There has been a lot of hype around Soy in the recent years, especially within the Vegetarian and Vegan communities. It is praised because it is believed to be a complete protein, which is great for vegetarians because obviously they don’t get enough protein, right? Wrong. Many vegetables contain even more protein than meat. Soy has become a staple in many Vegetarian diets because of things like imitation meat products made from tofu, which is made from soy, Veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, bacon and so on. Soy milk is another huge product that people consume that obviously is based highly around soy. The important thing to look at here in regards to soy is the difference between the fermented and non-fermented states and how that effects health.
The big reason behind the increased sales of soy is advertising and propaganda. It’s especially interesting when you look at the fact that only a few decades ago, the soybean was considered unfit to eat – even in Asia. Why don’t we go into some history of the soy bean. It was during the Chou Dynasty (1134-246 BC) that the soybean was designated as one of the five sacred grains, along with barley, wheat, millet and rice. What’s interesting is this: “the pictograph for the soybean, which dates from earlier times, indicates that it was not first used as a food; for whereas the pictographs for the other four grains show the seed and stem structure of the plant, the pictograph for the soybean emphasizes the root structure. Agricultural literature of the period speaks frequently of the soybean and its use in crop rotation. Apparently the soy plant was initially used as a method of fixing nitrogen.” (Mercola.com)
We often associate Asian culture with Soy and believe that if they have been eating it for so long we should too. But what we don’t often know is that when they were eating soy, they were not eating it in the state the North American culture does now. Back then, the soybean was not even consumed until the discovery of fermentation techniques. This happened at some later time during the Chou Dynasty. The first soy foods were fermented products like tempeh, natto, miso and soy sauce. So right away we are seeing that soy and the way it is used traditionally has nothing to do with the way we currently eat it today.
Later on Chinese scientists discovered that “a purée of cooked soybeans could be precipitated with calcium sulfate or magnesium sulfate (plaster of Paris or Epsom salts) to make a smooth, pale curd – tofu or bean curd. The use of fermented and precipitated soy products soon spread to other parts of the Orient, notably Japan and Indonesia.” (Mercola.com)
So again we are seeing that the benefits of soy are still coming from the process of fermentation, not from simply eating it. In fact, it was not even eaten in its natural state, only in fermented state.
At that time, the Chinese culture were not eating unfermented soybeans due to the fact that the soybean contains large quantities of natural toxins or “antinutrients”. Some of the most important to avoid are potent enzyme inhibitors that block the action of trypsin and other enzymes needed for protein digestion.What these inhibitors are is tightly folded proteins that do not deactivate during the cooking process. With them not being deactivated, when they are consumed, they have the ability to produce serious gastric distress, reduced protein digestion and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake. Several tests were done on animals that showed diets high in trypsin inhibitors cause enlargement and pathological conditions of the pancreas, including cancer. If the above isn’t reason enough, Soybeans also contain haemagglutinin, a clot-promoting substance that causes red blood cells to clump together.
Both Trypsin inhibitors and haemagglutinin are growth inhibitors, this means the body may not grow and function properly while they are being consumed. Again in tests conducted on Weanling rats (wish they would stop testing on animals) that were fed soy containing these anti nutrients failed to grow as they normally would. Since growth-depressant compounds are deactivated during the process of fermentation, the soybean is fit for dietary use. But can i stress again, only when fermented. If the soybean is not fermented it is not fit to eat or drink.
Here are a few more cited facts about soy.
A 1991 study found that eating only 2 TBL/day of roasted and pickled soybeans for 3 months to healthy adults who were receiving adequate iodine in their diet caused thyroid suppression with symptoms of malaise, constipation, sleepiness, and goiters (Nippon Naibunpi Gakkai Zasshi 1991, 767: 622-629)!
Six premenopausal women with normal menstrual cycles were given 45 mg of soy isoflavones per day. This is equivalent to only 1-2 cups of soy milk or 1/2 cup of soy flour! After only one month, all of the women experienced delayed menstruation with the effects similar to tamoxifen, the anti-estrogen drug given to women with breast cancer (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1994 Sep;60(3):333-340).
Dietary estrogens in the form of soy foods were found to have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system with the effects in women similar to taking the breast cancer drug tamoxifen (Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine 1995 Jan;208(1):51-9).
Estrogens consumed in the diet at low concentrations were found to stimulate breast cells much like DDT to increase enzymatic activity which leads to breast cancer (Environmental Health Perspectives 1997 Apr;105 (Suppl 3):633-636).
The soy isoflavones genistein and daidzein appear to stimulate existing breast cancer growth indicating risk in consuming soy products if a woman has breast cancer. (Annals of Pharmacotherapy 2001 Sep;35(9):118-21).
Direct evidence that soy isoflavones genistein and daidzein suppress the pituitary-thyroid axis in middle-aged rats fed 10 mg soy isoflavones per kilo after only 3 weeks as compared with rats eating regular rat chow (Experimental Biology and Medicine 2010 May;235(5):590-8).
Scientific research has shown that the developing male fetus which is exposed to soy phytoestrogens may suffer from higher susceptibility to prostate cancer later in life (Prostate 1994;24(2):67-78).
Dietary genistein (soy phytoestrogen) in developing female rats had the effect of significantly accelerated puberty (Toxicol Sci 1999 Oct;51(2):236-44).
A study of 12 men aged 18 years and older experienced a 19% drop in serum testosterone in only 28 days when supplemented with 56 grams of soy protein powder over that same time period (Prev 2007;16:829–33).
Female newborns who are orally exposed to genisin, the glycosylated form of genistein (soy phytoestrogen) experienced harm to the reproductive system in the form of “delayed vaginal opening… abnormal estrous cycles, decreased fertility, and delayed parturition.” (Environmental Health Perspective 2009 Dec;117(12):1883-9).
Some great alternatives to soy products are beans, lentils, mushrooms, almond, rice and coconut milks and just a lot more dark leafy greens! Also, fermented soy products like tempeh and miso are not bad for you, but should still be eaten in moderation.
Katz, Solomon H., “Food and Biocultural Evolution: A Model for the Investigation of Modern Nutritional Problems”, Nutritional Anthropology, Alan R. Liss Inc., 1987, p. 50.
Rackis, Joseph J. et al., “The USDA trypsin inhibitor study. I. Background, objectives and procedural details”, Qualification of Plant Foods in Human Nutrition, vol. 35, 1985.