Soy has been a hot discussion topic as there is conflicting information about soy and whether or not it is good to consume. The questions have been raised about the health and safety of what-was-considered a healthy food. To help clear up some confusion, here are a few things to bring to attention:
Background: Soybeans are legumes native to East Asia. Initially it was considered unfit for human consumption, but it was used for crop rotation as a method of fixing nitrogen to regenerate the soil. In the East Asian cuisines, the soybeans are fermented prior to moderate consumption into products, such as tempeh, miso, natto, and soy sauce. The reason for fermentation is that the process removes the toxins present in the plant and makes the nutrients in the beans available to the body. To simplify the process of preparation for soy consumption, after lengthy soaking and cooking, the beans were treated with nigari, a substance found in seawater, which resulted in tofu. When fermented soy foods are used in small amounts they help build the inner ecosystem, providing a wealth of friendly microflora to the intestinal tract that can help with digestion and assimilation of nutrients, and boost immunity.
With the industrialized processing, the food manufacturers were left with a lot of soy protein that they started adding to processed foods after they split the beans into two different food products: soybean oil and soy protein (i.e. soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, textured vegetable protein or hydrolyzed vegetable protein). These substances are included in majority of processed and fast foods (read the labels!).
Anti-Nutrients: Soy contains phytochemicals (phytates, enzyme inhibitors and goitrogens) that are toxic to the human body.They function as the immune system of the plant, offering protection from the radiation of the sun, and from invasion by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or foragers. All plants have some anti-nutrient properties, but the soybean plant is especially rich in these chemicals. That is why extensive preparation prior to consumption is essential.
Unfermented soy (whole soybeans, soy milk, soy chips, soy protein isolates, soy flour and other industrially processed products) has been linked to digestive distress, immune system breakdown, PMS, endometriosis, reproductive problems for men and women, allergies, ADD and ADHD, higher risk of heart disease and cancer, malnutrition, and loss of libido. Populations most at risk of experiencing the negative effects of unfermented soy are infants through soy baby formula, vegetarians with high soy protein intake, and pre- and menopausal women in search of symptom relief.
Phytates: Bind tightly to minerals in our digestive tract and can block absorption of zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and calcium. It has a particularly strong affinity for zinc, a mineral that supports wound healing, protein synthesis, reproductive health, nerve function, and brain development. Miso and tempeh have the lowest levels of phytates.
The enzyme inhibitors: Interfere with the process of digestive enzymes (amylase, lipase, and protease) and make the carbohydrates and proteins near impossible to digest completely. Incomplete digestion moves into the large intestine, causing discomfort and bloating, and can be even more difficult for people who have naturally low levels of digestive enzymes such as infants and elderly.
Goitorgens: Block the production of thyroid hormone and cause goiter formation. These are compounds known to make it more difficult for the thyroid gland to create its hormones. Low thyroid hormone levels will cause a reduced thyroid function with slow metabolism, low energy level, reduced heart rate, lack of oxygen in cells.
Also blocking thyroid production is genistein, an isoflavone found in soybeans. However, genistein also inhibits tyrosine kinases that is involved in the transfer of energy from one molecule to another, driving cell division, memory consolidation, tissue repair, and blood vessel maintenance and regeneration.
Aluminum: The highly industrialized processing of soy requires acid washing in aluminum tanks. The aluminum leaches into the final soy products that are sold for human consumption. Aluminum is toxic to our nervous system and kidneys, so avoiding all processed soy products is a good rule to follow.
Environmental Impact: The industrialization of soy production has led to genetic modification of the crops, which is unhealthy for human, animals, or the environment, deforestation and a need for large amounts of pesticides. GM-produced soy also increases the risk of soy allergies and intolerance. Large amounts of it have also been used as animal feed, increasing the need for antibiotics.
Remember: Reading the labels if buying packaged or processed foods is VITAL! Committing to prepare food at home in order to control the quality of the ingredients can be very helpful. If using soy, choosing organic, fermented soy products, such as miso, tempeh, and natto are the wisest options. Make sure when using these products to combine them with other whole foods!
Be healthy & happy, Dr. Tijana
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