Despite strong evidence to the contrary, manipulated-soy foods and supplements continue to bask in the aura of health. Soy protein powder, milk, yogurt, formula, hotdogs, nuggets, bacon, crumbles, cheese, chips, etc. are touted by manufacturers as heart-healthy alternatives to meat and dairy products, but I have been reading up on the effects of these foods, and they should be avoided. The Soy Deception, a recent book from Dr. David Brownstein and nutritionist Sheryl Shenfelt, catalogs and debunks widespread misconceptions, as do posts on Ms. Shenfelt’s informative website, aplacetobe.com.
Soy is one of the 8 major allergens, yet it lurks everywhere in our food supply. Among its dangers (to paraphrase Shenefelt): it is loaded with plant estrogens that disrupt endocrine function; it interferes with thyroid function and with our body’s use of vitamins B12, D, and calcium; during processing, it develops carcinogenic toxins; and when non-organic, it is a heavily sprayed crop.
In a separate post, Shenefelt offers advice on how to avoid soy in foods, again to paraphrase: avoid any cooking oils, sauces and dressings that contain soybean oil; try coconut or almond milk in lieu of soy; avoid all processed soy foods and learn the keywords that indicate soy such as TVP, vegetable oil, lecithin, etc.; carefully read labels on baked goods, many of which contain soy flour.
She doesn’t mention another issue, less easy to avoid: soy, along with corn, is the major livestock feed in use today. Thus, when we eat beef, chicken, or whatever, the unhealthy soy that the animal ate and which became incorporated into its tissues, now goes into ours—a good argument for buying grass-fed beef and being very picky about where you purchase your chicken.
Soybeans are incredibly cheap to grow, and they have become a major US crop (2nd only to corn)—in fact we are the largest producer in the world—which explains why soy pops up in so much of what we consume. There is the illusion that Asian cultures eat mass quantities of soy products without ill effect, but in truth, they use soy as more of a condiment, very moderately. Organic whole soy foods—edamame, tofu, and so forth—are fine when consumed in small amounts as in Asia. Even healthier are fermented soy products—tempeh, miso, tamari, natto, and pickled tofu—but they, too, should be eaten in moderation. I think it ultimately boils down to common sense. Soy is not a health panacea, but when organic soy is consumed within the context of a whole-food, plant-based diet, it can be a healthful addition to one’s menu.