By Kate Robitello
The great debate over the effects of soy has long been in existence, especially amongst the primarily plant-based consumers. As the most third most subsidized crop in the U.S., soy products are in the majority of grocery store snacks and can even be found in many cosmetic products. However, soy is a great source of plant-based protein and has been shown in numerous studies to reduce the risk of high cholesterol in men. It is also consumed in relatively high amounts in certain Eastern nations, which in comparison to the general health of the U.S. have much lower incidence of degenerative disease development.
So, to soy or not to soy? The answer is not so simple.
Genetic modification and herbicide use
At least 80 percent of the soy products consumed in the U.S. are comprised of genetically modified soybeans, which have been altered from their natural state and have also been sprayed with herbicidal products to promote optimal growth with few weeds and other plants that (naturally) interrupt soybean growth. The combination of genetically altering a food and then throwing a cocktail of highly toxic endocrine-disrupting chemicals on that food is inevitably going to have an effect on the health of the person that consumes it. The consumption of any soy-related product or oil that is not organic is not a good idea; these products should be avoided at all costs.
Disrupting the endocrine system
One of the primary concerns of consuming soy, especially for women, is that it has isoflavones, which act as phytoestrogens and have the potential to cause disruption to the endocrine system. One of the largest issues amongst women that experience diseases related to an imbalance of hormones is estrogen dominance and progesterone deficiency. This occurs when a woman regularly encounters xenoestrogens, which are found in many soaps, skin care products, household cleaners, cigarettes, pesticides, plastics, preservatives–the list goes on. Estrogen dominance also occurs when plant-derived xenoestrogens, also known as phytoestrogens, are introduced into the diet. This is why women who have had breast cancer are typically advised to avoid soy products, as soy may increase the risk of recurring tumor development.
All soy is bad soy?
Many Eastern cultures consume soy regularly, as it is considered a staple food, particularly in Asian cultures, and those cultures also tend to be quite healthy. So why is it that soy poses a threat to us, but seemingly no issues to our Eastern counterparts? The difference is the way it is consumed.
In the West, we tend to not consume the soybean in whole form; we extract the oil and consume other genetically modified soy-derived products. In the East, the soybean is eaten either in whole form, in its natural unmodified state, or is fermented. Soybeans, when fermented, amplify their inner nutrients and are able to assuage the potential damage caused by the phytoestrogens within the bean. Foods like miso, tempeh and soy sauce are generally safe for consumption.
As of now, there is so much contradictory and controversial evidence regarding the effects of soy on those with hormone imbalance, that avoidance of all soy products may be the best choice for some. Whether you are purchasing a new shade of natural lip balm, or opting for a hummus spread instead of chips, keep in mind that many of these products that we consider healthy contain harmful soybean oil. The best solution is to stay mindful, read labels, and create your own recipes using whole foods as often as possible.