Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nutritional Star or Clever Con?

Speak to most health-conscious individuals these days and they will tell you that soy is one of the healthiest natural foods on the planet. Authoritative articles try to convince you that soy is the perfect protein, a great-tasting meat substitute and an excellent alternative to milk.

But before you buy into this “picture-perfect” Cinderella story of nutrition, it may be prudent to look at some of soy’s dark secrets that lurk behind that healthy façade.

Soy is not a natural food

Unlike other beans, the soybean, in its natural form, is inedible and extremely toxic.
That is why it requires extensive processing to make it safe for eating. Soybeans were traditionally grown between consecutive harvests of the main crop to improve the nitrogen content in agricultural soil. After doing their job, the beans were fed to cattle or used as compost for the next cash crop. Later it was discovered that if soybeans were fermented, they could be digested by humans! And thus was born tempeh, miso, soy sauce etc. (fermented soybean products).

Soy is the most highly processed of all commercial foods

“So what is wrong with processing?” you may ask. Let’s see.
The beans are exposed to high-temperature cooking. This denatures the natural enzymes in the soybeans. Enzymes, vitamins and minerals are the three pillars of metabolism. Take away any one pillar and the other two cannot function properly. Therefore, without the enzymes, soybeans become very difficult to digest. After high-temperature cooking (the first stage in processing), oil is extracted by subjecting the soybean to solvent extraction, de-gumming, sodium hydroxide (what drain cleaners are made of), bleaching and deodorizing using extreme heat. The “residue” that is left behind after this highly toxic chemical process, is what is sold as soy burgers and other forms of soy protein.

Soy is not a complete protein

Out of all the amino acids that come from proteins, the body needs eight from external sources, since it can’t synthesize them on its own. These eight are known as essential amino acids. Soy protein lacks two of these essential amino acids – cysteine and methionine. A deficiency in these can lead to an abundance of health problems.

Soy contains many toxins and anti-nutrients

  • Our digestive system relies on an orchestra of enzymes to perform the complex functions required in breaking down and absorbing the food we eat. Soybeans contain toxins that inhibit these digestive enzymes (primarily the pancreatic enzyme known as trypsin), thereby throwing the entire digestive process into a state of confusion.

  • Soybeans contain the highest levels of phytic acid of any bean. These high levels of phytic acid in soy block the uptake of important minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium and especially zinc. Through this blocking mechanism, soybeans can cause mineral deficiencies. It is no wonder that third world countries that have diets high in soy and other refined grains have the most profound mineral deficiencies. Zinc deficiency is particularly bad for infants on soy formula because it is essential for immune system development, protein digestion, growth, brain and nervous functions.

  • Hemagglutinin is another danger hidden in soy. It can cause abnormal clotting of red blood cells, thus putting those with heart disease at greater risk.

  • Soy infant formula has been found to contain aluminium levels tens times higher than in milk-based formula. Aluminium is a toxin that’s been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and can also damage an infant’s kidneys. But the greatest danger can be to the baby’s brain because the blood-brain barrier hasn’t been formed yet.

  • Soybeans go through a process called alkaline soaking. This process leaves behind a by-product called lysinoalanine which is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).

Soybeans are often genetically modified

Genetic engineering may seem to be scientifically sound. In reality, is not. Bioengineers who insert genes into plant DNA have no idea how those genes will behave (genetic expression). Sometimes the altered gene traits may lay dormant for a few generations…but eventually they will surface and may prove harmful to humans. We are being used as guinea pigs in these potentially dangerous experiments. Thankfully, the public in most countries is waking up to these potential dangers and asking their respective governments to pass laws requiring manufacturers to state clearly on labels if the foods have been genetically modified.

The drawbacks of soy as a natural estrogen

Nutritionists, dieticians and naturopathic doctors have bought into the claims that soy, soy milk, etc. add safe levels of natural plant-based estrogen which can help menopausal women prevent osteoporosis and other hormone-related ailments. The ingredient in soy which can do these alleged magical things is a substance called “isoflavones.” Since most isoflavones come from genetically modified soy, they are definitely not natural. Secondly, the increase in estrogen levels by soy isoflavones may be pathological and have never been studied. For instance, infants taking soy have sometimes shown phytoestrogen levels that are 13,000 times higher than normal blood estrogen levels! High levels of some estrogens can promote tumors in various organs, menstrual disruption and sex organ malfunction.

Soy is everywhere - watch out!
You’ll find refined soybean oil in cakes, packaged soups, potato chips, etc. Soy flour or soy meal will show up as “natural flavouring,” “hydrolyzed protein,” “textured vegetable protein,” etc. One needs to read food labels carefully!

Bottom line

Soy is not a health food. From blocking mineral absorption to depressing thyroid function, soy protein can cause a host of health problems. This is not food. It is technology. Choose from a wide variety of natural proteins that are far superior in every way and say no to soy.

One Silver Lining

Some components of soy such as “daidzein” and “genistein” do exhibit anti-cancer properties and are used therapeutically on cancer patients in naturopathic medicine. The medicinal use of soy is based on “fractions” (isolated parts of the bean) and in no way contradicts the dietary dangers it poses.