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.

Super Snack Makeovers! Nutritiongal Volume 17

Are you sick and tired of crashing in the afternoon? Is the vending machine pulling you into an abyss of processed, sodium laden junk?  Do you fall asleep in the afternoon even if your have a stimulating profession or at least are not bored?

Why is it important to eat “healthy” snacks?  Why don’t candy bars, chips and soda cut it when it comes to refueling in the afternoon? They may temporarily fill you up but they are devoid of nutrients and filled with empty calories.  Consuming soda and candy temporarily raises your blood sugar only to have it crash shortly thereafter, making you hungrier.  For more on foods that raise blood sugar (have a higher glycemic load) check out the chart in the below link.

Now that you know that chips, soda and candy aren’t the best options what is left to eat when your itching for a little snack?  Time for some snack makeovers!

1.) Potato Chips/Pretzels – Potato chips are highly processed and loaded with fat and salt.  Although pretzels have a lower fat content they are still loaded with sodium and raise blood sugar since they are simple carbohydrates.

Makeover – Whole grain crackers or brown rice cakes. Whole grains contain more fiber than refined grains which fortify the body with B vitamins and make you feel fuller for longer.  Add some peanut butter, tzatziki sauce or organic cheese to your snack for a tasty treat.

2.) Candy & Protein bars – Don’t believe the hype!  Snickers doesn’t satisfy you.  Sorry Betty White! We still love you… When you consume candy bars you are eating sugar, trans fats and fillers that are not easily processed by the body.  Protein bars may seem like a “healthier” option but they are just candy bars with added protein.  Even if some of them have less calories and sugar, read the ingredients.  Many of them have artificial flavors, fillers and (GASP!) high fructose corn syrup!  Check out the link below for why high fructose corn syrup is making people fat.

Makeover – Granola/Toasted Muesli Bars – Look for the varieties with whole grains and the least amount of ingredients.  They are a delicious, sweet and fiber rich alternative to candy bars without all the sugar.  Some granola bars have chocolate or cocoa nibs in them if you’re craving something chocolatey.

3.) Candy/Lollies – For obvious reasons candy is not a health food. It’s fun to indulge once in a while but it doesn’t make a satisfying afternoon snack.  Candy may give you quick energy but you will crash like an engine that has run out of the wrong kind of fuel.

Makeover – Fresh or dried fruit is a wonderful alternative. You still get the intense sweetness without processed sugar and tons of vitamins.  Why not make your own trail mix of raisins, dried cranberries, almonds, cashews and cocoa nibs for a satisfying treat?

4.) Frappuccino – At almost 700 calories per serving this intensely sweet and caffeinated drink is better off as an occasional treat rather than your afternoon staple. What do you do when you want something cold and creamy?

Makeover – Try an iced vanilla latte instead or an iced coffee without the sugar if you dare.  You can also try mixing some instant coffee in vanilla yogurt for that creamy coffee taste.

For more healthy snack options check out the below link from Dr. Andrew Weil.

Happy snacking!


The Nutritiongal
Find your bliss. Find your balance

“I am currently enrolled at the Integrative Institute of Nutrition and will graduate as a certified health counselor in 2010. Fire the diet police and take back your health!”

Visit and fill out a health questionnaire for a free consultation today!

A rainbow of healthy snacks

Could your “Virtuous” Diet be Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Goals?- Nutritiongal Newsletter Volume 15

It’s a quiet afternoon at work as you reach for your gluten free, fat free, nondairy, hypoallergenic snack and slowly sip your herbal tea. Your coworkers are celebrating a birthday and you virtuously refuse a red velvet chocolate frosting covered cupcake because it is too “fattening” or “unhealthy” or “filled with too much processed sugar and food coloring”.

Your friends invite you to dinner but you decline because it’s Mexican food and there’s too much cheese, calories and fat in the food and you can’t drink the margaritas (not even the virgin ones!) that night because you are trying to cut carbs. Yet the scale still doesn’t budge. You see your friends laughing and having a good time enjoying the occasional slice of pizza or buttery croissant in their skinny jeans while you suffer in silence eating your dissatisfying fresh organic fruit salad with fat free yogurt with just a half a teaspoon of honey.

Hold the celery sticks with fat free cream cheese and take a chill pill! We are all guilty of this crime to some extent. There is something to be said about eating healthy but when it comes to doing things supposedly right, why do we have to take it to extremes?

Last week I decided to eat clean for three days to cleanse my system of the french fries, milk chocolate, wine, pizza….. I could go on. And I found myself reaching for the ice cream and before I knew it I had devoured ice cream on a dairy free day without realizing it! What was my body telling me? Perhaps at that particular moment in time “dairy free” wasn’t the way to go. Winter is coming where I live and adding some extra fat is not a bad idea. Yes ice cream is not the healthiest food on the planet but I can think of a few worse things. Why do we have taste buds? We are meant to enjoy our food. Yes healthy food is delicious and enjoyable, especially when we learn to eat it on a regular basis since our palate changes – for the better, in order to enable you to enjoy the simplest most natural food there is and feel satisfied. Nothing replaces natural, whole, unprocessed food as the winner in the Nutrition Competition, if ever there was one but, that does not mean that fries are off limit for life.

Are you cheating yourself of enjoyment for the sake of your health? Nutrition is just as much about what you put into your mouth as it is about what you put in your life. Spending time with friends or indulging on a delicious desert never contributed to a demise in anyone’s health. No one is telling you that you can’t have what you want. You can eat oats, carob and tofu till you’re blue in the face but eventually the pendulum will swing the other way so that your body can attain balance.

I don’t care if you are the most disciplined person on the planet. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Sir Isaac Newton. Cells, chemical reactions, relationships, countries, planets, the universe…. everything is continually changing by little actions and reactions that are balanced by the swinging pendulum of life. Up and down, left and right, backwards and forwards, in and out… I could go on and on. I am not saying it’s healthy to eat an entire bag of potato chips. What I am saying is that a little indulgence never hurt anyone.

Finding one’s balance is key. Have you found yours?


The Nutritiongal
Find your bliss. Find your balance

“I am currently enrolled at the Integrative Institute of Nutrition and will graduate as a certified health counselor in 2010. Fire the diet police and take back your health!”

Visit and fill out a health questionnaire for a free consultation today!

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