Many health-conscious Americans, in an effort to improve their eating habits, have switched to eating tofu in place of meat or eggs. The soy industry would have you believe that this is a smart move for your heart health, but in reality processed soy, which includes tofu, is not a health food.
You are much better off eating organic eggs, grass-fed meat and raw dairy products than you are eating processed soy.
“Unlike in Asia where people eat small amounts of whole soybean products, western food processors separate the soybean into two golden commodities–protein and oil. There’s nothing safe or natural about this,” Dr. Daniel says.
The worst of the worst when it comes to soy products are the fractionated products like soy protein isolate and hydrolyzed plant protein, as all processed soy contains phytates that block mineral absorption and trypsin inhibitors that block proper digestion.
Tofu is one step up because it’s a whole soy product, but it still contains the anti-nutrients mentioned above.
Health Problems Linked to Soy
Among the many health problems linked to a high-soy diet are:
• Premature puberty and other developmental problems in babies, children and adolescents
• Brain damage
• Reproductive disorders
• Soy allergies
Meanwhile, studies reviewed by Dr. Daniel and colleagues have found that soy does not reliably lower cholesterol, and in fact raises homocysteine levels in many people, which has been found to increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and birth defects. In fact, according to Dr. Daniel, soy can increase your risk of heart disease.
As a result, she and other experts have sent a 65-page petition to the FDA asking them to retract the “soy prevents heart disease” health claim that they approved back in 1999, and let’s hope they do the right thing and comply.
It’s very important to know also that children and babies, who are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to soy’s hormone-mimicking effects. A Lancet study showed that the daily exposure to estrogen-imitating chemicals for infants who consume soy formulas was 6-11 times higher than adults consuming soy foods.
And the blood concentration of these hormones was 13,000 to 22,000 times higher than estrogen in the blood. An infant exclusively fed soy formula receives the estrogenic equivalent (based on body weight) of up to five birth control pills per day. So please do not feed your baby soy infant formula, or your toddler soy foods (if you can’t breastfeed and are looking for a formula alternative, here’s a recipe for a healthy homemade infant formula). The effects are so potent that even pregnant women should avoid eating soy products for the safety of their unborn child.
• Soybeans are high in natural toxins, also known as antinutrients. This includes a large quantity of inhibitors that deter the enzymes needed for protein digestion. Further, these enzyme inhibitors are not entirely disabled during ordinary cooking. The result is extensive gastric distress and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake, which can result in dangerous pancreatic impairments and cancer.
• Soybeans contain hemaglutinins, which cause red blood cells to clump together. Soybeans also have growth-depressant substances, and while these substances are reduced in processing, they are not completely eliminated.
• Soy contains goitrogens, which can frequently lead to depressed thyroid function.
• Most soybeans (over 80%) are genetically modified, and they contain one of the highest levels of pesticide contamination of all foods.
• Soybeans are very high in phytates, which prevent the absorption of minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, all of which are co-factors for optimal biochemistry in your body.
The Are Some Ways to Safely Enjoy Soy
There are a few types of soy that are healthy, and all of them are fermented. After a long fermentation process, the phytic acid and antinutrient levels of the soybeans are reduced, and their beneficial properties — such as the creation of natural probiotics — become available to your digestive system.
It also greatly reduces the levels of dangerous isoflavones, which are similar to estrogen in their chemical structure, and can interfere with the action of your own estrogen production.
So if you enjoy soy and want to eat it without damaging your health — and in fact gain health benefits — the following are all healthy options:
1. Natto, fermented soybeans with a sticky texture and strong, cheese-like flavor. It’s loaded with nattokinase, a very powerful blood thinner. Natto is actually a food I eat regularly, as it is the highest source of vitamin K2 on the planet and has a very powerful beneficial bacteria, bacillus subtilis. It can usually be found in any Asian grocery store.
2. Tempeh, a fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavor.
3. Miso, a fermented soybean paste with a salty, buttery texture (commonly used in miso soup).
4. Soy sauce: traditionally, soy sauce is made by fermenting soybeans, salt and enzymes, however be wary because many varieties on the market are made artificially using a chemical process.
Remember, though, that all processed soy products — soy milk, soy burgers, soy cheese, soy energy bars, soy ice cream, soy protein powders, etc. — are not health foods. And to truly avoid all types of damaging soy products, you need to avoid processed foods as the vast majority of them contain soy ingredients.
“The best — and maybe the only — way to completely avoid soy in the food supply is to buy whole foods and prepare them ourselves,” Dr. Daniel says. “For those who prefer to buy readymade and packaged products, I offer a free Special Report, “Where the Soys Are,” on my Web site. It lists the many “aliases” that soy might be hiding under in ingredient lists — words like “bouillon,” “natural flavor” and “textured plant protein.”
The basics of healthy eating — unprocessed, fermented, and fresh foods are ideal, while processed foods should be avoided — apply to soy as well, so stick to these tenets and you’ll be on the right track.