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Soy: It's Not What You've Been Told To Think
Beth M. Ley, Ph.D.

I was counseling an athlete today who wanted to learn more about eating healthy. She was asking me about soy and if she should be using soy milk instead of cow’s milk, etc. I was surprised that still so many people have NOT heard that soy is NOT good for us, at least in it’s processed unfermented form.

You may be wondering, “If soy is so unhealthy, how did it get to be so popular as a health food?”

Government funded corporate special interest and ADVERTISING of course!

From 1992 to 2006, soy food sales increased from $300 million to nearly $4 billion, practically overnight. Huge marketing efforts to portray soy as healthy prompted grocery stores to stock about 60% of their food containing soy derivatives.

Because soy is a cheap source of protein and oil, food manufacturers use it in more than 60% of processed foods: baked goods, cereal, crackers, canned soups, vegetable broth, salad dressings, imitation bacon bits, energy bars, protein bars, breakfast bars, reduced-fat peanut butter, pasta, Worcestershire sauce, deli meats, vegetarian meat alternatives, soy infant formula, soy milk, soy lattes, soy nut butter and soy veggie burgers…. and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Go home and read some labels… you will be shocked! In the United States soy is second largest crop in cash sales, and the No. 1 value crop export. In 2009, the total crop value exceeded $31.7 billion, according to the American Soybean Association.

In addition to the negative effects of processed soy, which we will see in a moment, also problematic is the fact that 91% of American-grown soy has been genetically modified (GMO) to tolerate herbicide. The long-term effects of ingesting GMO foods has yet to be established thus making every consumer a literal lab rat.

Health consequences

Science studies are proving several very negative effects from eating unfermented processed soy products. Unfermented soy products like tofu, soy milk, soy yogurt, soy frozen deserts, protein powder, textured vegetable protein, etc. contain toxins which:

  1. Block absorption of essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
  2. Increase estrogen levels higher than what’s healthy. This can cause weight gain, fertility problems and even “breasts” in males. This can also contribute to early puberty in girls and delayed physical maturity in boys.
  3. Suppress thyroid function and disrupt other hormones. This can slow metabolism and cause more weight gain.
  4. Can cause blood clots
  5. Inhibit growth due to the trypsin inhibitors that it contains (so definitely, not recommended for infants and children who NEED to grow!)
Trypsin inhibitors (also known as protease inhibitors) are perhaps the best known of the toxins contained in soy. These toxins inhibit the action of certain enzymes the body requires to break down the protein rich foods we eat. This means, even though soy is high in protein, we are not able to break down and use a significant portion of that protein it contains.

Ironic isn’t it that so many products containing “soy protein” give us the illusion that we are eating a high protein food? Fact is, the body is not able to break down and use that protein. This is especially sad news for those using soy protein powder in their protein shakes.

Moreover, there is no way food manufacturers, developers and marketers of soy protein are unaware of these scientific facts, yet they continue to market products to not just body builders, but the rest of us looking for a high protein breakfast bar, cereal or vegetarian food or snack. It shows their true profiteering colors. Fact is, soy is a cheap bulky filler that really does not deliver the “high protein” that companies claim these products have.

Textured vegetable protein is especially bad due to the way it’s processed with high temperature, high pressure, and the use of acid and alkaline chemicals.

Soy: Its not what youve been told to think

Soy allergies are also common but often undetected. Pay attention to how your body reacts to soy when you eat it in any of its many forms, and as part of the ingredients of many foods.

Some of the symptoms caused by soy include acne, canker sores, inflammation and infection of the eyelids and eyeball, dermatitis, diarrhea, eczema, hives, heart palpitations, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, panic attack, PMS and yes… WEIGHT GAIN!

Soy has been linked to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune-system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, loss of memory, reproductive disorders, infertility and more.

You may have heard that soy is a staple throughout Asia, and this is true. HOWEVER, they are highly likely to be eating non-GMO soy for one, and eating it unprocessed and fresh such as edamame, which is soy that has been fermented.

Fermented soy products are OK. These include miso, tempeh, natto and soy sauce. The fermentation process reduces and even eliminates some of the chemicals in soy such as trypsin inhibitors, physic acid and phytates which are responsible for many of the negative health effects.

Fermentation also creates probiotics, which are the “good” bacteria necessary for your body. These probiotics include lactobacilli, which increase the availability, digestibility and assimilation of nutrients in your body.

Most tofu is NOT fermented, unless it is stinky tofu (yes, this is actually what it is called), an Asian specialty food.

If you are eating soy, gaining weight and are not sure why, soy may indeed be the culprit. If you are experiencing some of the other negative symptoms as well, soy is likely the cause.

If you want to avoid soy, you will need to read your labels, because soy and soy products, including soybean oil, are so cheap, they are commonly used by manufacturers.

Better sources of protein include organic eggs, wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef and bison, Greek yogurt, almonds and almond butter, and tempeh which is the fermented soy I mentioned earlier.

As a side note, whey protein is not high on my list either because it is a highly processed dairy product. Unless the milk is organic and grass fed, I am not interested. There is also some controversy over the validity of the claim that whey is a superior protein source for building muscle due to it’s high cysteine content. “Fast absorption” is one of the marketing points used by whey protein companies. However, this is a negative rather than a positive. Rapid absorption is not desirable when it comes to quality protein, because it means more is wasted.

Marketers are masters at manipulating the truth to sell more product. The bottom line and best solution is to stick with the natural foods that God made, and pass on the processed stuff.

God Bless and Here’s to your good health,

~Dr. Beth