Soy, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!
February 2011 Dr. Mom's Natural Solutions Ezine
When I think of Soy I think of the the humble legume ( a beautiful plant by the way) I was assigned to do research on in my Agronomy days. I just always thought of it as animal fodder (feed). Eating the seeds never entered my mind. I was vaguely aware of soy products at the time, but didn't take them seriously. I must admit I did not appreciate the many uses for Soy.
This misunderstood legume has a very interesting history so I thought I would share some information to help you make good decisions for your health regarding the many types of Soy products available today.
The use of Soybeans in the United States was mostly as a forage crop or green manure. It is grown in rotation with corn and other grasses which deplete soil nutrients. Soybeans and other legumes help to rebuild the soils nitrogen reserves. Around the time of WWII Soybean production made a shift from forage usage to seed production for soybean oil and meal. The meal which is high in protein was left over from the oil extraction process. Soybean oil can be found in salad dressing, margarine, cooking oil and shortening. It is also used in industrial paint, varnish, caulking compounds, linoleum, printing inks, lubricants and even fuel.
The Good News about Soy is that it has been grown for centuries in Asian cultures and used for human consumption. These cultures came to understand the secrets of the soybean and mastered a special fermentation process making it more digestible and deactivating its potentially harmful substances. Soy is consumed mostly in the form of the fermented versions of natto, tempeh, miso, fermented tofu and soy sauce. It is rarely a main dish and mainly consumed in condiment quantity.
Soy in its fermented form has gained fame in studies showing that it aids in preventing and reducing a variety of diseases including certain forms of heart disease and cancer. Fermented soy is essentially a probiotic akin to many other fermented foods traditionally used in native cultures. In this form it supplies nutrients from beneficial organisms and can aid digestion. The isoflavones which are weak estrogens and can help balance hormones and prevent cancer are enhanced and increased as a result of the fermentation process. It is important to note that we are talking about a traditional fermentation process using cultures, salt and enzymes, NOT artificial chemical processing.
Soy lecithin has long been valued as a fat emulsifier in the human body. Lecithin can aid in improving circulation, reducing cholesterol and protecting/rebuilding the myelin sheath of nerves in the brain and body.
Good News Soy: Natto, Miso, Tempeh, Fermented or Cultured forms of Tofu and Soy Sauce. Lecithin.
The Bad News about Soy is that manufacturers jumped on the band wagon of research tauting the benefits of soy and assumed it was all forms of soy and that the more you consumed the better.
Soybeans naturally contain phytic acid which binds with certain nutrients and inhibits their absorbtion. Some researchers believe there are four main potential dangers associated with eating unfermented Soy or too much of any type of Soy.
Soy foods can interfere with protein digestion, disrupt the functioning of the thyroid gland, upset hormone balance and deplete minerals in the body.
Studies have shown that high Soy consumption can trigger goiters and supress thyroid function. Soy in infant formula is now being linked to hormone imbalance especially in boys and possibly an increase in ADD/ADHD.
Bad News Soy: Unfermented Soy products, Soy milk, Soy Baby Formula, Tofu burgers etc.
The Ugly News about Soy is that it is seems to be all about the money and our nation's new obsession with Soy products. Manufacturers are making more and more Soy products for consumption leading people to eat much more Soy than Asian cultures, plus it is not the good fermented kind. Soy is found as a protein source in many foods, protein bars, baked goods, and veggie products. Americans are getting way too much Soy in their diet and it is starting to contribute to disease.
Soybeans are competing with Corn right now for major GMO status. Most Soybeans today are Genetically Modified Organisms. This alone is a very ugly side of Soybean production that most people are unaware of. GMO's are plants that have had the DNA of some other organism spliced into its DNA usually to enhance growth and production. Roundup Ready Soybeans have been genetically altered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup which is toxic to all plant life. Since it is not required to label GMO products the only way you can limit your exposure to them is by buying Organic.
Ugly News Soy: Soy is mostly GMO. Too much Soy can be harmful to your health. Read ingredient labels to see how much Soy you are actually getting.
I hope this has helped clear up some of the misinformation about Soy that has been in the media. My suggestion in all things, is partake in moderation, and eat as much real, unadulterated food as possible including Fermented Soy.