Is Soy Really A Healthy Alternative?

Is soy a healthy alternativeThere was once a time when if you mentioned the word “soy” people thought you were a hippie, a vegan, or somewhat eccentric. Of course, the times are a ‘changing, and nowadays its commonplace to see soy products for sale in almost every supermarket. However, what you might not know is that even if you don’t go out of your way to buy soy products, you’re probably eating them anyway.

Are You Already Eating More Soy Than You Realize?

Soy is everywhere. Research suggests that it’s an invisible ingredient present in up to 60% of all supermarket products. So what? It’s good for you right?

Soy has been eaten by the people of Asia in the form of tofu and miso for thousands of years, and we all know that people in the East live longer, healthier, happier lives. They have much lower incidences of breast cancer and they don’t appear to have an obesity crisis anywhere near the scale we’re presently seeing sweeping across the West. So is there a problem?

It seems so.

The kind of soy we’re consuming in massive amounts is so far removed from the product regarded as a health food staple in the East, that it’s almost unrecognisable.

The reason is this. Soy is often grown from genetically modified crops. This makes it a real cheap bulking agent, and the fast food industry knows it. It’s found in everything from pies to sauces, and it makes products appear to have a much higher protein content, which then bumps up the manufacturer’s profits. Worse still, the meat you buy from the supermarket has probably been reared on soy grown from these genetically modified crops. It’s in the food chain but it’s not always listed in the ingredients.

Of course the debate surrounding GM crops is a whole other issue. But considering that we still don’t fully understand the health implications of eating GM foods, yet between 90-95% of soybeans grown in the US originate from this source, shouldn’t consumers have the right to question how much of it they’re eating, and know which products contain it? And more importantly, is it safe?Tofu made with soy

Nutrition Tips-Are there any benefits to eating soy?

Soy contains active ingredients known as isoflavones which belong to a class of plant based compounds known as phytoestrogens. These chemicals have been shown in tests to have anti-cancerous and anti-oxidant properties, and can be beneficial for bone health, helping prevent conditions like osteoporosis from developing. Because soy contains chemicals that can mimic estrogen in the body, (effectively helping to balance female hormones) it’s often recommended to menopausal women as a way of reducing the symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats.

But of course there’s a downside:

  • Although some studies have shown that the isoflavones in soy have anti-cancer properties, there’s conflicting data to suggest that women who have a family history of estrogen sensitive breast cancer should avoid consuming soy products as it may increase their risk of developing the disease. Worryingly, there have also been some anecdotal reports of adult men developing abnormal breasts (gynecomastia) owing to the hormone disrupting action of soy products.
  • Evidence suggests that the same phytoestrogens may be responsible for reducing male fertility, and should therefore be avoided by couples wanting to conceive.
  • Soy also contains goitrogens which are compounds that block the action of thyroid hormones. These chemical compounds can cause havoc with iodine metabolism and have been linked to thyroid cancer.
  • Non-fermented soy contains phytates that obstruct the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc in the intestinal tract. High levels of levels of aluminum and manganese have also been found in soy as the beans are processed  in aluminum tanks and washed with acid, so if you are concerned about aluminum this is yet another reason to avoid non-fermented soy.

So who should you believe?

It would seem that once again, it’s not the food that’s to blame, but the manufacturers who process, refine and de-nature the product to the point where it contains little to no nutritional benefit at all. If we think of soy as being either fermented or non-fermented, we may be able to go some way towards providing an answer to the question of whether or not it’s safe to eat.

Fermented soy:Healthy Soy Sauce

Tempeh, miso, natto and tamari are all examples of fermented soy. These foods have traditionally been eaten for many thousands of years with little detriment to health. This is because when soy is naturally fermented it becomes more easily digestible, meaning your body can readily assimilate the beneficial nutrients. The fermentation process reduces the amount of anti-nutrients and phytates contained in the product, and is a source of vitamin K” which can help prevent osteoporosis, dementia and various types of cancer

Non-fermented soy:

  • Soymilk. Switch to nut milks, oat and rice milks are also good alternatives.
  • Soy protein. Try whey protein, rice protein or pea protein instead.
  • Tofu- most of the tofu available in supermarkets has been coagulated into a thick, moist, cake-like form, but it has not been fermented. Pickled tofu is the exception.
  • TVP (texturized vegetable protein) or soy protein isolate.
  • Soybean oil.
  • Soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy yogurt.
  • Soy “meat” (meatless products made of TVP)
  • Edamame
  • Soy infant formula

Here at Healthy, Happy, Slim, we believe that moderation is the key to health.  Always check food labels to see if the products you’re buying contain soy, and always buy organic, non-GM products wherever possible. Soy doesn’t have to be a problem if you’re aware of the risks. If you have a thyroid imbalance or are at a risk of breast cancer, then our advice is to avoid any form of soy. But if you enjoy soy foods, then the research suggests that choosing fermented soy products appears to be the best and safest option.

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