Are Soy Products Really Healthy For You?

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Are Soy Products Really Healthy For You?

If you, like many of us over the last 20 years, have heard that soy was good for your heart, your bones, that it lowers cholesterol and is a good source of protein because you gave up meat, you will be very surprised to learn the latest information on soy.

And the latest information shows that there is NO evidence that consuming soy products can improve health, reduce environmental degradation or slow global warming! In fact, the evidence suggests quite the opposite. The studies cited below regarding the effects of soy on health are eye-opening, particularly the review by the American Heart Association -- which no longer supports the health claims about soy endorsed by the U.S. government.

The rise of soy as a health food is in large part due to highly successful marketing to otherwise health conscious Americans who set the trend. According to the survey Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition 2008 (by the United Soybean Board), 85 percent of consumers now perceive soy products as healthy. The survey also found that consumers rank soybean oil among the top three healthy oils, with 70 percent recognizing soy oil as a healthy oil, and depend on soybean oil, commonly sold as vegetable oil, as one of their two most frequent cooking oils.

Ever since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim for soy foods in 1999 (which said diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease), soy sales have skyrocketed. In the years between 2000 and 2007, food manufacturers in the U.S. introduced over 2,700 new foods with soy as an ingredient, including 161 new products introduced in 2007 alone. This has resulted in a booming multi-billion dollar business. From 1992 to 2007, soy food sales increased from a paltry $300 million to nearly $4 billion, according to the Soyfoods Association of North America. However, the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit nutrition education foundation, submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) iasking them to retract its heart-health claim from soy in light of the inconsistent and contradictory evidence showing benefits, and its many proven health risks.

What’s So Wrong with Soy?

Unlike the Asian culture, where people eat small amounts of whole soybean products, western food processors separate the soybean into two golden commodities--protein and oil. And there is nothing natural or safe about these products. Says Dr. Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story, “Today's high-tech processing methods not only fail to remove the anti-nutrients and toxins that are naturally present in soybeans but leave toxic and carcinogenic residues created by the high temperatures, high pressure, alkali and acid baths and petroleum solvents." Dr. Daniel also points out the findings of numerous studies reviewed by her and other colleagues -- 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 stroke, birth defects, and yes, even heart disease. Other common health problems linked to a high-soy diet include:

  • Thyroid problems, including weight gain, lethargy, malaise, fatigue, hair loss, and loss of libido
  • Premature puberty and other developmental problems in babies, children and adolescents
  • Cancer
  • Brain damage
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Kidney stones
  • Weakened immune system
  • Severe, potentially fatal food allergies

Most soy, perhaps about 80 percent or more, is also genetically modified, which adds its own batch of health concerns. Despite these findings, many people still want to believe the hype, thinking that these studies must somehow be wrong. But the content of soy itself should be a clue. For example, non-fermented soy products contain:

  • Phytoestrogens (isoflavones) genistein and daidzein, which mimic and sometimes block the hormone estrogen
  • Phytates, which block your body's uptake of minerals
  • Enzyme Inhibitors, which hinder protein digestion
  • Hemaggluttin, which causes red blood cells to clump together and inhibits oxygen take-up and growth
  • High amounts of omega-6 fat, which is pro-inflammatory

Another unfortunate fact is that 80 percent of the world's soy is used in farm animal feed, which is why soy production is contributing to deforestation. Some soy propagandists have suggested that the solution to this is for all of us to become vegetarians—a reckless recommendation rooted in total ignorance about nutrition—whereas a far better solution is a major overhaul in how farm animals are fed and raised.

So how much soy does the average person consume in a day?

Someone on a junk-food diet is getting soy flour in the fast-food hamburger bun, soy protein in the burger itself, and soy oil in the fries; soy is in every one of these products because it's cheap and abundant. You'll find soy hidden in so many foods, and small quantities add up. People wanting to eat healthier will often start by drinking a lot of soy milk. Soy is widely promoted as a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in relieving hot flashes, bone loss and other symptoms of menopause. And since soy is a natural food, many health-conscious women mistakenly believe it is a safe choice. If you are currently taking soy to relieve your menopausal symptoms, you should know that not only is it ineffective, it could actually be damaging your health. Even scientists working for the soy industry will say they support soy food but do not support use of soy supplements.

Even if you know better than to gulp down large amounts of soy milk, slabs of tofu, and other soy snacks, you are still consuming soy if you’re eating processed food, in the form of soybean oil and lecithin. So depending on your dietary habits, your (unfermented) soy consumption could really add up. In fact, Dr. Joseph Hibbeln at the National Institutes of Health told he estimates that soybeans, usually in the form of oil, account for 10 percent of the average person’s total calories in the United States. When you consider that 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food goes toward processed food, this amount of “accidental” soy intake is not surprising.

Soy Infant Formula Puts Your Baby's Health at Risk

If your baby drinks soy formula, he or she is at risk for serious health problems. It is estimated that infants fed soy formula have 13,000 to 22,000 times the amount of estrogen in their little bodies than infants fed other types of formula or who are breast fed. Nearly 20 percent of U.S. infants are now fed soy formula, but the estrogens in soy can irreversibly harm your baby's sexual development and reproductive health. Infants fed soy formula take in an estimated five birth control pills' worth of estrogen every day and have an increased risk of:

  • Food allergies and digestive distress
  • Behavioral problems
  • Asthma
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Early puberty and fertility problems (including anovulatory cycles; the inability to menstruate)
  • Cancer -- It's also important for pregnant women to avoid eating non-fermented soy, as a high estrogenic environment in utero may increase their child's subsequent breast cancer risk. Boys could increase their prostate cancer and testicular cancer risk.  Vegan moms who use soy as both milk and meat replacements AND are trying to take in more protein are at very high risk.

GM Soy – Danger to Both Mother and Child

One of the worst facts about soy is that 90-95 percent of it is genetically modified (GM).  So what are the dangers of genetically modified soy? There are plenty. While even organic soy can cause a host of serious health complications, genetically modified soy only makes things worse. Since the introduction of GM foods in 1996, we've had an upsurge in low birth weight babies, infertility, and other problems in the U.S. population, and animal studies thus far have shown devastating effects from consuming GM soy. Genetically modified or GM seeds are designed to be "Roundup Ready". In other words, GM seeds planted in the ground have been engineered to withstand high doses of pesticide without killing the plant. The active ingredient in Roundup herbicide is called glyphosate, which, in addition to the soy itself, can also disrupt the delicate hormonal balance of the female reproductive cycle. So truly, you have a triple whammy: the soy itself, the genetic modification, and the increased pesticide load.

If you consumed soy during your pregnancy, the damage to your child may begin in the womb. Glyphosate is toxic to the placenta, which is responsible for delivering vital nutrients from you to your child, and eliminating waste products. If your placenta is damaged, it could result in miscarriage or serious birth defects. Women who consume genetically modified soy products are also at increased risk for developing retrograde menstruation (the menstrual cycle backs up into the body instead of outward), causing endometriosis, which can lead to infertility. So, if you are pregnant, please do more research on consuming unfermented soy products immediately!

How Can I Avoid Soy Foods?

Because soy is so pervasive in the U.S. food supply, avoiding it is not an easy task. The best way to completely avoid soy in the food supply is to buy whole foods and prepare them yourself! This may also be your only option if you’ve developed a soy allergy and need to eliminate soy from your diet entirely.  If you still prefer to buy readymade and packaged products, for whatever reason, Dr. Daniel offers a free Special Report, "Where the Soys Are," on her website There you can find the many "aliases" that soy might be hiding under in ingredient lists -- words like "bullion," "natural flavor" and "textured plant protein."

Which Soy Foods DO Have Health Benefits?

The few types of soy that ARE healthy are all fermented varieties. Properly fermented products like natto and tempeh have been consumed for centuries and do not wreak havoc in your body like unfermented soy products do. For example, the enzyme nattokinase—derived from natto--is a safer, more powerful option than aspirin to dissolve blood clots, and has been used safely for more than two decades. After a long fermentation process, the phytic acid and anti-nutrient levels of the soybeans are reduced, and their beneficial properties -- such as the creation of natural probiotics -- become available to your digestive system. The fermentation process 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 want to eat soy that is actually good for you, following are all healthy options:

  • Natto, fermented soybeans with a sticky texture and strong, cheese-like flavor. It's loaded with nattokinase, a very powerful blood thinner. 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.
  • Tempeh, a fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavor, and is delicious well sautéed and added to a stir fry.
  • Miso, a fermented soybean paste with a salty, buttery texture -commonly used in miso soup- a delicious warming and nourishing soup.
  • 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. Be sure to read labels.

4. Risks and benefits of soy phytoestrogens in cardiovascular diseases, cancer, climacteric symptoms and osteoporosis. Sirtori CR.Institute of Pharmacological Sciences, University of Milan, Italy.