What would you call a health food loaded with toxins … that makes digesting protein harder … that blocks the absorption of minerals … and throws your hormones out of balance?
And what would you call it if nearly every health benefit claimed for that food was either unproven or disproven?
I’d call it “soy.”
In most forms, soy is downright unhealthy. Eating it raw would make you sick. Yet it’s become a star of the health food world … based entirely on myth.
The soy industry and misguided health advocates have used soy myths to steer you away from genuinely healthy foods such as beef, poultry and fish. I’ll explain more about these later. But first, let’s look at the 3 big myths about soy.
The biggest myth is that soy is good for you. It’s supposed to boost heart health, ease the discomfort of menopause, protect your bones, and more.
But when the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality looked at the studies, they disagreed. They said …
- There’s no evidence soy provides meaningful heart-health benefits
- Most of the positive studies on menopausal symptoms are “poor quality”
- Research on bone health doesn’t show any real benefit from soy
In fact, they only found evidence for one health benefit from eating soy. It may lower LDL cholesterol slightly.1
The American Heart Association (AHA) reversed its position on soy in 2006. After reviewing the studies, they agreed there’s no compelling evidence that soy provides health benefits.
And the AHA scoffed at soy’s cholesterol benefit. They pointed out it only reduced LDL cholesterol by about 3% in the studies… and the subjects had to eat massive amounts to get there.2
So soy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But it must be safe, right?
Unfortunately, no. Safety is soy myth #2.
Soy contains anti-nutrients – substances that keep your body from getting the nutrition it needs.
For example, it’s high in a chemical called phytic acid. Phytic acid blocks the absorption of minerals and trace elements.3 So if you eat soy regularly, you may find yourself short on critical minerals.
Trypsin inhibitor is another of soy’s anti-nutrients. Trypsin is an enzyme that helps break down protein during digestion. Trypsin inhibitor blocks this action – so some of the protein your body craves just passes right through.
Soy contains toxins, too. Alkaloids, for instance – the class of chemicals that includes strychnine, nicotine and opium. Soy also contains cyanogenic glucosides – compounds related to cyanide.4
Plus, soy is high in hemagglutinin. This chemical causes red blood cells to clump together, effectively preventing them from carrying oxygen through your body.
As if that weren’t bad enough, soy is loaded with plant chemicals that act like the hormone estrogen. They’re called phytoestrogens.
Britain’s Food Standards Agency warned in 2003 that babies drinking soy-based formula are at risk. Because the levels of phytoestrogens in soy formula are high enough to cause hormonal changes even in adult women.5
Research at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital produced even more shocking results. These doctors found that soy-formula babies had levels of phytoestrogens up to 22,000 times higher than normal hormone levels for their age!6
And these are just a few of the safety issues with soy. But let’s move on to the 3rd big myth…
That soy is natural.
The truth is, most soy foods are about as natural as diet soda. Here’s how they make their way onto your table.
To begin with, 85% of the soy grown in the United States is genetically modified. And there’s nothing natural about that.
Plus, unprocessed soy is inedible. So these “Franken-beans” are crushed into flakes, percolated like coffee grounds, and cooked in a petroleum-based solvent to remove the oil.
What’s left then goes through several different processes, depending on the finished product desired.
To make textured vegetable protein – the type of soy used in veggie patties and soy “meats” – soy goes through at least five additional steps. These steps include an acid wash, two treatments with alkaline solutions and two high-temperature treatments.
To make matters even worse, the acid wash takes place in aluminum tanks. So the soy curd comes out of this step laced with toxic aluminum.
If you don’t find anything natural about that process, you’re right. But there are some forms of soy that are natural… and even healthy.
In Asia, they eat very little soy in the forms we use here in America. They eat foods like tempeh, miso and natto – fermented soy. These foods are prepared very differently from our soy. Take natto, for example…
The beans are soaked in water until they stop swelling. Then they’re steamed until soft. Finally, they’re laid out on rice straw and both are wrapped in a bag and left to ferment.
The soaking and steaming removes or neutralizes many of the unhealthy components of soy. And the fermentation process – caused by bacteria on the straw – takes care of most of the rest.
With most of the toxins and anti-nutrients naturally removed, fermented soy is a decent source of protein. And natto is loaded with vitamin K, which promotes bone health.
There’s nothing wrong with fermented soy. But I think lean meat, poultry and fish are an even better choice. Especially when they’re not “factory farmed.”
Ounce for ounce, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and wild-caught fish pack more quality protein than soy. And they’re edible in their natural state.
You’ll get other benefits, too. For example, sirloin steak has less than 10% of the pro-inflammatory Omega-6 oils found in an equal amount of tempeh.
Even more importantly, as a plant food, soy contains no vitamin B12. Among other functions, B12 has been linked to lower levels of homocysteine, an important risk factor for heart disease.
Adults need about 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of B12 every day. One large egg provides a quarter of that. And a 3-ounce serving of grass-fed beef nearly fills your daily requirement on it’s own (2.1 mcg).
Many markets now sell free-range meats that are raised without growth hormones and antibiotics and fed a natural diet. That makes these products more natural than any form of soy – even the fermented varieties.
If a market near you doesn’t carry these natural meat products, Eat Wild (www.eatwild.com) can point you to a local farm. There, you’ll find a link to more than 1,300 pasture-based farms that offer healthy natural meats and other farm products.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
1 Balk E, et al. Effects of Soy on Health Outcomes. Summary, Evidence Report/Technology Assessment: Number 126. AHRQ Publication Number 05-E024-1, August 2005.
2 Sacks FM, et al. Soy protein, isoflavones, and cardiovascular health: an American Heart Association Science Advisory for professionals from the Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006 Feb 21;113(7):1034-44. Epub 2006 Jan 17.
3 Lönnerdal B. Nutritional aspects of soy formula. Acta Paediatr Suppl. 1994 Sep;402:105-8.
4 Liener IE. Toxic Factors in Edible Legumes and Their Elimination. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 11, 281-298, 1962. Liener IE. Toxic Factors in Edible Legumes and Their Elimination. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 11, 281-298, 1962. Lönnerdal B. Nutritional aspects of soy formula. Acta Paediatr Suppl. 1994 Sep;402:105-8.
5 Hughes I, et al. Phytoestrogens and Health. (Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, Food Standards Agency, London, 2003)
6 Setchell KD, et al. Isoflavone content of infant formulas and the metabolic fate of these phytoestrogens in early life. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Dec;68(6 Suppl):1453S-1461S.