The Dangers Of Soy

Vegetarians shouldn't turn to soy to meet all their protein needs

When I first became a vegetarian 11 years ago, I hadn’t properly researched my newly chosen lifestyle. For a long time, I struggled with how to get protein in my diet, stuffing my face with bread to create a feeling of satiety.

When I moved to Britain at the beginning of my career as a vegetarian, I discovered their hilarious ability to overcook broccoli. I was working at a retreat house in England at the time, and I ate many non-meat dishes that included soy made to resemble meat in appearance and texture. I always wondered why vegetarians would choose to closely relive the experience of eating flesh after giving it up. I’ve since gained the knowledge that soy is not only a poor protein alternative, but that eating it can cause harm.

Soy products come from soybeans, a legume native to eastern Asia. Soybeans can produce five to 10 times more protein per acre than land reserved for dairy animals to graze upon. Due to this incredibly high protein content, soybeans are valuable as livestock feed and a common go-to for novice vegetarians. Today, the United States produces and exports the most soybeans in the world.

In the early 1990s, a great deal of information surfaced about the health-promoting properties of soy. Soy became an overnight sensation — a newly recognized and miraculous health food said to prevent heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis and diminish symptoms of menopause. Numerous studies cited the fact that Asian countries, where a great deal of soy is consumed, show fewer incidences of particular diseases such as breast cancer. Soy’s new and lustrous reputation caused an upsurge in the popularity of soy products that began showing up on supermarket shelves in many forms. Examples include textured soy protein, meat substitutes like pepperoni, sausages, vegetarian hot dogs and burger patties, dairy products like milk, yogurt, ice cream and cheese, soy mayonnaise, and tofu.

Unfortunately, these products are a far cry from the types of soy that Asian populations have gained benefit from over the years. In Asia, soy products are mostly fermented. (Miso seasoning, soy sauce, a soybean cake called Tempeh, and fermented soybeans served as a traditional Japanese breakfast called natto are all examples of fermented soy.)

Soy only offers healthful benefits when fermented. This is because soybeans contain anti-nutrient compounds that negatively influence health. These compounds are only reduced enough for healthy consumption through fermentation. Soy’s anti-nutrient compounds worth mentioning are:

• phytic acid, which blocks the body’s ability to absorb important minerals such as magnesium, calcium iron and zinc

• enzyme inhibitors that block the body’s uptake of enzymes needed for digesting protein

• a substance called hemagglutinin that causes red blood cells to clot, preventing proper distribution of oxygen to the body’s tissues, negatively affecting the maintenance of cardiovascular health

Soybeans used to produce mass products in the western world have not been fermented and are laden with anti-nutrients that can harm your health. Furthermore, more than 90 per cent of soy on the market is genetically modified and highly contaminated by pesticides. This means that when you eat soy products, you are also eating harsh chemicals. Soybeans are also highly allergenic — if you experience gastrointestinal reactions such as gas and bloating upon eating soy products, chances are you’re sensitive and/or allergic to them. Soy is also phytoestrogenic in nature, meaning that it contains organic compounds called isoflavones that mimic the activity of estrogens in the body — hence the previous, widespread notion that it may reduce breast cancer. Phytoestrogens can disrupt the natural function of the endocrine system, creating hormonal imbalance and potentially setting the stage for illness.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, who I’ve cited in a few of my past columns, is an American osteopathic physician, author and health activist who promotes alternative health and produces a wealth of research-based information for citizens and health practitioners. He says soy-based formulas can affect infants’ reproductive and endocrine system, and that infants consuming soy-based formula are ingesting the equivalent of five birth control pills per day.

It seems apparent that soy products are imposters in the health food industry. Whether or not you’re a vegetarian, do yourself, your family and the environment a favour and steer clear of unfermented, mass produced soy products.

Roberta Shepherd teaches in the Holistic Health Practitioner Program at Grant MacEwan University and is a practitioner at Prana Holistic here in Edmonton.


Comments: 5

FreeLorne wrote:

Here's a link to an article from the Guardian newspaper arguing that the 'anti-soy' argument is all a bunch of bunk.
What is the truth?

on Apr 5th, 2011 at 1:46pm Report Abuse

FreeLorne wrote:

Another link claiming that Dr. Mercola is a "snake oil salesman."

on Apr 5th, 2011 at 2:03pm Report Abuse

Bert wrote:

Thank you for your contributions FreeLorne.

In deed, there are always two sides to every coin. While soy lends health-promoting benefits for the prevention and presence of estrogen deficient conditions like osteoperosis, difficulty with menopausal transition, some migraines and potentially cancer, this is only the case when soy has been fermented - as reviewed. My recommendation is that consumers be careful with soy protein like soy-based meat substitutes. It is recognized in the field of alternative health that these products can be hazardous, especially if ingested regularly. That being said, there are a great many practitioners in the field and some have opposing views, while many have very different perspectives - a normal and welcome part of a diverse field.

While I believe it would be irresponsible for me to withold information that may help clients and readers achieve optimal health, it is my stronger belief that each individual do what feels right for them - in accordance with their own personal values, beliefs and experience.

on Apr 6th, 2011 at 10:44pm Report Abuse

mkwillia wrote:

Should I believe the PR put out by Montsanto, Archer Daniel Midlands, Cargill and all their political operatives? I don't think so.

on Apr 11th, 2011 at 6:55pm Report Abuse

conky wrote:

The article ends with "It seems apparent that soy products are imposters in the health food industry." Since there are no scientific studies (aka FACTS) cited in this article, it is the furthest thing from "apparent" to me. Am I supposed to believe unsubstantiated claims, probably originating from the well-funded meat industry? The wikipedia article on soy actually sites some sources...

And this Mercola is hardly a source for quality scientific or medical information ( I don't know about all of you, but when my cancer comes, I will not be trusting this late-night infomercial character's medical advice... regardless of how big his website is.

on May 3rd, 2011 at 6:37pm Report Abuse

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