Saturday, March 8th, 2008
Sorry I haven’t written lately. Life (son, work, documentary, training-in that order) has gotten in the way.
I got an e-mail from a friend of mine saying that, though she wasn’t a vegetarian, her partner was. She said she wanted to include some sort of protein in the meals she cooked (it’s good to have all the macronutrients represented on your plate) and was wondering what my thoughts on soy were.
Well, I used to think soy was the bomb! After all, the health claims surrounding soy were ubiquitous. You literally couldn’t take a step without stepping in a claim–which, if you can pick up on my not-so-subtle analogy, you’ll see what I now think of those advertisements. And that’s what they were, ads to convince people that soy was good for you. Now, have you ever seen a commercial for breathing? Breathing is good for you. So they don’t need to do ads for it (though as our air gets worse, I’m sure those commercials are coming). Deprived of oxygen for 3-4mins, a person will die. Everyone knows this. But what everyone should realize is that the more strongly something is marketed as being healthy for you, the worse it probably is for you.
But a billion Chinese and Japanese folks can’t be wrong, can they? While it’s true that the soybean first appeared during the Chou Dynasty (1134-246 BC), it did not become part of the Chinese menu for some time. Instead it was used in the process of crop rotation, fixing levels of nitrogen in the soil so that the Chinese could grow grains more suitable for human consumption like rice and millet. Indeed, it wasn’t until the Chinese discovered fermentation did soy, in the form of miso, tempeh, natto, and soy sauce, become widely consumed.
See, the Chinese knew that unfermented soybeans contain many different substances which make it unsuitable for human consumption. Foremost among these is phytic acid. Phytates block the absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. So even if your diet is rich in these nutrients, the consumption of soy can very easily lead to a deficiency in any one of them. And they are all essential for health. Vegetarians who shun animal products like meat and diary and who opt for soy to “replace” this staple in the diet are, therefore, at a greater risk for a deficiency in any one of these nutrients.
Secondly, a large amount of trypsin and other enzyme inhibitors are present in soy blocking the absorption of these enzymes which are necessary for protein digestion. In tests, rats fed a diet of soy failed to grow normally. And everyone hates to see a malnourished rat…
Consuming soy that has been fermented lowers the levels of these “anti-nutrients” and makes items like miso, natto, and tempeh o.k. to eat. Tofu, on the other hand, has these anti-nutrients concentrated in the liquid and still present in the curd–thus its consumption is wrought with the same risks as soy in general.
So how do the Chinese and Japanese stay so healthy on a diet so rich in soy? Well, maybe they don’t eat as much as you thought. 8 grams/day in Japan and 9 grams/day in China–that’s less than 2 teaspoons. And while the Japanese do suffer less from some forms of cancer than here in America, cancer of the esophagus, liver, and stomach are much higher among the Japanese population than people in the U.S.
Healthy? That’s what the United Soybean Program, which spends 80 million dollars a year to “strengthen the position of soybeans in the marketplace and maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets for uses for soybeans and soybean products” would like you to believe. 72 million acres of U.S. farmland is now devoted to soy, and it’s one of the most highly pesticide ridden crops (and now genetically modified) grown today. Brazil, the second largest exporter of soy in the world next to the U.S., sacrifices millions of acres of rain forest to meet the demands of a growing number of people duped into eating isolated soy protein and textured vegetable protein for the reported health benefits. Cholesterol lowering is one of these wonders. But the “benefits” were only seen in individuals whose serum cholesterol levels were 250mg/dl or higher!
Soy is also high in isoflavones, a class of organic compounds and biomolecules related to flavonoids which act as phytoestrogens in mammals. These phytoestrogens, specifically genistein, are potent endocrine disruptors, causing infertility, reproductive problems, thyroid disease, and liver disease in test animals. But that’s for animals in experiments which were fed an extreme amount of soy, right?? From an article by Sally Fallon:
“Twenty-five grams of soy protein isolate, the minimum amount PTI claimed to have cholesterol-lowering effects, contains from 50 to 70 mg of isoflavones. It took only 45 mg of isoflavones in premenopausal women to exert significant biological effects, including a reduction in hormones needed for adequate thyroid function. These effects lingered for three months after soy consumption was discontinued.
One hundred grams of soy protein - the maximum suggested cholesterol-lowering dose, and the amount recommended by Protein Technologies International - can contain almost 600 mg of isoflavones, an amount that is undeniably toxic. In 1992, the Swiss health service estimated that 100 grams of soy protein provided the estrogenic equivalent of the Pill.”
In fact, male children fed soy formula had reduced testicle size while female children experienced an earlier onset of puberty. Alarming statistics like this prompted the New Zealand government in 1998 to issue a health warning about soy in infant formula. While animals on soy based feed need supplementation with lysine for normal growth, the presence of soy in school lunch programs goes widely unnoticed (except by the wallets of the soy producers) and, therefore, a growing number of our children may be at risk of the health consequences mentioned here and in countless other scientific publications and resources.
So what was my reply to my friend regarding preparing meals for her vegetarian partner? Get her to eat fish or meat or something…just say it isn’t soy!