Soy Story

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Hi Everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and welcome to REAL GOOD NEWS IN REVIEW.

As a longtime vegan, I’ve heard many questions repeated over and over again. Where do you get your protein, Where do you get your calcium? “What about soy?”

What about soy? Soy foods provide a high quality protein and are often recommended as a good replacement for animal-based foods.

Some will tell you that ALL soy is bad, some recommend only FERMENTED soyfoods while others recommend one to two of servings a day of WHOLE soy foods including soymilk, tofu, tempeh, edamame and soy nuts.

Are you confused yet? No soy, fermented soy, whole soy, soy nuts? SOY WHAT?

Without getting into the science just yet, think about this. The soybean is a bean. It’s a bean! It’s amazing to me that a simple legume can stir up so much controversy.

Soy – humans have been eating soy for a long time. The Chinese and Japanese have been doing fine with soy in their diets, until they started adopting more of the SAD, Standard American Diet, high in animal meats, dairy and processed foods. How could Asian cultures have thrived for so long eating soy, if it’s so bad for us? It’s just a bean! This is why I couldn’t understand why the Weston Price Foundation were badmouthing soy, saying that all soy is bad until I discovered that they advocate a meat-centered diet, with lots of butter and whole, raw milk. Reducing or eliminating animal foods goes against the mission of the Weston Price Foundation. Some of the recommendations they do make are reasonable, to avoid highly processed foods, for example, but much of what they promote is entirely out of step with modern nutritional science.

What about fermented and unfermented soy foods? Should we avoid soy that isn’t fermented?

The general consensus among food scientists and nutrition experts is that the traditional soy foods, like simple soy milk made from soybeans and water, tofu, tempeh, edamame and miso are safe and health promoting.

Let’s review what some of these soy foods are.

Soy milk, is produced by soaking dried soybeans and grinding them in water.

Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks.

Edamame is a preparation of immature soybeans in pods, which are boiled or steamed and served with salt.

Tofu, soy milk and edamame are not fermented.

Tempeh, a traditional soy product originally from Indonesia, is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form, similar to a very firm veggie burger.

Miso is a paste traditionally made from fermented soybeans and barley or rice malt.

Soy – does it have to be fermented? Fermenting foods creates probiotics and breaks the food down to a more digestible form while preserving nutrients.

I have heard claims that Asians have been eating fermented soy foods for centuries, not foods like soy milk and tofu which are not fermented, and that this somehow proves that unfermented soy foods should not be eaten. If the soybean is not fermented is it difficult to digest?

Spin over to the website TheVeganRD.com and read the article, Soyfoods in Asia: How Much Do People Really Eat? by Registered Dietician and author Ginny Messina. I’ve interviewed her a number of times on my radio show IT’S ALL ABOUT FOOD and find her a knowledgeable nutrition resource that I trust. She explains that soy consumption varies by country, region and age group. In discussing soy consumption in Hong Kong, Japan, Shanghai, Thailand, Indonesia and North Korea, she writes: … contrary to popular opinion, the soy products regularly consumed in these countries are not all—or even mostly—fermented.

Soy, what’s the problem?

It’s the highly processed versions of soy, listed on the nutrition panel as soy protein isolate, isolated soy protein, hydrolyzed soy protein and hydrogenated soy oil that can be problematic. These fractionated soyfoods are often paired with other ingredients like sugar, salt and artificial ingredients and preservatives that make them especially unhealthy foods to consume.

You’ll find these industrial versions of soy in many processed foods like cereals and bars and some of the vegetarian and vegan alternatives to animal meats and cheeses. For your health and the health of your family, it’s better to choose traditional soy foods, that are grown organically, which ensures they are not genetically modified and don’t contain toxic residues from pesticides and herbicides.

Soy – that’s a lot of information to digest!

But what about women who have had breast cancer? Shouldn’t they avoid soy foods?

Legumes, particularly soybeans, are the richest sources of isoflavones in the human diet. Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen, or plant estrogen. Some believe that soy foods increase cancer risk because they contain estrogen. But, there are many different types of estrogen. Plant estrogens like those found in soy are not the same as estrogens in mammals. Sometime they give the same effect as human estrogen, sometimes the opposite effect or sometimes no effect at all.

The research shows that eating soyfoods during childhood and teen years significantly reduces breast cancer risk in adulthood. And soyfoods are not only associated with decreased risk of hormonal cancers, but lung, stomach and colon cancers as well.

Maybe you are wary because a lot of pro-soy information is coming from vegans – vegans who want to get people to stop eating animals by switching to soy alternatives. If that’s the case, you should head to the conservative American Cancer Society website, cancer.org and read the article The Bottom Line on Soy and Breast Cancer Risk by Registered Dietician Marji McCullough. She writes: Even though animal studies have shown mixed effects on breast cancer with soy supplements, studies in humans have not shown harm from eating soy foods. Moderate consumption of soy foods appears safe for both breast cancer survivors and the general population, and may even lower breast cancer risk.

Most of us don’t have time to trace, research and interpret every bit of information we hear regarding food and health. Fortunately, there are experts in the areas of food and nutrition who do this work for us. I have a few trusted sources that I go to all the time. For nutrition, I regularly refer to the new book, The Comprehensive Edition of Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, which has lots of helpful information on soy.

My friend and colleague, John Robbins, has written a superb article called The Truth About Soy which you can find at his FoodRevolution.org website. If you have been convinced not to eat soyfoods from articles by the Weston Price Foundation website or from Kaayla Daniel’s book The Whole Soy Story you must read John Robbins’ report. He methodically clears up all the soy misinformation, point by point with a balanced view of the information currently available.

Another excellent article on soy is called Soy: What’s the Harm? By Jack Norris, RD and can be found at Veganhealth.org.

If you concerns about soy and Phytates, Trypsin inhibitors, affects on the thyroid, hexane residues and soy formula for infants, you can put your mind to rest reading these balanced, well-researched articles I have recommended.

Jack Norris says: “When you add up all the research on soy, there is no reason to think that two servings per day are harmful to most people, and good reason to think soy will provide some health benefits.” I agree.

But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some serious concerns about soy. I do, when it comes to feeding soy to livestock and that’s another story. If you want to hear more about that you can watch our documentary, The Lone Vegan Preaching To The Fire, where I visit a feedlot in Nevada and speak to 250 cattle ranchers about animal agriculture’s contribution to climate change.

If you are allergic to soy or just don’t like soy foods, that’s okay! The GOOD NEWS is that there are a wide variety of plant foods out there to get you all the nutrition you need to feel alive and thrive. There are even fermented products like tempeh and miso now made without soy.

The folks at Smiling Hara Tempeh in North Carolina are making tempeh products that are soy-free, using black-eye peas or black beans. And there are miso products that are soy-free too, like the Chickpea Miso, made by the South River Miso Company in Massachusetts. It’s gluten-free too. Best of all, it’s delicious.

And that’s the REAL Good News in Review.

Now over to Gary in the Transition Kitchen.

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  2 comments for “Soy Story

  1. March 18, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Nice, well balanced presentation, Caryn!

    • Caryn Hartglass
      March 19, 2015 at 10:17 am

      Thanks, Don. Thank means a lot coming from you.

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