As I continue to do more and more research on the truths about nutrition, I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to “know” certain things about food. “Know” in the sense that we don’t question the thought anymore. Like we “knew” that low-fat diets were healthy, right? (if you havn’t yet, check out Still think “Low-Fat” is healthy? Think again). The next myth that I’d like to help unravel is the myth that soy is a health food- that’s right…It’s NOT.
Years ago, China and Japan planted soy beans, NOT as food for people, but for the sole reason of returning nitrogen to the soil since growing rice was especially nitrogen-depleting. They knew better than to eat soy, as it was particularly difficult to digest, causing gas and bloating. However, at some point someone figured out that if you buried it for six months and fermented it, it didn’t cause those symptoms. And so miso, tempeh, soy sauce, and natto were created.
Soy made its way to the United States in the 1900s, where Henry Ford spent $1.2 million in an effort to make soy plastics and a soy car, and Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were busy promoting soybeans in traditional foods (flours, polenta, etc.) Soy products in the West are treated very differently than they are in the East — soy is a product of the industrial revolution and is an opportunity for science to develop cheap meat substitutes, to put soy in familiar food products, and to produce soy-based pharmaceuticals.
That’s right, Soy wasn’t even seriously considered as food until World War II shortages created a demand for cheap protein. It was then touted as healthy for decades, and the vegetarian population embraced this, without really knowing the real implications of ingesting soy.
There are a couple of reasonably well-known facts about soy that bear repeating here. One, soy is the second-most genetically modified crop in the United States, with corn being the first. Secondly, it’s very difficult to digest for most people — and why is that?
Soy is the only legume that, despite soaking, sprouting and slow cooking, will NEVER neutralize its “anti-nutrients.” These anti-nutrients include phytates, protease inhibitors, lectins and saponins and are all developed for protection of the seed and plant, but those protections cause a huge number of problems for digestion. What do those anti-nutrients do to you?
Well, they cause a lot of problems, but here’s the abbreviated version of the story: Phytates bind tightly to calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc, leading to everything from osteoporosis, anemia, and immune deficiency, among other things. Protease inhibitors interfere with pancreatic enzyme function and cause cell proliferation in the pancreas as it becomes overworked to produce the digestive enzymes that are being inhibited. Saponins contribute to damaging of the intestinal mucosa causing “leaky gut syndrome,” interfere with digestive enzymes, and may also suppress Thyroid function. Oxalates are also mineral binding, cause kidney stones in high doses and can even be fatally poisonous.
The mineral binding is a big deal. Why? Not enough zinc affects growth, immunity, intelligence, wound healing and 300 other enzymes. Iron deficiency leads to anemia and reduced thyroid function. Yes, adding calcium and zinc to soy milk is ridiculous, and yet the manufacturers say nothing.
Claims that plant-based diets provide enough calcium is severely undercut if those diets also include soy, leading to osteoporosis. Eat a little bit here and there, and soy doesn’t pose much of a problem, but more than that, and digestive lining damage occurs, as well as a myriad of other problems.
And what about all that gas? The oligosaccharides raffinose and stachyose are the ones responsible for the flatulence that results when most people eat soy, and again, preparation with soaking, sprouting or cooking does not neutralize them. Beano is a product that contains the enzyme required to break down raffinose and will work for some people, but not for others. Either way, that doesn’t change soy’s interference with mineral absorption.
That difficulty in digestion would be avoided if soy were fermented. The problem is, most people are not ingesting fermented soy — they’re taking it in as soy milk, or tofu, or textured vegetable protein (TVP) or as an additive to other foods. And that’s just talking about the digestive problems with soy — there are other significant problems as well.
For babies, the effect of soy is especially damaging — it has been linked to pediatric and autoimmune thyroid problems, aluminum toxicity, and early puberty. As I said earlier, it affects protein digestion and pancreatic function. Soy increases the requirements for vitamin D, reduces the bioavailability of zinc, iron and the other minerals as mentioned earlier, and lacks cholesterol, which is vital for brain development (breast milk has six times the daily amount of adult requirements). And yet, soy is used in a huge percentage of baby formula — why? Well, where are you going to put a “health” food that is our second largest crop?
Adults also get detrimental physiological effects of soy. The thyroid is very negatively affected by soy — this has been known for over 60 years. Hypothyroidism and goiters are directly associated with intake of soy, and its isoflavones. While hypothyroidism can be caused by deficient iodine intake, as well as from adrenal stress, if a patient is ingesting soy, it must definitely be removed from the diet before any improvement can occur.
All of this seems crazy, in the face of the happy families drinking soy milk on television, doesn’t it? If you were to believe the marketing, you’d think you can’t get enough of “healthy soy.” I’ll say this again, and again — don’t fall for marketing.
Take a look at the ingredient list next time you’re at a grocery store. Soy is mixed into other oils (good luck finding a salad dressing, even in health food stores, that doesn’t use soy oil), soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein are used in imitation foods, commercial baked goods, diet beverages, meal replacements and fast food products. Check your bread the next time you buy some from the store — and don’t be surprised to find soy in it. Soy is used extensively in school lunch programs, senior citizen centers, and any other program that uses processed, industrial-developed food.
Please protect your health and the health of your family — educate yourself fully on what you eat, even if you think you really “know” it’s good for you and check out my other recent articles on natural foods with miraculous health benefits that should be incorporated into your diet as well as other food myths to know about.
This information brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Austin Acupuncturist, Melanie Irvine, L.Ac., MAOM, owner Turning Point Wellness. For more info about how Acupuncture, Oriental Medicine, and natural nutrition can help you achieve vibrant health and well-being. Feel free to visit my website, www.TurningPointAcupuncture.net for more details and direct contact information.
Original article by and significant credit to Marlene Merritt, DOM, LAc, ACN, “Food Myths: Bamboozled By The Soy Hype,” Acupuncture Today, January, 2011, Vol. 12, Issue 01, http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=32326