If ever there was a ‘perfect food’, the humble soybean was on track to take the crown. The FDA allowed food producers to state that it reduced heart disease risk. Vegetarians love it because it it a great protein source – and can be produced to have a meat-like texture to help stave off the blood-lust of former carnivores now embracing the vegetarian lifestyle. It also works great for us folks living a low carb lifestyle as it is very low in carbs in many of the forms that it is produced and soy flour is the cheapest alternative to real flour that a person living a low carb lifestyle can find.
I also like soy and it’s various forms. Geez, even the simplicity of a block of tofu, covered in sesame oil and soy sauce, garnished with scallions makes my mouth water – I like the stuff. While flavorless by itself, it’s pretty darn versatile.
But is it good for you? Or asking another question: can it be bad for you?
I haven’t heard much in the popular press – not that I pay much attention to the popular press – but if you type the words ‘soy’ and ‘health’ into Google, the first page of results are a mixed bag of inconclusive research as well as downright scary potential adverse reactions to soy.
It seems that soy has a number of issues – which I have seen reported consistently from a number of sources:
- While there is evidence that it can reduce the risk of cancer, there is also evidence that it might increase the risk of cancer.
- Soy contains phytic acid, which reduces the absorption of a number of minerals, including zinc and magnesium. Phytic acid is known as an anti-nutrient. While the husk s of almost all seeds and grains contain this – one reason I take my fiber therapy in the morning and my vitamins in the evening – soy supposedly contains a lot.
- Soy contains compounds very similar to the female hormone estrogen, which might not be the best thing for the men out there – and while women sometimes supplement with these isoflavones as a means of reducing menopause symptoms, there might be other risks involved with this – like maybe cancer?
- There is also a substance called goitogens that can depress thyroid function.
- The Israeli Health Ministry supposedly says that soy consumption is downright dangerous and should be limited. You can read a petition on the FDA’s website here, but I’d prefer to read exactly what the Israeli Health Ministry said – which I couldn’t find – only reports on other website. There was an issue regarding a soy infant formula in Israel killing babies because it lacked vitamin necessary B1 supplementation, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. I did find the Health Ministry website, but I don’t read hebrew, so it short-circuits my investigation…
Now, there are many, many resources out there for you to check what I found and, as always, don’t believe a word I say – check it out yourself. Here’s a link to one of these articles to get you started – do a little sleuthing to find more, since you shouldn’t believe anything he says either – just because he has little numbers next to his facts doesn’t mean his facts are facts – check it out.
OK – so am I going to give up soy?
Very few foods are ‘perfect foods’ – in fact, you can think of yourself as a car and everything you eat as miles on your car. You have ‘highway miles’ which is easy on the car, and ‘city miles’ which causes more wear and tear. Using the car means you use it up. Eating puts ‘mileage’ on your body – the act that sustains you also wears you out. If fact, numerous studies have shown the one way to increase your lifespan is to reduce the number of calories you intake.
Maybe soy is the food more like the ‘city miles’ than the ‘highway miles’. So is pizza, cookies, cakes, pies, soda, bologna, pasta and lots of other things that I try to avoid – but I still have on occasion because I like them.
I’ll have soy, but I won’t act like it’s some sort of health food and eat unlimited amounts thinking I’m doing myself a favor. I’ll probably avoid going out of my way to give my daughters soy especially because of the estrogen-like compounds, but if they happen to have some, it’s probably OK. It’s also said that fermented soy, like miso, is a much better health choice – the fermentation having altered a number of the chemical properties to reduce the potential for harm, as well as the process adding a number of healthful compounds.
Like canned tuna, which I love but is known to have mercury, I’ll make a conscious choice to limit consumption without an outright ban.
Life is meant to consume us – we want to reach the end of our lives having been consumed by a well-lived life – one filled with energy, joy, and as few regrets as possible. It’s wise to do everything possible to ensure that we take reasonable care of ourselves so we can achieve that goal, but don’t forget to live while you’re at it.
So you people out there who hate soy – you’re off the hook – it might not be all that good for you – don’t eat it!