By: Clifford Sonnie, M.D., M.P.H.
Every time I turn around there is another article or program about soy. First, it’s good for you then it is bad, then it’s good then it’s…ENOUGH! Here is my take on this subject and believe me, this is a subject where there seems to be two very distinct and different opinions. Here’s mine.
Soy is a bean. It is in the same family, if you will, as most beans. It has many vitamins and minerals and an excellent supply of fiber. It is also a lot more difficult to prepare, but more on that later. Soy has been marketed as a food that will keep you healthy and your skin healthy, wrinkle free and smooth. This is because of a substance called isoflavones. Isoflavones look and act like estrogens. They are touted to not only keep your skin young looking but also to minimize menopausal symptoms in women, reverse osteoporosis, prevent cancer and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Great! Oh wait, there’s more. Soy also contains stuff called haemagglutinin which causes your blood to clot, enzyme inhibitors which cause the digestion of protein to be disrupted, goitrogens which depress the thyroid and cause a hypothyroid like condition and phytic acid which blocks the absorption of vital minerals like magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. Now, as to the phytic acid, all beans have this but the concentration of it in soy is many times higher than your average bean. Combine this with the fact that the vast majority of soy is or has been genetically modified not to mention the use of pesticides etc, and you can understand why I’m not a big fan.
But let’s not be too hasty. If soy has these “bad” products why is it eaten in such quantities in Japan and other Asian countries? Likewise, if possible, how can these substances be removed?
Let’s do the second question first. These dangerous substances can be removed by fermentation. In products like temph or even soy sauce the act of fermentation deactivates the harmful aspects of soy. Unfortunately, this process is slow and as a result not very lucrative. So soy processors (say that fast ten times) have developed a way to extract a soy protein isolate (SPI) that supposedly has the “good” stuff and none of the “bad” stuff and gives the final product a good taste and consistency. This has been used widely in school lunch programs as well as baby formulas. Problem is the process of isolating the SPI uses a technique of exposing the bean to high acid, then alkali, all of which takes place in aluminum tanks. This is followed by high temperature drying. Not only does this entire process introduce aluminum (a toxic metal) into the isolate but it also produces a substance called nitrite and something called lysinoalanine both of which are well known carcinogens. Most producers also use MSG to get rid of the bean taste.
On to the question of who eats it. First, the highest quantity of soy consumed in Japan and Asia is fermented. Second, non-fermented (not processed) soy is also consumed but it is not used as a major staple. It is used as a condiment. In fact, it is estimated that average daily consumption in Japan is about 2 teaspoons. We westerners consume many times that amount of non-fermented soy. Do the Japanese and Chinese people have a lower breast, uterine and prostate cancer rate? Yes. But the incidence of thyroid, stomach and colon cancer is many times more than ours. Why? Great question. Can it be the fermented soy versus the processed SPI versus the whole bean? Sure. But as with anything it is never just one thing. Cancer as well as any health problem, is and will always be, a culmination of things usually somewhere associated with diet and exercise and bad habits, but I’m getting off on a tangent.
Bottom line is, is soy, specifically non-fermented soy, good for you? Well, without giving you my opinion of why it should not be added to baby formulas or used in school lunch programs or shipped in great quantities as a food for 3rd world nations, I am not a fan. Likewise, without giving you my opinion of the fact that soy producers have to pay ½% of their profits to the United Soybeans Program which advertizes and supports the use and expansion of soybean products worldwide. I am not going to become a fan anytime soon. Wait a minute; I guess I did give you my opinion on those issues. My bad.
There is a lot more research to be done. Even though God did put it onto this earth, some plants we shouldn’t eat. I am just not sure whether soy is one of them. Right now, I am a fermented soy fan and that’s about it. Soy or SPI is also in almost everything out there so its hard to eliminate, but it is possible. Easiest way is to eat NO processed foods but that is much easier said than done.
I will write again on soy. New findings are coming every day. And as with any new nutrient or diet change, check with your doctor first. Many OB/GYN and endocrinologists are shying away from soy due to it’s estrogen like activity. So, talk to your family MD or DO or stop in and we’ll expand a little on the “soy” issue. As always, a smart health care consumer is informed and aware.
Clifford Sonnie, M.D. is the Medical Director of the Balance of Life Clinic.