Lethbridge Fitness

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Debatable Artical November 23, 2011

Why Soy is BAD For Your Health

It’s kind of crazy to think that soy products have really only been around in the U.S. food industry since the early 1990’s, unlike many of the Asian countries where it’s been a food staple for thousands of years.

So what made soy become so popular so fast here in the U.S.?

Well it certainly wasn’t coincidence.  Like in most industries, if you follow the money…it’s a pretty good bet that you’ll end up at the truth.  And soy is no different.  Soy is cheap to cultivate and when consumed in whole “fermented” forms it has real health benefits.

Notice the terms “whole” food and “fermented”…see that’s key.

It’s bad enough that whole foods have become foreign in vast majority of North American diets, but throw in fermentation…and you’re looking at a population smaller than people living on Easter Island that would even take a second look at consuming soy in this form.

Fear not however, if there’s profit to be had, we can make anything palatable…or at least edible…sort of.

Which is why almost all soy produced in US is processed and converted into two prosperous commodities – soybean oil and soy protein.

See…now we can get the benefits of whole fermented soybeans without having to inflict our palates with foul smelly fermented foods.  We all win..right?


Here’s the problem:

Processing anything is bad and it’s no different for soy.  Soybean oil is heavily refined and most have trans fats in them, making them one of the unhealthiest oils around.  And unfortunately, it’s in pretty much all processed foods.   Soy protein is the other culprit and it’s also processed, although not as heavily as soybean oil.  All possible health benefits of soy are completely taken out in the course of processing, making it a pretty poor source of protein.

But this is where the confusion and conflict begins.  The FDA claims that soy protein is very healthy and they recommend consuming 25 g of soy protein a day to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

I know…once again more conflicting information…I don’t blame you for wanting to tear your hair out with frustration.

Okay…before you take FDA’s recommendation, let’s take a little closer look at the relationship it has with the soy industry

According to Soy Food Association of North America, the sales of soy food products exploded from 300 million dollars in 1992 to 4 billion dollars in 2006.  It only took just over a decade to make soy one of the world’s most cultivated crop.  In fact, the soy industry is growing so fast that in order to keep up with the demands, it’s clear cutting forests (yep…deforestation) to make more room for soy farms.

But that’s not enough…there’s too much at stake here…too much money to be made.  The soy industry wants it all and nothing’s going to stop them…not even mother nature.  Enter…GMO – genetically modified organism.  Soybeans that are genetically modified to grow faster, bigger and be resistant to pretty much anything you throw at it.

In the U.S. about 90 % of all soy used is genetically modified (GM).  GM soy is resistance to toxic herbicides and pesticides, which is great because they can keep pumping out soybeans without worrying about crops being destroyed by insects.  Sounds dandy, except these toxic chemicals are being passed down the food chain into to animal feeds and you guessed it…you and I, the consumers.

I won’t get into the tyranny of the Big Agra in the farming industry as a whole, but getting non-GM foods have become alarmingly difficult and our right to get natural whole foods is diminishing quickly.

So what does any of this have to do with the FDA?

Well, it just so happens that the executives that run Big Agra, which produce both the GM seeds for soy as well as the toxic chemicals that they spray the crops with, coincidentally happened to serve on the board of execs on the FDA as well.  It’s like a merry-go-round of execs just switching seats.  Conflict of interest?  Oh right…this is politics…profit and power over human rights and safety.

According to stats between 2000 – 2007 there were more than 2700 new soy-based foods that were introduced into the commercial market.  And it hasn’t slowed down one bit.  One of the biggest reason for the continual push for soy-based products is the FDA.  It’s been unequivocally supporting soy as a healthy source of food since the very beginning.  So, yes I think it’s fair to say that FDA is committed to the success of the soy industry and so far it’s been wildly successful.

That said, I’m not saying that the study done on the soy proteins reducing heart disease was false.  It’s pretty easy to manipulate studies to get a desired outcome anyway, and knowing the intimate relation FDA has with the soy industry, I think it’s best to take (all) FDA’s recommendation with a grain of salt.

Health facts about soy

Since soy is a legume (a bean) it has all of the unhealthy qualities that legumes possess:

  • Soy contains anti-nutrients which hinders the ability of digestive enzymes needed to for  proper digestion.
  • Soy contains phytates (phytic acid) like nuts, which prevent absorption of certain important minerals like zinc, magnesium and calcium.
  • Soy is full of isoflavones which are phytoestrogens.  They’re plant compounds that resemble human estrogen and have been known to disrupt endocrine function.  It’s also been linked to infertility and breast cancer.
  • Soy also contain goitrogens which block the synthesis of thyroid hormones.  So if you have thyroid issues, it’s definitely not recommended.

These are just the negatives health effects soy has in it’s natural state.  Now combine that with the effects of genetic modification (GM) and you’ve really got a mess on your hands.

What effects genetically modified soy has on your health?

GMO is fairly new, so currently there’s only one published human study and a few published studies conducted on animals.

Although companies that produce GMO products claim that it’s completely safe for human consumption, all the studies done on animals fed GM soy have had seriously negative outcomes including infertility and even death – infant mortality. (1)

The process of genetic modification in soy involves placing a gene from a bacteria that produces protein that’s completely foreign to humans.  And if that doesn’t sound bad enough, the one human fed study done on GM soy, found that the gene inserted into the genetically modified soy transfers into the DNA of our gut bacteria and continues to function.

This means that even years after you stop eating GM soy, there’s a real good chance that foreign protein will still be produced in your gut.  Sounds like a premise from a cheesy sci-fi movie…only it’s actually happening!

So what can we do about this awful situation?

  • First and foremost assume that most soy products are genetically modified, especially those meat and dairy substitutes like soy burgers, soy dogs, soy cheese, even soy milk.
  • Make sure to stay away from anything that has soybean oil in it, which shouldn’t be hard to do if you’re avoiding processed foods.
  • It’s best to stay away from so-called healthy foods with soy protein in them such as vegan protein bars, soy chips, soy nuts, and believe it or not…even tofu.
  • Tofu has been the go to source of soy protein for many vegans, however the negatives health factors outweigh the positives, so it’s best to avoid them.

As I mentioned in the very beginning of the article, soy is not bad for you as long as it’s prepared properly.  And the key to getting the health benefits of soy is fermentation.

All whole soybean that’s been fermented is good to eat.  The key is fermentation.  The fermentation process takes out most of the negative health effects listed above.  Although it doesn’t completely eliminate it, in fermented form the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Here’s a list of fermented soy foods that I recommend:

  • Tempeh – Fermented, firm textured, soybean cake
  • Miso – Fermented, salty, soybean paste usually used for soup stock
  • Natto – Fermented soybean with sticky, slimy texture often consumed with rice
  • Soy Sauce – Fermented soybean in liquid form used as condiments in many Asian dishes

So there you have it.  The story of soy is heavy on politics and falls well short of being the panacea of health that it’s claimed to be.  GM soy is just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s very frightening.  Our body’s were meant to eat real whole foods…period.  The consumption of processed foods have wreaked havoc to our health and now engineered food is about to over take our food supply.

Question for thought: This article gives one side with some great points. I’m not sure if it’s all true, all false or a little of both. GM food always has a bad wrap. I was talking with some other fitness professionals about this and just some thoughts we had was to think what would happen if companies did not work to produce plants that had a better survival?


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