April 7, 2002
HOW SAFE IS SOY?
By Susun S Weed
Condensation of an article in NewLife
Mag, May '96, by Sally Fallon, M.A. and Mary Enig, Ph.D.
With widespread concern about the possible unhealthy effects of commercial meat and cows' milk many more people than before are using soy products as substitutes for animal products. Soy products are supposed to be high protein, low calorie, devoid of cholesterol, and easy to digest. The authors disagree on most of these counts.
Soybeans were one of the five sacred grains in the Orient according to records dating back to before 1134. Agricultural reports speak frequently of using soybeans in crop rotation (to fix nitrogen and thus improve soil fertility) but there is no indication that soybeans were eaten until fermentation processes were discovered, sometime around 440 BCE. The first soy products eaten by people were
tempeh, natto, miso, and shoyu tamari. And it was not until some centuries later (2nd century BCE) that the process of making tofu was discovered.
While it is true that the people of the Orient have relied heavily on tofu as a source of protein for about a thousand years, this is not necessarily by choice nor beneficial. The early Chinese did not eat soybeans, although they did eat other pulses, because they recognized the large quantities of a number of harmful substances which have been well studied scientifically. Some of the most detrimental are potent trypsin inhibitors which block the action of enzymes needed for protein digestion. Soybeans also contain
hemagglutinin, which causes red blood cells to lump together. Soybeans are also high in
phytates, an organic acids which blocks the uptake of calcium, magnesium, iron, and especially zinc and contributes to widespread mineral deficiencies. In fact there are more phytates in soybeans than in any other grain, bean, or plant studied and these phytates are remarkably resistant to reduction techniques. Only a long period of fermentation will
significantly reduce the phytate content.
Another way to moderate the harmful effects of tofu and other unfermented soybean products is to eat tofu with meat or fish, as is traditionally done in the Orient. Vegetarians - especially vegetarian children - who eat tofu and drink soy milk as substitutes for meat and dairy products are at very high risk of loss of bone mass and severe mineral deficiencies. Oriental children who eat soy but no meat, eggs, or dairy often suffer from rickets, stunted growth, and lowered intelligence. Unfermented soy virtually destroys all zinc in the body; and zinc is critical for optimal development and functioning of the brain, nervous system and immune system.
To what do we owe the current upsurge in use of soy products such as TVP and tofu in America? Most of the 140 billion pounds of soybeans raised in the USA every year are made into animal feed or pressed into soy oil.
The soy industry has concentrated for 20 years on creating markets for the byproducts of soy oil manufacture: lecithin and soy protein. But these were generally (and rightly) considered "poverty foods" and rejected by most consumers.
The soy industry recognized that, according to a spokesman: "The quickest way to gain product acceptability in a less affluent market is to have the product consumed on its own merit by those who are more affluent." Thus these soy byproducts have been cleverly marketed to resemble traditional foods: soy milk malteds, soy baby formula, soy yogurt, soy ice cream, coy cheese, soy hot dogs, and so on. Let's face it: these are fake products, not health foods.
The production of soy milk does remove trypsin inhibitors, but at the expense of denaturing the proteins, making them indigestible, of creating a carcinogen,
lysinealine, and of reducing the cystine content, an essential amino acid which is already very low in soybeans. The phytate content remains, further deranging the diet.
Soy formula and soy milk is often made with soy protein isolate, an extremely refined product lacking virtually all minerals and vitamins. Many soy formulas sold for infants are rich in
trypsin-inhibitors which can stunt growth. And all contain staggering amounts of mineral-depleting
phytates. The aluminum content of soy formula is 100 times greater than unprocessed milk. Aluminum has a toxic effects on infants kidneys and may be a cause of Alzheimer's in adults. Soy formula lack three important nutrients found in all milk: cholesterol, which is essential for brain development, and lactose and
galactose, which play vital roles in the development and functioning of the nerves.
All is not what it seems with the supposed health benefits of soy. Allergies to soy are at least as common as allergies to milk. Nitrosamines, potent carcinogens often associated with meat, are found in high concentrations in all commercial soy protein foods.
Isoflavones, anticarcinogenic sub-stances present in soybeans may have a pro-cancer effect when consumed unfermented. Although soybeans contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, these acids are particularly susceptible to rancidity when subjected to the high heat and pressure require to remove the oil from the bean; such rancidity promotes cancer and heart disease. Additionally, all soy oil is extracted with a solvent, traces of which remain in the oil.
In addition to containing anti-nutrients, soybeans lack these important nutritional elements (found in all animal products):
cysteine, vitamin B12, vitamins A and D, and cholesterol. Consumption of unfermented soy products actually increases the body's needs for vitamin D and vitamin B12.
To summarize: traditional fermented soy products, especially when made with organic beans, are beneficial in the diet when combined with rice, sea foods, and fermented vegetables. The value of other soy products is questionable at best, disease causing at worst. The use of soy as a primary protein source is misguided.
Condensed by Susun Weed, PO Box 64, Woodstock, NY 12498 (845-246-8081)
About the Author
Susun Weed, has been living the simple life for more than 30 years as an herbalist,
goatkeeper, homesteader, and feminist. In addition to being the author of four highly-acclaimed books on herbs and women's health, Susun lectures world-wide as the voice of the Wise Woman tradition, personally supervises 400 correspondence students, is editor-in-chief of Ash Tree Publishing, and directs the activities of the Wise Woman Center, where she trains apprentices (240 to date) in the shamanic arts, and plays with the fairies. Her four books: Healing Wise; Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way; Breast Cancer? Breast Health! the Wise Woman Way and Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year are used by more than a million women, and have been translated into German and French.
Visit Susun Weed at:
For permission to reprint this article, contact: