Soy – Junk Food or Health Food? Nutritiongal Volume 19

If you have been shopping at your local grocery store in the past six months you have, no doubt, seen an influx of different soy products in various sections of the grocery store.  Surely you have heard the health claims of soy foods promising you anything from increased metabolism, to protection against certain cancers and weight loss.  Sexy as these claims sound, are they really true? It may be in your best interest to know all the pros and cons before hightailing it to the supermarket for your favorite soy product.

Soy beans are a widespread and cheaply produced crop found in many commercial products.  Since 1999 following approval from the United States FDA for labeling, soy has proliferated the store shelves under various names such as : soy isoflavones, hydrolyzed soy protein, textured vegetable protein, soy lecithin and soy oil, to name a few.  Most of these names are found primarily on processed foods or junk foods, such as cookies, crackers, chips, ice cream, etc… Soy beans are powerful foods because they contain soy isoflavones, which alter the chemical state of your body to a greater degree than most plant foods because they are estrogen derivatives.  Because of the similar structure of soy and estrogen found in the human body soy can disrupt endocrine and thyroid function, causing hormonal disruptions and even weight gain.

Some medical experts recommend women who have had estrogen positive breast cancer to avoid soy products since the isoflavones found on this food may disrupt the anti cancer drug, tamoxifen.  Soy has also been linked to disruptions in thyroid functioning.

On the flip side numerous studies have shown that incidents of breast cancer among women in Asian countries who consume more soy products are lower than their Western counterparts.  Advocates of soy claim that it has a deleterious effect on testicular cancer, causing PSA (a measure of prostate cancer risk) to lower, which is the desired effect.  Women who consume soy in small amounts enjoy reduced endometriosis and PMS related symptoms.   Soy has also been implicated in reducing cholesterol in some studies.

Perhaps the controversy is not in consumption of soy but in the quality of soy products.  As mentioned, Asian women who enjoy lower incidents of breast cancer consume small amounts fermented soy products, which have undergone minimal processing, such as miso tempeh and natto.  These products are made from soy in the most natural state and the fermentation in these products creates natural probiotics which enhance digestion and absorption of nutrients in the body.  These women were not  eating soy burgers, soy cheese or soy ice cream.  They were eating small amounts of tofu in their miso soup or having small amounts of tempeh or natto with their meals.

I was pretty disappointed when I found out that when it comes to soy, you can have too much of a good thing.  I am sad to say that soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy crisps and soy milk are junk food.  That doesn’t mean that you can never have these things but they should be consumed in moderation, much like their dairy counterparts.

Whats a vegetarian, soy lover or lactose intolerant person to do with this new information?  Here is a complete list of soy products and their alternatives.  Make sure to choose organic, non genetically modified soy (non GMO) to get soy in its most natural form, even if you are eating the soy junk food.

Here is a list of some the different soy products out there. The jury is out as to whether or not soy is a health food.  As a nutritionist my stance is that each person is effected differently.  If you choose to consume soy and enjoy the benefits then it’s best to stick with the least processed soy stuff.  The comprehensive list is taken from “The Dark Side of Soy” and I have added the NUTRITIONGAL favorite substitutes in italics.

Soy milk, curdled and pressed into cubes of varying firmness. Often used as meat substitute. A nonfermented product, tofu contains antinutrients, which can block absorption of essential minerals. – Try seitan, which is an excellent soy free substitute made from wheat gluten which is low in fat and high in protein (not recommended for those with gluten intolerance).

Fermented soybean paste, used in soups and sauces. Rich in probiotics, good bacteria that aid vitamin absorption. Miso is high in sodium but is considered one of the healthiest soy products. – No substitutions here. This is a wonderful soy product.

Soybean Oil
To extract oil, soybeans are superheated, ground, pressed, mixed with chemicals, and washed in a centrifuge. Soybean oil accounts for 80 percent of all liquid oils consumed annually in the United States. – Look for products with vegetable or canola oils.

Soy Milk
A processed beverage made of ground soybeans mixed with water and boiled, which removes some toxins. Sugar is added to improve flavor. An eight-ounce serving contains up to 35 milligrams of isoflavones, which may change estrogen levels and hormonal function. – Substitute with almond or rice milk.  I have a wonderful almond milk recipe that you can make at home. E-mail stephanie ‘at’ if you’re interested.

Snack Food
Highly processed, a source of trans fat. Check your labels: Potato chips, tortilla crisps, and many other deep-fried things have been cooked in soy oil–straight up or partially hydrogenated. – Look for snack foods without any of the above ingredients or to have the most wholly unprocessed snack ever try rice crackers (brown rice is even better!) or granola/toasted muslei bars made with minimal ingredients.

Whole soybeans pressed into loaves, which are then fermented. Often used as a meat substitute. Tempeh is rich in B vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. – This is an excellent soy product if you are going to consume soy meat substitutes.

Fast Food
A source of hidden soy. Processed soy proteins extend some burgers and chicken (nuggets, patties, even ‘grilled breasts’). Buns contain soy oil and to a lesser extent soy flour and lecithin. Soy oil also appears in dressings and dips, in American ‘cheese,’ and as the No. 2 ingredient in fries. There’s even soy in Big Mac’s secret sauce: Soybean oil nets top billing. – Look for vegetable burgers made with only vegetables or lentil burgers.  For a delicious lentil burger recipe contact stephanie ‘at’

Whole soybeans, commonly boiled in the pod and eaten as a snack. Most commercial edamame has been preheated to make digestion easier, but it still contains antinutrients. – I enjoy edamame just like the next person.  Just consume it once in a while as a treat.  They are still rich in proteins and vitamins A, B and C

One of the healthiest soy products made by fermentation of soybeans by natto bacillus, a healthy gut bacteria. Natto is filled with protein and rich with vitamin B2 and K2, helping to prevent osteoprosis. It is commonly used in omelettes or added to miso soup and tempura. Natto can be found in most Japanese grocery stores. – No Nutritiongal substitute for this. Natto is a very healthy soy product.

Soy products come in many forms. Choose the products that are in their most naural state for optimal health benefits.

3 thoughts on “Soy – Junk Food or Health Food? Nutritiongal Volume 19

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