Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wisdom Wednesday: Soy

Opinions on the health benefits and health hazards of soy are as sharply divided as the current political atmosphere in the United States.

Advocates of soy point to studies showing it reduces serum cholesterol significantly when used as an animal protein replacement. Soy is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids needed by the human body. It really does help vegetarians obtain adequate protein intake. That’s often difficult to achieve without animal products.

Early studies on soy suggested that the phytoestrogens in soy can help women through menopause, alleviating hot flashes, mood swings and potentially help prevent breast cancer. However, more recent studies have shown the potential to disrupt estrogen metabolism and possibly even stimulate reproductive cancers.

I believe this dichotomy stems from two very different foods that we call “soy”.

The Japanese having been consuming a fermented, organic soy for well over 1,000 years. One of those products, Natto, I use to reduce the high sensitivity C-reactive protein associated with heart disease. Fermentation breaks down some of the large chain proteins in soy making it more digestible. It also denatures the phytic acid and other anti-metabolites in soy that disrupt the digestive process.

However, the soy used by the food industry contains these anti-nutrients (including the estrogen disruptors). Most processed soy products contain additional additives like coloring agents, favors, preservatives, sweeteners, emulsifiers and synthetic nutrients. This processed food-like substance bears little resemblance to the fermented soy enjoyed in Japan.

Soy is one of the eight allergens that fall under the labeling requirement of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. This means that manufacturers of packaged food items sold in the United States and containing soy or a soy-based ingredient must state, in clear language, the presence of the soy in the product.

Soy or derivatives of soy are found in some infant formulas, canned broths, soups, canned tuna, processed meats and hot dogs, energy bars, baked goods and many other processed foods. Soy is a common ingredient in Asian cuisine and is sometimes contained in chicken nuggets, low-fat peanut better, alternative nut butters and even vodka.

Just like wheat and dairy, you can react to either the carbohydrate or protein in soy. However, allergy testing only tests for soy protein reactions, not for the carbohydrate. So, you could have a soy allergy even if the allergy test is negative.

The early studies on soy and cholesterol have been refuted by later studies. It appears you must consume at least 90 grams of soy protein daily to see a significant drop in cholesterol when using it in place of animal protein. This is twice the required protein intake for most adults. Excess protein intake is a serious strain on kidney function and often irritates the digestive tract.

The Bottom Line:
I recommend you avoid all but fermented soy. Please stay clear of processed foods in general. Read the label, if it contains soy, don’t eat it. However, I must warn you if it’s processed, it probably contains wheat, soy, and corn. All common allergens. Next week, we’ll tackle corn.

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