu and wakame, a seaweed). Natto, and the nutraceutical derivative nattokinase, a fibronolytic enzyme (see serrapeptase) is recommended as an effective treatment for high blood pressure, circulatory problems and cardiovascular disease. There are soy cheeses, burgers, yogurts, and protein supplements preferred by elite athletes. Soy has the most complete vegetarian amino acid profile, and the highest PCDAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score) equal to milk protein and egg white, and superior to all other protein sources, making it an ideal protein for body builders and for those on high protein fat loss diets. Hemp, pea, and rice provide alternatives for those allergic to soy, but no other vegetarian source of protein compares to soy when all factors are considered. Many consider soy a perfect food.
Hemp, often touted as a good quality protein, is inferior to soy in its amino acid profile, with low levels of L-Tryptophan. Hemp doesn’t have the important cancer fighting and bone building isoflavones found in soy, or the naturally occurring lecithin that has so many health benefits. Hemp does have the benefit of essential fatty acids including alpha linolenic (omega-3) and gamma linolenic (GLA omega-6). I recommend combining hemp with other vegetable protein sources (pea, rice, or soy) that can fill in the missing amino acid gaps. One Aviva customer combines a super green food powder, hemp protein, two raw eggs and soy protein to make what he claims is the perfect breakfast drink. While this is an article on soy, it should be noted that not all studies show that eggs elevate cholesterol. A recent report found consuming eggs (white and yolk) actually reduced cholesterol.
I recommend consuming soy foods as part of your daily diet, to get the valuable isoflavones daidzein and genistein. There are many forms, including fermented and unfermented soy protein powders, tofu (you can even make tofu pudding), miso, and tempe, as mentioned above, and great tasting commercial soymilks available at your local food store. One cup of soymilk a day will add about 200 calories to your daily diet, with about 40 mg of isoflavones. Add a few cups of matcha green tea (whisk it into hot soymilk) and you might live forever. For those who do not enjoy soy foods, I recommend a soy isoflavone supplement with 40-100 mg of combined soy isoflavones per capsule. Look for saponins in the formula for additional health benefits.
I feel there are many factors that contribute to improved health and lower rates of disease, including regular consumption of soy, green vegetables including foods like cilantro which help the body eliminate heavy metals. Boost your nutrition with fresh vegetable juices and super green food supplements, chlorella, spirulina, dulse, and botanicals including ginger, turmeric and garlic. Drink four cups of green tea (matcha is best) each day, and eat as many raw foods as possible. Don’t overcook proteins, heat proteins with starches, or fry a starch with a fat. Finally, drink lots of pure water slowly, exercise daily, and spend some quiet time each day being thankful for the many blessings in your life. I hope that the information provided in this document has helped you to understand that soy isn’t the evil bean that many portray it to be. When integrated into a healthy diet, soy may be one of nature’s most perfect foods.
(1) Nutrition Reviews 56: 193-204, 1998(2) Journal Pediatrics 124: 612-20, 1994