Is soy good or is soy bad? To eat soy or not to eat soy? Depending on whom you ask or which blog you read, the answer could be as decisive as soy will save you or soy will kill you. Honestly, if you’re like me, digging hard to find yet another convincing argument on what you’ve already formed an opinion on, would you be able to find anything new to persuade you to change your mind? Perhaps not. But since you are already here, you may care to know what I’ve read up on recently and what I think of soy. After all, soy is a big part of the Asian diet.
Soy is definitely one of the most studied foods in recent history and one of the most controversial foods in the world. Soy has also generated a lot of confusion, and rightfully so. Opinions for and against soy have all been formed by “experts“; and for every study showing soy can heal you, there’s another arguing that soy can harm you. So who is right? Well, they both are – sort of. Depending on for which reason they argue and from what data or study they choose to back up their argument, they all have a valid point. Like my brother always says “the truth lies in the middle”; and like the argument of Constructivism verses Cognitivism learning theory, you may never hear the end of it. I am not here to list the countless studies for those who support the health benefits of soy or those who refute them. What I will do, however, is to highlight few opinions from mainstream health figures that make sense to me personally. As with anything else, my decision or opinion is always based on common sense and … logic. After all, I am a technical person (I did receive an engineering degree somewhere along the way). If you’ve already formed an opinion that soy is bad or that soy is good, then I probably cannot convince you otherwise. If you are still not sure, or haven’t dug much into the controversy of soy – read on.
Speaking of countless studies, OK, I did say I won’t list them – but if you do care to find out, Bon Appetit had done the job for you in an article called Is Soy Good for you? Bad for You? What Does Science Say?. They supposedly combed through over 4,500 studies from PubMed and came up with an “extensive but no where comprehensive” list of 102 studies on soy. I would be very impressed if the author of the article, Ann Mah, actually read the entire studies she listed – yes, all 102 of them. Just scan through the list and you can see why the public is so confused about soy.
Dr. Mark Hyman also did his research on soy and this is what he has to say: “The dangers of soy are overstated. The benefits may be too.” He also recommends that we read the 100-page report from the Agency for HealthCare Research and Quality entitled, The Effect of Soy on Health Outcomes if we want “an excellent, unbiased, scientifically sound review of all the relevant human data on soy”. If you want to know Dr. Hyman’s views on whether:
- “Soy Causes Breast Cancer”
- “Soy Formula Could Harm a Baby’s Development”
- “Soy is a Thyroid Poison”
- “Fermented Soy is Better than Non-fermented Soy”,
you can read his blog here. His final verdict? Eat soy the way Asians eat soy. Hmm… as an Asian, is there any other way to eat it?
Dr. Oz also has his say about soy in his blog entitled, Soy: The Good, the Bad and the Best. His recommendation? Soy is good if it’s not processed and if you eat it in moderation, essentially saying, eat it the way Asians eat it.
Self.com recently has yet another article on soy – The Real Truth About Soy, where they say: “Most experts agree that one to two servings a day is healthy and safe – after all, most Japanese consume that amount throughout their lives.” They quoted some guy named Patisaul as saying “In Asia, people just eat real food”. So the soy they mentioned here is not processed soy.
The article that I like is from The Food Revolution Network with the title: The Truth About Soy written by author John Robbins who is also the founder of EarthSafe and co-founder of The Food Revolution Network site. The article is long so only entertain it if you have the time to pull over a chair with a cup of Soy latte. Otherwise, just read Mr. Robbins’ conclusion on the article here:
In my view, the best way to take advantage of soy’s health benefits is to follow the example of the traditional Asian diets. As a population, these are cultures that, when they have eaten their traditional diets, have tended to be healthier and live longer than Americans. The Okinawa Japanese, the longest living people in the world, average 1-2 servings of soy each day. They have traditionally eaten regular but moderate amounts of whole soy foods such as tofu, soymilk, and edamame, as well as the fermented versions, tamari, and miso. These are the soy foods that I prefer to eat — rather than the soy products made with soy protein isolates, soy protein concentrates, hydrolyzed soy protein, partially hydrogenated soy oil, etc. Whole soy foods are more natural, and are the soy foods that have nourished entire civilizations for centuries.
Do you see a trend here? Need I say more? Do you think by now you know what I think of soy?
If you stand by the principle that whole, fresh, organic and unprocessed foods are good for you and GMO, processed foods are bad, and that everything needs to be consumed in moderation, then it isn’t that hard to decide whether soy is good or bad. Soy didn’t start out bad. Consuming soy in its natural form, that is non-processed form, provides you with good quality protein and a host of nutrients that plant compound provides. This is how the Asians consume soy – mostly in the form of tempeh, miso, tofu, fermented bean curds and fresh soymilk. If soy is so bad for us, then how do we explain that soy foods have been eaten healthily by the whole Asian population for thousands of years?
So how did soy go so wrong? How did we go from “embracing soy to fearfully avoiding it”? Are the Food Giants to blame? Are we falling victim to yet another one of their Human Experiments? Sadly, I think this is true. In America, whole soybeans are rarely consumed, yet soy is in almost every food we eat – from cereal, nutrition bars to soy oil, soy dogs, soy burgers, chicken nuggets and the list goes on. As Self.com mentioned, Americans spent $4.5 billion on soy foods in 2013, yet, when was the last time you had a meal with tofu or edamame? Not only is over 90% of soy produced in the U.S. genetically modified and sprayed with the herbicide Roundup, that soy goes through an extraction process using the chemical solvent hexane to separate the soy oil from the so called soybean meal. The soybean meal then goes through further processing to produce soy protein isolate. That same soy protein isolate is what made into our protein bars, meat analogues, meal replacement shakes, soups and sauces, baked goods, cereals and bottled fruit drinks. So when we talk about soy, which soy are we talking about? The wholesome soy the Asian population eats or the processed and reprocessed soy Americans eat? There is indeed a huge distinction. To me, it isn’t very confusing once you make that separation.
One last thing and I’ll get off my soy box. If you think that because the soy you consume is unprocessed or Non-GMO, it must be good for you, be careful of what you read out there. A few years back, I picked up a book – forgot its name and author, but the basis of the book is how to cure menopause with soybeans and flaxseeds. The book contained 250 or so recipes. Aside from soy (and flaxseeds), most of the recipes also included butter, sugar and white flour. Needless to say, I did not try to make any of them. Yes, it’s true that soy, in its natural form, doesn’t have much taste. This is why when you mention the word “tofu” to most people, they’ll have that eww look on their face. If you can’t stomach soy in its natural form, or in the form that Asians eat, then skip soy. Better yet, try one of my delicious, natural soy recipes and you can decide. But don’t go adding tons of bad-for-you stuff on to your tofu to transform it to something more palatable to you, as in the case of the recipes I mentioned. You’ll do yourself more harm than good.