The idea that soy is a health food is a controversial topic in the modern culinary world.
By Dr. Mercola
The idea that soy is a health food is a controversial topic in the modern culinary world. You probably know that the soybeans in the pod look like green peas, small and fluffy with hair on the outside like peaches.
Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have just announced a boomerang decision on how soy protein should be viewed from now on.
In fact, the agency is proposing to reverse its long-held position that soy protein serves to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
The current statement, which you’ve probably seen on several food wrappers, says: “25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, can reduce your risk of heart disease.1
Many health advocates say soy must be good for you because Asians-possibly one of the healthiest people on the planet-have consumed a lot of it and have some of the lowest rates of heart disease, cancer, and dementia in the world,
therefore it seems that the rest of the planet should also consume soy protein products.
However, the type of soybeans traditionally consumed by Asians is different from that which is heavily marketed in the United States.
Soybeans seemingly came out of nowhere into the consciousness of people in the United States in the late 20th century.
In 1999, the FDA allowed food manufacturers to claim that soy protein was heart-healthy, but subsequent research has convinced government officials to take a closer look.
Soy is Good for Heart Disease’ is a Topic of Discussion
Although many within the mainstream scientific and health communities are not prepared to completely invalidate that claim, Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition stated, after what she called an “extensive scientific review.”
“Our review of that evidence has led us to conclude that the relationship between soy protein and heart disease does not meet the rigorous standard for issuing an FDA-authorized health claim….
Although some evidence suggests a link between soy protein and a reduced risk of heart disease-including the evidence reviewed by the FDA at the time of the clearance statement-all currently available scientific evidence questions the certainty of such a link.5
The FDA is allowing a 75-day discussion period for the public and interested parties (better known as manufacturers, lobbyists and those who may benefit or be affected by the decision or revocation) to issue a certain statement, which will be taken as a “particular case”.
However, there’s no guarantee that you won’t continue to see claims on food wrappers about a link between soy protein and a lower risk of heart disease.
In fact, from now until the FDA’s final ruling on the issue, manufacturers can continue to make such an advertising claim. According to Time:
“The FDA says it intends to allow the use of ‘a qualified health claim’ for soy protein, (and says) since a qualified health claim requires ‘lesser levels of scientific evidence, as compared to a certified health claim’ and would allow producers to use language explaining that the evidence on such a link is limited.”6
How Soy and Natural Product Partnerships Intervene
Not surprisingly, soybean farmers across the country are upset, especially since soybeans are the second most produced crop in the United States, making it a $40 billion industry, even though according to Modern Farmer, 98% of it is for animal feed.7
So what changed your mind enough to contemplate a total reversal of a stance the agency has held for nearly 20 years?
Naturally, the North American Soyfoods Association has expressed concern, stating that many studies, both before the 1999 statement and after the new proposed repeal, hold as a standard rule that soy protein lowers LDL cholesterol and that the evidence generally supports the heart health claims.
But in reality, cholesterol is an essential element of almost every cell in your body and is not problematic for heart disease, raising fundamental doubts about that claim.
You could call it frustration on the part of some agencies, especially with accusations that the FDA evaluation process is akin to the “Spanish Inquisition”.8
Food Navigator featured comments from Daniel Fabricant, president and CEO of the Natural Products Association, who said the FDA’s “tipping point” decision is very peculiar and raises questions about free speech and First Amendment violations.9
Soy and (Some of) Its Derivatives: Edamame, Soy Milk, and Tofu
All types of soybeans are based on a single plant species, Glycine max. There are dozens of types, and the type of products it will be used for depends on the age at which the plant is harvested. Soybean pods allow the beans to mature as long as possible, Modern Farmer notes:
“…They are hard and impermeable, so they are cheaper and easier to process into soybean oil and meal for animal feed.
While soy milk (and tofu, which is made from soy milk) is made from rehydrated and ground ripe beans, edamame is made from green, tender beans. And in general, here [en los Estados Unidos], we don’t bother to harvest grains that are not ripe”.10
The Healthy Home Economist
addresses the above-mentioned controversy. For example, is soy cheese and tofu good for your health? Natto, miso, soy sauce and tempeh are traditional foods derived from fermented soybeans.
Soy cheese is just another name for tofu. These foods emerged in China about 2,000 years ago when people began using different methods to eliminate unhealthy anti-nutrients.
The anti-nutrients are elements and compounds in soy foods such as soybean lectins, saponins, soy toxins, phytates (which prevent the absorption of certain minerals), oxalates, protease inhibitors, estrogens (which can block the hormone estrogen and disrupt endocrine function), and bocigens (which interfere with your thyroid function), as well as a blood clotting inhibitor called hemagglutinin. And many other disadvantages.
In ancient times, fermentation could take months before soybeans were edible, but The Healthy Home Economist says there’s evidence that very little was consumed.
With regard to fermentation, tofu is the exception, as it is a very common food that undergoes a thorough process without fermentation. To create it, there is a three-step process:
- Soybeans are made into soymilk.
- A coagulant made of salt and acids is added to give it firmness.
- The resulting soy cheese is pressed into blocks, similar to cheese.
The article adds results from research with ancient Buddhist monks who were both vegan and celibate
conducted with former Buddhist monks who were both vegan and celibate who happily reported that “eating a lot of soy attenuated their libido and reproductive capacity,” as a seemingly contradictory consequence of eating tofu.
“Food manufacturers make today’s tofu with a similar process. However, traditional coagulants were generally safer. For example, clean, fresh seawater is an excellent coagulant for transforming soymilk into tofu.
Compare this to the refined salts or GMO-derived citric acid used today.”14
Soy Products and the Most Harmful Drawbacks
For years, soy products have distinguished themselves as “health” foods, especially among vegans who eat tofu, soy cheese, and soy milk for extra protein, but the truth is that these products pose a far greater risk than any benefit.
It’s no surprise that many of those who dabble in healthy eating still believe that eating tofu is the essence of how you should eat when you consider your health a must.
Most people notice the fact that it offers high amounts of protein and iron, as all they need to know. It’s not possible that thousands of vegans and vegetarians who consume it without any reservations are wrong, is it?
But both too much protein and too much iron can be quite dangerous. To make this misconception worse, the “low-fat” part of tofu remains in many people’s minds, the paradise of all those who want to lose weight. Many dietitians, nutritionists and food producers still claim that tofu is your best choice for good nutrition.
However, the food Not only arelow-fat soybeans not the solution to weight loss, but, as Elena Giordano, a postdoctoral research associate in food science and nutrition at Rutgers, points out, 93% of soy is genetically engineered (GE).
which brings its own set of problems.
An article in Time states, “…If you’re concerned about this, you can buy organic soybeans, which are not genetically modified.
However, many of the problems mentioned above remain.
How similar is tofu, and other soy protein products seen on supermarket shelves and served in restaurants, to what Asian people ate until a few decades ago? Perhaps the best that can be said is that tofu now is simply a “tofu-like” food.
Of course, there are many textures and treatments to choose from: firm, extra firm, soft, smoked, dry, frozen, etc.17
The tofu-inspired turkey product is an example of soy protein being used as a meat substitute, which is a far cry from its traditional use as a food, especially since both traditional and modern Chinese cuisine often includes real meat and not a plant-based imitation. Then there are the additives:
“Just as it happened with the desecration of cheese, where now all kinds of non-dairy cheeses fill supermarket shelves, tofu is getting similar treatment.
Products such as peanut tofu, almond tofu, egg tofu, among others, are now available. Many of them don’t even follow a production process similar to that of soy tofu, yet they try to claim the name (and associated health benefits) all by themselves!”18
Transgenics, Glyphosphates and Goitrogens
In addition to the genetic engineering of most soybeans grown in the United States, there are other dangers to consider when contemplating the properties of consuming soy protein.
Organic options are available, but if you don’t choose them, you’re more than likely consuming gut-damaging glyphosate residues. The most common product distributed is Roundup, which is used by multibillion-dollar farming operations–and their next-door neighbor–to control weeds.
The problem with glyphosateThe most important factor in the development of chronic diseases and illnesses in the world is the widespread and devastating problems related to its use, ranging from dementia, to autism, infertility, obesity, to allergies and cancer.
Research published in the journal Food Chemistry found that GM soybeans contain elevated glyphosate residues and aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) from its degradation.19
On average, the GM soybeans tested in the study contained 11.9 parts per million (ppm) of glyphosate, with the highest residue level found to be 20.1 ppm–with unknown human health effects.
Grist adds that problems with “GM” contamination, in which GM soybeans from one crop contaminate the non-GM crop next door, have also increased along with the profits of giant biotech seed corporations like Monsanto and DuPont.
Case in point: in the United States, about 90% of soy and corn and 80% of cotton are genetically modified.
As for the bocigenics, many wonder why, if Asians have a long history of soy consumption, they seem to have the same problems with thyroid disorders as Westerners.
The answer is that, traditionally, Asians didn’t eat soy products the way Colorado ranchers eat their beef cuts: they usually consume very little soy.
Similarly, it should be argued that they also consume far less soy in a single meal than the average U.S. consumer. Another possible reason is that, especially due to its geographical location, the types of food in Asia contain much more iodine, which has compounds that protect against antibiotics.
In addition, for centuries, traditionally fermented soybeans are the type that have been so popular in many Asian cultures, a far cry from the unfermented processed soy products that are popular in the United States.
The Difference Between Fermented and Non-Fermented Soybeans
There is a difference between soybeans that are organic versus non-organic, but there is also a big difference between soybeans that are fermented and soybeans that are not. The fermentation process may require time and special attention, but its health benefits are more than worth it.
Importantly, the fermentation process “deactivates” many of the anti-nutrients in soy that act as toxins in the body. So, if you want to eat soy, be sure to ferment it the traditional way.
As mentioned, what many seem to ignore regarding healthy Japanese people who have consumed soybeans is that it is mostly fermented soybeans.
This includes products such as miso, natto, soy sauce and tempeh made in the traditional way, but not tofu since tofu is not fermented. Other products that do not fall into the classification include:
- TVP or Textured Soy Protein
- Soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy milk, and soy yogurt
- Soybean oil
- Soy infant formula
One way to stay protected and eat foods that are actually good for your health is to eat organic produce whenever possible, avoid unfermented soy products, and also avoid highly processed foods. Stay as “down to earth” as you can in the foods you eat to ensure good health, at least as far as you are concerned.