In the late 1900’s soy burst on the scene in the United States, but it is it really as healthy as people think? Touted as “the next great health breakthrough” and “Asia’s little known secret”, this easy to cultivate plant took the country by storm. Almost immediately it was used for everything from soymilk to meat alternatives to soybean oil and personal care products. Companies moved quickly to develop new soy products while others raced to secure patents on the beans themselves and anyone who cared about their health was certainly consuming soy of some type.
The Problem of Raw Soy
The major issue arose when experts began to realize that the soy products which created the fabled health benefits, were not the result of raw soy like the ones being wildly consumed in the U.S.. Unlike the vast majority of U.S. soy, the soy products of Asian cultures traditionally underwent fermentation. Examples of fermented soy foods are tempeh, miso, natto and even soy sauce; products completely different than the soy cheese, milk, chocolate, hamburgers, ice cream, protein powder, edamame and even bacon that we see today. This list only mentions a few and doesn’t even attempt to mention all of the everyday processed foods that you would never even know contain soy.
The reason these are considered so dangerous is that raw soy contains a series of toxins in the form of estrogen mimickers, protease inhibitors, phytatee, lectins, soyatoxin, saponins, oxalates and salicylates. Studies suggest that elevated estrogen levels may cause developmental problems in children and increased chance of breast cancer. These toxins may also cause a wide range of health consequences including immune system degeneration, allergies, reproductive disorders, cancer (especially in the pancreas), digestive issues and many others. Despite solid evidence, it was too late. Soy had already become big business and if we have learned nothing else in the past 50 years, it has become evident that where big business is concerned, health is typically not the number one priority.
You Probably Eat More Soy Than You Think
This is when most people say “Why do I care? I don’t eat very much soy.” Well, I would be willing to bet that you eat much more unfermented soy than you actually think. If you don’t believe me, just check your pantry. The vast majority of traditionally processed foods utilize soy of some type whether it be soybean oil, soy protein, soy lectin or soy beans themselves. In fact, studies suggest that we, as a culture, consume even more soy than Asian cultures!
Make no mistake. I am not claiming that all soy is bad for you. In fact, fermented soy is thought to be somewhat beneficial to your health. Fermentation is said to destroy the majority of soy’s toxins while making the beneficial nutrients more available to the body. Just like vegetables, nuts, avocados, beans, fruits and any other foods you eat to stay healthy, fermented soy can be added to the list, but there is one last drawback. Many companies have made the fermentation process quicker and cheaper with the use of various chemicals that produce a product thought to be inferior and far less beneficial than traditionally fermented soy.
Soy’s Role In the GMO Debate
Did we mention that soy is at the center of a heated health debate surrounding the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? This is because the vast majority of U.S. grown soy is genetically modified. Genetic modification is a different article entirely, but lets just say that not only do some studies question its safety, but we also have this “thing” for not messing with what God gave us.
We are not going to tell you whether or not to eat soy, but the bottom line is that there are other places to get the benefits of soy within the context of your daily diet. Foods like nuts, beans, fish, meats and dairy are all great sources of these nutrients, but the choice is yours.