Soy What?

by Susan A.Smith

Soybeans were originally cultivated in China several thousand years ago. During the Chou Dynasty (1134-246) the soybean was revered as one of the five sacred gains (along with barley, wheat, millet and rice). As a nitrogen-fixing legume, soybeans were planted as a sort of green manure in crop rotation to increase soil fertility. After the discovery of fermentation techniques, wonderfully healthy soy foods such as miso, tempeh and tamari appeared.

Soy is either really, really good for us -- or really, really bad. Frankly, I am excited about the controversy. If there is a possibility tofu is not the answer to menopause then I can stop eating it. I do not have to shudder at the texture of soy cheese or convince my kids to love silken milk shakes.

The pro-soy arguments are ubiquitous. Soy is a versatile source of protein, high in minerals (particularly calcium) and plant estrogens. The soy industry people say eating soy reduces risk of heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Soy cookbooks take up lots of space at the bookstores. Read one of those books if you want to know more.

The anti-soy crowd raise these and other concerns about making soy a staple in our diets:

Tofu, soy milk, soy cheese, soy hot dogs, soy ice cream and other fermented soy foods are highly refined, processed products subjected to high temperatures and solvent extraction procedures. The aluminum content of soy baby formula, for example, is 100 times greater than unprocessed milk. Aluminum has toxic effects on infant kidneys and has been linked to Alzheimers in adults. Moreover, because of the high levels of phytoestrogens in soy, a bottle of soy formula contains the hormone equivalent of four birth control pills. (If you are menopausal and looking for phytoestrogens, eat other beans such as anasazi, baby limas, black beans and lentils. Or drink red clover tea. All these foods contain many times more phytoestrogens (and more complex ones) than soy.

Unfermented soy foods inhibit enzymes, such as trypsin, which are needed to digest protein. Test animals fed diets high in trypsin inhibitors experience enlargement and disease conditions of the pancreas. Soybeans also contain hemagglutinin, which causes red blood cells to clump together increasing risk of stroke.

Nitrosamines, carcinogens usually found in meat, are concentrated in commercial soy protein foods. Consumption of unfermented soy foods increases the bodily need for vitamin B12. Soy is not a complete protein, lacking sulfur containing amino acids methionine and cystine.

Phytic acid (or phytates) is an organic acid present in the hull of all grains and beans. Phytates are known as anti-nutrients. (I love that word.) They chelate, or bind, to calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and Vitamin B12 in our intestinal tracts blocking their absorption. Soybeans have the highest phytate content of any studied legume. Unlike with other beans and grains, the phytate level in soybeans is not neutralized by soaking and cooking. Daily use of unfermented soy can lead to malnutrition, osteoporosis, memory loss, and vision problems.

Non-fermented soy depresses thyroid function. Menopausal women, whose thyroid function is undergoing change, can exacerbate the problem with soy intake. Eating as little as 4 tablespoons of soy per day can result in hypothyroidism. Worse, eating soy foods post-menopausally stimulates the growth of estrogen-dependent tumors. In fact, isoflavones extracted from soybeans have been shown to increase the rate at which breast cancer cells reproduce in petrie dishes. Excessive consumption of soy may also contribute to early onset of puberty in girls. Animal studies have shown tofu to cause infertility.

All rightie then. Certainly food for thought. So what to do?

If you are a vegetarian, or just like soy stuff, eat fermented soy foods such as miso, tamari soy sauce, tempeh and natto. Actually, tofu is the only unfermented food eaten in Asia. It is eaten sparingly and with meat, a source of B12 and a complete protein and seaweed, which supports the thyroid.

Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions.
Weed, Susun Weed. New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.
The Weston A. Price Foundation.
Soy Online Service.

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