Soy – good or bad?

We’ve all been told of the health benefits of soy and have been encouraged to eat it.  Soy, the magical little bean that would solve so many of our health issues. Lately we have been told that soy is not the health panacea that we once thought.  So, what gives, where is the truth? Soy in the forms that we eat most often is a highly processed food possessing all the inherent problems that come along with foods that have been processed. Soy contains compounds that once thought to be helpful have been shown to be harmful to health in a processed form. We have covered processed foods and why they are not beneficial, so let’s look at soy and it’s nutrients and anti-nutrients.

Soy products contain phytic acid, also called phytates. This organic acid is present in the bran or hulls of all seeds and legumes, but none have the high level of phytates that soybeans do. These acids block the body’s uptake of essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and especially zinc.  Soybeans also contain potent enzyme inhibitors. These inhibitors block uptake of trypsin and other enzymes that the body needs for protein digestion. Normal cooking does not deactivate these harmful “anti-nutrients,” that can cause serious gastric distress, reduce protein digestion and can lead to chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake.  Beyond these, soybeans also contain hemagglutinin, a clot promoting substance that causes red blood cells to clump together. These clustered blood cells are unable to properly absorb oxygen for distribution to the body’s tissues, and cannot help in maintaining good cardiac health. Hemagglutinin and trypsin inhibitors are both “growth depressant” substances. Although the act of fermenting soybeans does deactivate both trypsin inhibitors and hemagglutinin, precipitation and cooking do not. Even though these enzyme inhibitors are reduced in levels within precipitated soy products like tofu, they are not altogether eliminated.  Isoflavanones are the best known of chemicals in soy, and they can is some ways be useful to certain subsets of the population at later stages of life. They are however very damaging to younger people in that they alter hormonal balance and restrict brain development in infants.

It is also interesting to note that 85% of the United States soy crops are genetically modified and it is amazing that there is still no FDA required safety tests for genetically modified foods.  One study in rats who were fed soy and genetically modified soy showed that 8x the number of rats fed genetically modified soy died during the test as opposed to the control group.   Do you know where the soy you consume comes from?

In Asian cultures they tend to eat soy that is fermented (miso, tempeh,natto) and do not, amazingly enough, eat more soy than the United States.  Fermented soy is most likely it’s only saving grace because the fermenting process virtually eliminates all the bad nutritional aspects mentioned.

Bottom line… soy, like all food, is best in its natural, true form.  For most foods that would also mean raw.  However, soy has traditionally only been used in fermented form.  So eat close to nature, whole, raw and live, except soy which should only be considered in quantity after fermintation with live cultures.