Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Soy - the good, the bad and the ugly

Soy Products - the good, the bad, the uglyA couple people have mentioned how they have either stopped eating soy or were concerned about eating soy after reading some of the reports that have come out over the last few years.

These reports claim that there were several health hazards associated with eating non-fermented soy products. Examples of non-fermented soy products are soy milk and tofu while examples of fermented soy products are soy sauce and tempeh.

In addition to the increased breast cancer claims, I have also seen information (see above article) of the dangers of feeding too many soy-based products to children due to the amount of estrogen in these foods. This is a particular concern for growing boys and I'm sure, according to the claims, there are issues for girls as well (pre-pubescence being one).

I did a little poking around at some of these reports. It seems that one of the most quoted articles and books was written by a woman who is a huge proponent of raw milk products. Her PhD is from a distance learning program and is non-nutritionally related. Now, that's not to say that her claims do not have merit. Many of the other articles point out how non-fermented products contain "anti-nutrients". I haven't found any good sources about what this actually means, but it is always considered with a nefarious tone.

Now, I am no research scientist, nor have I spent a great deal of time analyzing the different reports and have yet to find anything concrete in a medical journal, but I do think there is some merit in the issues with soy processing. For example, the chemicals used to process soy into soymilk sound like bad customers. There is also the issue with genetically modified soy or non-organically grown soy products. Not to mention the fact that soy, in some format or other, shows up in a considerable number of processed foods (snack foods, protein products and the like).

So, suffice it to say, I think that if you consume reasonable (read: small) amounts of soy milk and tofu that is either made yourself or without the massive processing you are probably safe. This is more in accordance with traditional Chinese and Japanese diets. In other words, the diets that generally get all the high marks for health and longevity -- the ones that include fermented soy products like tempeh and soy sauce with some modest amounts of tofu and soy milk and lots of green tea.

If you are truly concerned with the health risks raised by soy, then I would encourage you to do some of your own research. If what you find bothers you but you are not ready or willing to give up soy products, then perhaps switch to an organic soy product and/or think about making it yourself.

As for me, I don't consume a tremendous amount of soy - maybe a couple cups of soymilk a week and tofu or okara on occasion and I make it all from organic soybeans. My kids still drink organic cow's milk. I'm sure we still ingest more soy by-products than we know and it's something I may be more cautious of, but it's not something at this point that I'm going to avoid. Who knows, non-fermented soy products may turn out to be the next witch hunt like trans-fats.

In the meantime, keep an eye open for new studies and results. As we all know, health food claims or warnings can change with the tides as new research is done.


Frisky said...

it makes me nuts when there's so much attention on the evils of soy when we're killing ourselves on sugar and fat. i'm looking at you, utne reader.

that said, we only have tofu about once a week and take it easy on processed foods.

Anonymous said...

Here is a comprehensive review of the medical research and issues with soy:

Greenpa said...

Now, I AM a research scientist- :-)

But I haven't really evaluated all the soy noise; because it's not terribly relevant to me; we don't indulge much, beyond the occasional soy sauce.

What I CAN contribute is this: virtually ALL of the wonderful health and benefit claims can be traced back to- research funded by the soy industry.

Think about that.

And. Something not mentioned much; soybeans are quite hard on the land. In hilly country, they leave the soil very exposed to erosion- it's quite serious. Not that they're always a disaster; but increasingly they require great attention to grow safely- careless growers do happen. Further, new pests; soybean aphid and soybean rust, mean that they are using more and more pesticides to grow the big crops.

Catherine said...

There's a really great podcast on this subject from Compassionate Cooks - you can get it free through iTunes or probably through their Web site. I'm not sure.. I just started listeningn to them. "Vegetarian Food for thought" is the name of the program and "Soy is not evil" is the name of the individual podcast.

Their argument is that the soy studies were done by isolating one nutrient found in soy and then testing it on animals in large doses. But people don't generally eat isolated nutrients. As long as you try to eat whole, nonprocessed foods as much as you can, you should be ok. It makes sense to me, but I'm no research scientist either.

Christy said...

I'm interested in knowing what you mean about trans-fats being a witch hunt? Has there been studies that show it isn't bad for us? I avoid them like the plaque, being a PhD biochemist, everything I know about them is bad news. However, I will admit to not keeping up with the research, so if there is new info that they aren't bad, I'd be interested in knowing that. Not that it will change my mind about eating them, I just like to be well informed.

Crunchy Chicken said...

christy - I meant, for example, that in the 80s margarine (trans-fats central) was touted as being more healthy than butter and so we all hunkered down and consumed vast quantities of margarine, eschewing tasty butter. And, now, trans-fats are the bad boys.

So, I meant, that after being inundated with "soy is good" for all these years, we are getting the message that "soy isn't so good". Perhaps it will come to the point where we avoid it altogether too?

QT said...

I think where you run into problems is when people are using soy as a straight replacement for meats, ala the Bocaburger, soy crumbles, etc. I don't think it is meant to be consumed like that all the time. Tho I do love me a Boca burger!

A traditional Japanese diet uses much more fermented soy than non - especially miso. And what about the trace minerals consumed by eating seaweed products with soy? Perhaps they have some offsetting effects?

As usual, we always try to just isolate one "best" practice without trying to see how the whole puzzle fits together.

e4 said...

Just remember that the Chinese have been eating soybeans and their derivatives for millenia, and they seem to be doing alright.

All things in moderation...

Anonymous said...

I try to keep everything in moderation, including the soy. its so hard to tell sometimes what foods are good or bad, with the exception of the obvious bad boys. Remember when eggs where the best foods ever, then they were terrible, then great again? Who knows what studies will come out tomorrow on soy, or any other food.

Malva said...

Something else: organic soy products are never GMO. So stick to organic soy milk and tofu. And yes, everything in moderation.

Greenpa said...

Sad but true- increasingly, you are going to have to figure out whether to believe the research reports- yourself. Amazing how that topic came up on MY blog a while ago... problems.

A study from the MEDICAL research world a couple years ago- and they are VASTLY more careful than the "nutritional" world, believe me- showed that some 30% of published, formal, peer reviewed medical studies- were later overturned.

It's very very easy to do poor science- and there are lots of reasons to do it; mostly money.

A good one from today: lycopenes my aunt's fanny

All the stuff about the wonderful cancer fighting chemicals in tomatoes.... is hooey.

It's not just unfortunate, it's dangerous- clueless advice is not what we need from the academics; but more and more, that's what we get.

Anonymous said...

Geez, so I should stop eating all those tomatoes?