Safe Soy: Another Food On The Endangered Species List

Confused about the dangers of soy these days? Many health professionals are even confused, and are hastily joining a "soy bashing fad." But is this "latest" information on soy really accurate? I believe we are scrutinizing a distorted view of soy due to a gross lack of education and misunderstanding of cultural history. Soy, like tuna, salmon, and dairy, is now on an endangered species list. So, let's set the record straight by examining the core of this problem - the genuine dangers of adulterated soy - a "modified" form of safe soy.

Let's compare apples to apples - or should I say "soy to soy." Soy itself isn't the bad guy here; it's modern humans' adulteration and misuse of the soybean we need to focus on as an issue of concern.

The core of soy safety rests with the chemical makeup of adulterated soy: the manufacturing of soy converts the presence of natural phytoestrogens (in the soybean plant) to toxic chemicals called xenoestrogens (a manmade influence). Xenoestrogens mimic the female hormone estrogen, while its health effects can be lethal to the body's hormonal system. Some studies in animals show that xenoestrogens can alter sexual development. But, research doesn't show the same results concerning phytoestrogens in soy that has been properly fermented. In fact, the results show the opposite! The Japanese have historically consumed thirty times as much soy as North Americans, and have a lower incidence of cancers of the breast, uterus and prostate (1). The Western diet is typically deficient in phytoestrogens that by natural competition, block the more toxic and potent effects of xenoestrogens.

Modern - day concerns about soy safety impose the damage modern man has done to soy, but the health effects of original soy are historically beneficial. As with most adulterated foods, modern humans have created another "monster" from something that should be naturally benign when produced correctly. Now we are blaming the food source itself, not man's intervention, for our concerns about soy. Just as humans have destroyed the purity of foods such as tuna and salmon due to pollution, mass production, and genetically modified practices, soy (one of the finest protein sources in the world) has been adulterated to the point of becoming toxic to the body.

American soy has been GMO-d, contaminated, sprayed with pesticides, fertilized with toxic chemicals, and harvested and sent to market before being properly fermented. This is one reason many European countries such as France and Denmark, and Eastern European countries such as China, Taiwan, and Singapore have turned away ships exporting American soy to their countries.

Safe Soy: Do you want to know how to keep your soy healthy? Well, here's the key - purchase soy products that have been properly fermented and organically grown, and like everything else you eat, consume soy in moderation. (Many Americans tend to "over-do" a good-thing.)

Why is fermentation so important in the natural production of safe soy? Let's look at the definition of fermentation for the answer: n. any of a group of chemical and biochemical reactions that split complex organic compounds into relatively simple substances, especially the anaerobic conversion of sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol by yeast(2). Sounds pretty important to me; so why do American soy manufacturers leave proper fermentation out of modern soy processing? Time and money, perhaps?

Belly-Up To The Sushi Bar: Only after a long period of fermentation (as in the creation of miso or tempeh) are soy's effects reduced, making nourishment available to the human digestive system. Prior to modern man's recent "soy-manufacturing" craze, this has been the way soy was prepared for centuries, and one of the primary reasons soy has always been considered a healthy food alternative in all other cultures. Again, the problems with soy have magnified in America after mass-produced soy products like soymilk and soy meat alternatives flooded the mainstream market; problems not previously experienced in other countries.

This narrows down the problem with soy in America to misuse and adulteration as a result of mass production - companies simply don't take the time or go to the expense to properly prepare the soybean for healthy food processing. The emerging bumper crops of soybeans in America appear to be the latest problem. Take companies like Monsanto, for example. Monsanto Chemical Company has brought us products such as NutraSweet/Equal® and RoundUp®. They now produce genetically modified soybean seeds, and are aggressively marketing them worldwide. Companies like Cargill Foods and SoyLife also produce numerous soy-based foods, but the question needs to be asked, "Do they take the time to properly ferment the soybean before production, and is the soy organic?"

What are some modern-day soy concerns?

Dr. Kaayla Daniel has written about the dangerous effects of soy in her book The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food. She reports that recent studies link soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune-system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility, cancer, and heart disease. She describes the different types of soy, the macronutrients in soy, the anti-nutrients in soy, heavy metals found in soy, soy allergens, and soy estrogens. While this information rings true, we must address the differences between "original soy ' and "modern-day soy" in order to learn who and what to blame for this very serious problem. What modern man has done to the soybean must be differentiated from our concerns about soy itself.

Dr. John Lee gives the most accurate presentation I've ever read about soy in the first edition of his book What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Menopause. Note: order the original edition of his book with the subtitle "The Breakthrough Book On Natural Progesterone" from Amazon.com, published in 1996. The latest edition on bookstore shelves has been "altered", and much of the valuable information in his book has been excised.

Dr. Lee points out that the phytoestrogens found in properly fermented soy products such as soymilk, miso, tofu, and tempeh have been known for centuries to inhibit the growth of cancer. The Japanese, whose diet has been, and still is, very high in fermented soy, tend to have very low rates of breast and prostate cancer. One reason is due to the fact that active estrogen- and progesterone-like substances called phytoestrogens and phytoprogesterones are found in thousands of plant varieties they consume, specifically the soybean (3).

Here lies a problem and a major point: the wild soybean is a different species from the soy we eat in modern America. Our soy is not "true" soy, and has little to no plant steroid activity due to human manufacturing and processing. And, the addition of chemical pesticides and fertilizers accelerates the conversion of phytoestrogens to xenoestrogens. So, we are not comparing apples to apples when we connect novel soy to "toxic" soy estrogens and to the increasing harmful soy concerns. Instead of faulting the "soy", let's closely examine blaming man's "intervention" of soy as the problem. We need to further examine the fact that soy has been used safely for centuries in cultures throughout the world, and only within the past ten years in Westernized nations has there been a problem with consuming soy.

As Lee writes, "There are literally thousands of plants that contain sterols, and many vegetables are included in this category. Plant sterols are close relatives of human steroid hormones. In some cases your body will use the sterols to balance your hormones by filling hormone receptors. The phytoestrogens found in soybeans can take up estrogen receptors, but only have a very weak, if any at all, actual estrogenic activity in your body. Thus eating soy can be an indirect way of reducing estrogen effects by occupying your estrogen receptors with something besides estrogen itself."

GMO soy, on the other hand, produces xenoestrogens, not the phytoestrogens found in whole foods and naturally fermented soy. Xenoestrogens are found in our modern petrochemically polluted world and are at the root of my primary concerns about modified soy.

Another positive characteristic of natural soy is the presence of the sterol diosgenin. Diosgenin is naturally abundant in plants such as the tropical wild yam and the soybean, and can be converted by the body into the exact molecule as human progesterone.

Diosgenin is actually used commercially to manufacture many types of pharmaceutical hormone products, including progesterone, DHEA, estrogen, testosterone, and the cortisones. Diosgenin's molecular structure makes it a convenient laboratory precursor to human steroid hormones. The final laboratory product produces molecules identical to the ones found in the human body, and even though they are manufactured, we label them as natural hormones.

Unfortunately, for production purposes, manufacturers then further change these natural molecules to create "synthetic" drugs not found in nature (4). And, biologically speaking, there are no biochemical pathways in the body for breaking down synthetic diosgenin into progesterone, DHEA, estrogen, testosterone, or the cortisones. The process is miraculously done in the plant itself during fermentation.

The Bad News: Manufacturers now offer consumers "mutated" soy in food products and pharmaceuticals, and people are consuming way too much of this adulterated soy daily. Take a baby's bottled formula, for example. Research shows us that soy may not be the answer for substituting human breast milk; a problem contemporary humans have been seeking to solve for decades. Researchers point out that many babies who are allergic to cow's milk are fed soy-based formulas that contain the harmful estrogen chemicals (xenoestrogens) that in turn, act like and significantly accelerate the onset of puberty (5) But, is the soy-based formula the villain, the processing of the soy to blame, or the fact that if "natural" breast milk cannot be supplied, there will be no perfect substitute? Do we blame "the soy" or fault the way humans are currently doling it out?

Over ninety percent of American soy products are genetically modified (6), and the good ol' USA can also claim having one of the highest percentages of food contamination due to pesticides.

Another problem with processed soy is soy protein isolate (SPI). SPI is the key ingredient in most soy foods because it imitates the natural protein in meat and dairy products.

The formation of SPI takes place in the factories when soybeans are first mixed with an alkaline solution to remove their fibers. Then, the soy is separated using an acid wash and, finally, neutralized in an alkaline solution (7).

Next, the soy goes through an acid washing in aluminum tanks. As a result, manufactured soy can possess over 1000 percent more aluminum than conventional milk. And last but not least, the processed soy curds are spray - dried at high temperatures to produce high-protein powders. The original soybean has now undergone high - temperatures and high-pressure extrusion processing to produce textured soy vegetable protein.

That's not all. Nitrites (known carcinogens) are formed during the spray-drying stage, and a toxin called "lysinoalanine" is formed during the alkaline processing (8). MSG and other artificial flavorings are added to the textured vegetable protein products primarily to mask the strong 'bean" taste so to impart the flavor of meat (9).

Now For The Good News: Soybeans supply a source of oil used for forage and soil improvement, and have been safely used as a staple food in traditional Chinese and Japanese cultures for centuries. Native to Asia, the soybean plant is an erect bushy, hairy annual herb with trifoliate leaves and purple to pink flowers. Extensively cultivated for food and scavenging, and soil improvement, the soy plant has particularly nutritious oil-rich seeds called soya, soybean, soya bean, soja, or soja bean. Soy sauce is a thin sauce made of fermented soybeans. Soy is the most highly proteinaceous vegetable crop known to man.

Soybeans contain a striking selection of biologically active components called phytochemicals, the most noteworthy are isoflavones. Isoflavones are compounds currently studied for the relief of certain menopausal symptoms, cancer prevention, slowing or reversing of osteoporosis, and reducing the risk of heart disease.

The Dangers Of Mass-Production:
When soy is not properly fermented, enzyme-inhibitors present in the soy remain, and can block the uptake of trypsin and other digestive enzymes the body needs for complete protein absorption. Mass production of soy will not neutralize these harmful antinutrients, which can cause gastric distress, reduced protein digestion, and can lead to deficiencies in amino acid uptake.

Soybeans also contain hemagglutinin, a clot-promoting substance. Again, when soy is not properly fermented, the hemagglutinin can cause red blood cells to clump together. Generally, clustered blood cells cannot properly absorb oxygen for distribution into the body's tissues, and are unable to assist in maintaining good cardiac health.

Fermenting soybeans does de-activate both hemagglutinin and trypsin inhibitors, but cooking and rapid processing do not. Soy products like tofu have reduced levels of these inhibitors.

Soybeans also contain phytic acid, which all beans do. However, soybeans have higher levels of phytic acid than most other consumable legumes. Too much phytic acid at one meal can block the absorption of certain minerals, specifically magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. Some studies claim that people in Third World Countries who have a high consumption of grains and soy also have deficiencies in these particular minerals (10). Nonetheless, other cultural and environmental factors were not included in the studies, so basing this lack of nutrients specifically on soy is not an accurate or historical conclusion.

The Solution? Limit your use of soy to fermented and organic soy products only, like tempeh or miso. Purchase soy that is grown and processed "properly", primarily from select foreign and specialized organic sources. Avoid GMO and domestically mass-produced soy products. Limit your daily consumption of soy, just as you limit your consumption of meats, dairy, and other foods. Treat soy consumption in Westernized nations with scrutiny, just as you do with tuna, farm-raised salmon, GMO grains, and highly processed dairy. Be cautious concerning the soy sources of baby formulas.

Safe soy is now on food's "endangered species list" along with many of the foods we once perceived as safe and natural. Leave the adulterated forms for the mass-manufacturers to eat.

1. De Blij, H, Muller.P. Human Geography. Culture, Society, and Space. #3E.

2. http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/refpages/search.aspx?q=fermentation

3. Lee, J. What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause. Warner Books. 1996. Pp 64, 220.

4. Ibid. pp 63-64.

5. Schneider, J. Lehigh University. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

6. genetically-engineered-foods.htm

7. Rackis, et al. Evaluation of the Health Aspects of Soy Protein Isolates as Food Ingredients. Prepared for FDA by Life Sciences Research Office. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. 9650 Rockville Pike. Bethesda, MD. Contract No. FDA 223-75-2004, 1979. P. 22.

8. Ibid.

9. www.truthinlabeling.org

10. Bulletin de L'Office Fédéral de la Santé Publique. No. 28. July 20, 1992.

Posted June 2005 | Permanent Link

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