Soy products have a strong presence in our food environment. From soy milk to less obvious soy products such as tofu, soy sauce, Edamame and soy bean oils, soy products have slowly but forcefully crept their way into our mainstream diet. (They also feature prominently [as soy protein isolates] in protein powders and packaged foods).
So what is soy? Soy is a legume that is grown and highly chemically processed, even the “organic” versions. Soy is not a healthy choice. The soy industry is huge and the producers will do anything to have you believe it is a good option, particularly for vegetarians and vegans, with soy products (such as tofu) typically being high in non-animal protein. A popular marketing ploy by the industry is to demonstrate how Asian cultures apparently consume a lot of soy. The reverse is actually true. Asian cuisine generally sees soy products served as a small side (if at all), with the primary dishes being rice, vegetables and small quantities of fish and meat. Further, the Asian diet typically includes fermented soy products, which are vastly different to the modified versions available en masse to the average consumer.
Soy and soy products are dangerous for a range of reasons:
The vast majority of soy products are genetically modified
Soy is a heavily modified product. GMO soy is contaminated with large pesticide residues. The reason soy is GMO is so growers can spray the toxic herbicide Roundup on them to improve crop production by killing weeds. Unlike Asian culture where people consume small amounts of non-GMO, fermented soybean products, western food processes separate the soybean into two commodities – protein and oil. There is nothing safe or natural about either of these things.
Soy contains natural toxins known as “anti-nutrients”
Soy products contain anti-nutrient factors such as oestrogens, phytates, phytoestrogens and other toxins. It has been proven that some of these factors interfere with the enzymes your body needs to digest protein. Phytoestrogens are substances that can wreak havoc on our endocrine systems and can cause a host of hormonal complications.
These toxins also muck with our sex hormones. Soy contains natural compounds that mimic oestrogen in our bodies. What does this mean? To explain it clearly, just 100 grams of soy contains the hormonal equivalent of one contraceptive pill. Soy has also been linked to an increase risk of breast cancer in women.
Soy has toxic levels of aluminium and manganese
Soybeans are processed (by acid washing) in aluminium tanks, which can leach high levels of aluminium into the final soy product.
Main soy food products to avoid
- TVP (texturised vegetable protein) or soy protein isolate, which contains a large amount of MSG
- Soybean oil
- Soy milk
- Soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy yoghurt
- Soy “meat”
- Soy protein
- Edamame beans
- Soy infant formula
The best way to avoid consuming these products is to not buy any processed or packaged foods, as the above items can sneak their way into the products. If you do buy packaged foods, read the labels carefully to see if soy is listed as an ingredient. You will be surprised by how many products use this awful stuff (soy is hidden in colours, flavours and spice blends added to foods, however it must be clearly stated on the label).
Are any soy products healthy? As mentioned above, fermented soy products, when eaten in moderation, can be incredibly healthy. After a long fermentation process, the toxins are deactivated and make these products more easily digestible. Examples of fermented soy products include miso, tempeh and natto. I still wouldn’t go overboard however, and would consume in moderation, if at all. Low-sodium tamari (gluten and wheat free version of soy sauce) is safe to consume as are Bragg Liquid Aminos which are certified gluten-free and non GMO.
Keep you eyes peeled for these nasty products next time you are dining out or buying groceries. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the menu at restaurants – the most surprising dishes contain soy and my questioning has recently led me to make vastly different choices when it comes to the dish I am ordering!