Lately I’ve been completely baffled by the fact that so many people are still eating soy.It seems nearly every day I’m having a conversation with someone who is still enjoying their daily soy latte, a morning smoothie loaded with soy protein, or a soy protein bar before they go to the gym – oblivious to the ample information showing that most soy products have a huge negative impact on our health.

Soy producers continue to bamboozle us into thinking that soy is some sort of health food when in actuality soy is made up of so many anti-nutrients that without a LOT of processing it is completely inedible for humans.

Did you know: before World War II the FDA didn’t even call it a food, it was on the fertilizer list used in crop rotations. Food for thought…

Ingredients such as soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, textured soy protein and hydrolyzed plant protein were unheard of until after WWII. These quintessentially western products are manufactured using high-tech, industrialized processes that compromise protein quality, reduce vitamin levels and leave toxic residues and carcinogens. Although the latest refining techniques yield blander, purer soy proteins than the ‘beany’, hard-to-disguise flavors of the past, the main reason the new soy foods taste and look better is the lavish use of sugar and other sweeteners, salt, artificial flavorings, colors and MSG. Not so naked…

Soy is now an ingredient in more than 60 percent of the foods sold in supermarkets and health food stores, with much of it in products where you would least expect to find it hiding, such as in fast-food burgers, breads, and canned tuna. (Those high-protein/low-carb tortillas? That’s the “magic” of adding soy.) This is a nightmare for the growing number of people who are allergic or sensitive to soy – a lot of people given that soy is now one of the top eight allergens, with many experts predicting its rise to the top four.

Soybeans are one of the largest Genetically Modified (GM) crops in the US, second only to corn. GM soybeans carry higher levels of anti-nutrients, which decrease digestion and absorption and increase vitamin and mineral needs, as well as more toxins than regular soybeans, jeopardizing human and animal health. They have also caused vast damage to the environment. Indeed, more of the Amazon Rainforest has been lost to GM soybean farming than to beef grown for fast-food franchises.

If I’ve not convinced you to dump that soy protein shake for some real food, here are four compelling reasons to omit it from your diet:

  1. Soy is a trypsin inhibitor– trypsin is a digestive enzyme produced in the pancreas. Inhibiting the action of this enzyme causes soy to make us feel gassy, bloated, pain and diarrhea. (Important note: if soy is fermented as in natto, tempeh, tamari, and miso, most of the trypsin inhibitors will be deactivated).
  2. Soy contains phytates – these bind with minerals in the digestive tract and render them inaccessible. The amount of phytates in soy is so high that even fermentation can’t break them down. We can’t get our minerals into our cells!
  3. Soy is goitrogenic – this means thyroid suppressing. In Japan where soy consumption is the absolute highest, thyroid disease is widespread. The auto- immune disease attacking the thyroid, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, was first detected in Japan and Japanese researchers are conducting massive studies to prove the negative effect of soy foods on the thyroid gland. In one study of healthy Japanese adults 30 grams of soy for 30 days brought about thyroid disruption. (Remember Oprah’s 4o pound weight gain due to a thyroid condition a few years back?  Bob Greene, Oprah’s trainer and diet guru, promotes soy in his books…..think there might be a connection?)
  4. Soy causes infertility – it contains phytoestrogens, which are powerful endocrine disruptors. when we eat them they lock onto estrogen receptors in the body, blocking true estrogen and other hormones, and because of this our production of estrogen is disrupted – the body thinks it doesn’t need to make it! These Phytoestrogens – formononetin, biochanin A and geistein – have caused endometrial damage and cervical mucus changes associated with an inability to conceive. This impact isn’t limited to women – phytoestrogens affect men’s reproductive health as well. Studies on sheep and mice have shown lowered sperm counts, infertility, and nipple discharge. (Remember when Jeremy Piven came out against soy milk? He found out all the soy milk he had been drinking was linked to the new breasts he was growing!) Exposure to phytoestrogens rendered these animals incapable of fertilizing an egg and lowered testosterone levels, thus lowering libido.

What is perhaps most troubling is when we feed soy to babies. Those infants sustained on soy formula here in the US are ingesting concentrations of phytoestrogens six to eleven fold higher than those known to have hormonal affects in adults. These children may never recover from the endocrine damage that could occur.

Despite these and many other potential dangers, soy is still widely promoted as a health food – even as a ‘miracle food’ that can prevent and cure cancer. While a few studies suggest that soy protein – or its phytoestrogens more specifically – might help prevent cancer, far more studies show it to be ineffective or inconsistent. Some studies even show that soy can contribute to, promote, or even cause cancer.

Do you do soy? Did you give it up when you became more informed about its potential dangers? Did you notice a difference in your health? Did a specific issue clear up or resolve itself? I’d love to hear about your experience so please leave me a comment below.

If you’re interested in further reading on soy, check Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN’s excellent book The Whole Soy Story and Lierre Keith’s provocative book, The Vegetarian Myth.

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