Is soy good for you or is it bad for you? As is often the case, the answer is it depends on who you ask. Although you may not be asking me directly, we are currently sharing this space. Given that, I'll take the liberty of offering my thoughts.
Whereas the jury is divided, you might want to research a bit on your own to draw personal conclusions. As a self-educated consumer, I formerly ate soy for its health benefits. These days, I categorically avoid soy and believe it to be a health risk product based on the available research.
My problem with soy is two-fold. First, 91 percent of soy grown in the U.S. is a GMO — a genetically-modified organism. Soy is genetically-engineered to resist death and decay from Monsanto’s toxic herbicide Roundup, with which it’s heavily sprayed. Second, soy contains hormones that can wreck health havoc, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola, a renown but controversial natural health expert and physician. Dr. Mercola is one of many natural health practitioners that claim** women are particularly vulnerable to soy phytoestrogens and isoflavones**.
We'll explore that further along in this article, but my bottom line is this: I refuse to knowingly introduce an endocrine disruptor into my body at the cellular level.
Often referred to as estrogen-mimickers or xenoestrogens, these “mimic” the effects of true estrogen, linking to receptor sites. It’s not only natural-health-gurus who say this is a bad idea.** Scientific American confirms that certain pesticides, industrial by-products and other compounds added to foods can interact with the same receptor molecules inside the body thastrogen can and** ** alter hormones**.**** Marketing Soy Research
The United Soybean Board has published research supporting the health claims of soy on its website Soy Connection. However, I remain skeptical of a food that needs to be bolstered with so much research and question the funding sources behind that research. Consider:
- All soybean producers pay a mandatory assessment of one-half to one percent of the net market price of soybeans. The total – something like $80 million annually – supports United Soybean's program to "strengthen the position of soybeans in the marketplace and maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets for uses for soybeans and soybean products.”
State soybean councils from Maryland, Nebraska, Delaware, Arkansas, Virginia, North Dakota, and Michigan provide another $2.5 million for research.
Published in the Wall Street Journal, October 27, 1995, private companies like Archer Daniels Midland also contribute their share. ADM spent $4.7 million for advertising on Meet the Press and $4.3 million on Face the Nation during the course of a year.
Products containing soy protein appear in nearly every aisle of the supermarket. Photo: SoyConnection.com
The Up and Down of the Positives
Dr. Mercola is not opposed to all soy. He claims if soy is organic and properly fermented then it can be very healthful. Dr. Mercola says a simple rule of thumb is unless soy is fermented (tempeh, miso, natto, or traditionally made soy sauce), you're better off avoiding it.
On hundred grams of boiled whole soybeans contain large amounts of Manganese, Selenium, Copper, Potassium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, Vitamin B6, Folate, Riboflavin, Thiamin, and Vitamin K. While this line up is impressive at first glance it should also be noted that soybeans are also quite high in phytates, a binding substance that reduces absorption.
Soybeans are also a decent source of protein, but be aware that processing soy at high temperatures can reduce the quality of the proteins. There is also evidence that soy is effective in lowering cholesterol and may help reduce the risk for prostate cancer in old age.
The Bad, Bad, and More BadAs mentioned earlier, over 90 percent of the soy produced in the United States in genetically modified (GMO) and swimming in the herbicide Roundup. Roundup** has a poor reputation and may be associated with a good number of serious health effects.**** Soy contains isoflavones that function as endocrine disruptors.** The steroid hormone estrogen plays an important role in regulating sexual development and reproductive cycles. The isoflavones in soy are capable of activating estrogen receptors and can interfere with the normal functions of the body. This interference can reduce the estrogen activity because the actual estrogen will be prevented from binding or it can increase estrogen activity because the receptors are activated.
Soy isoflavones might also cause breast cancer. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed women in a study group who received 60 grams of soy protein in their diet showed a significant increase in the number of epithelial cells in their breasts after only 14 days. Epithelial cells are the cells that are most likely to turn cancerous. In another study published in the American Association for Cancer Research, 7 of 24 women (29.2 percent) had an increased number of breast epithelial cells when they supplemented with soy protein. However, Dr. Erica Mayer, M.D., M.P.H., a medical oncologist at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers at Dana-Farber, explains to Huffington Post, "The idea is that this could potentially fuel growth of breast cancer, but that doesn't bear out in the data."
Soy may lead to low level disruptions in the ** menstrual cycles of women**. It may also have negative effects on male reproductive health. A study of 99 men attending an infertility clinic showed that those with the lowest sperm count were the subjects that had eaten the most soy over the last three months. It should be noted that the results of this study are a statistical correlation and not an etched in stone fact.
Finally, soy may interfere with the function of the thyroid. Thirty-seven Japanese test subjects were given 30 grams of soybeans for 3 months and showed an increase in the marker for impaired thyroid function. Symptoms included malaise, constipation, sleepiness and thyroid enlargement. All symptoms disappeared after the subjects stopped eating soy.
Soy is certainly one of the most controversial foods in the world. What do you think: Is soy a superfood or a hormone-disrupting poison?
References and Suggested Reading:
"Can Environmental Estrogens Cause Breast Cancer?" Devra Lee Davis and H. Leon Bradlow, Scientific American, Vol. 273, No. 4; October 1995.