The Soy Decoy: Don’t Be Deceived

Guest Post by Katie Fox

I know it goes against everything we hear these days about healthy eating, but I’m here today to tell you that I don’t eat soy products, and I don’t think you should eat soy products, either.

There.  I came right out and said it.  Might as well get the controversy right out in the open from the start, right? (wink)

Honestly, I’m not looking for a fight.  In my real off-line life, I almost never talk about dietary choices with people unless they flat-out ask me my opinion.  Diet is a really personal thing, and people often feel defensive if their choices are questioned.  But the soy issue really concerns me, so I decided to take this opportunity while guest-posting here at Keeper of the Home to talk about the side of soy we don’t usually hear about.

You’re about to read a lot of big, scientific-sounding words, but don’t let it phase you.  I’ve tried to put everything into plain-Jane language,  for me as much as for anyone else – I’m definitely no scientist!  But I believe there are at least three good reasons for avoiding soy, and it’s important to understand them.  Here they are.

1.  Soy Disrupts Our Sex Hormones

Soy is known as a phyotestrogen.  This means that it contains natural compounds that mimic estrogen in our bodies.  This sounds like good news for some people, such as post-menopausal women.  But what are the effects of phytoestrogens on babies, little boys and little girls, young women and young men?

For babies on soy formula, a 1994 study shows that they are consuming the hormonal equivalent of up to 10 contraceptive pills a day. Little systems can’t handle that overload; it puts children at risk for everything from early-onset puberty to permanent endocrine damage. This might surprise you: the governments of Israel, Switzerland, the UK, and New Zealand have all issued statements against the use of soy formula for babies.

Little boys who consume soy may have higher risks of testicular cancer, and little girls may face higher risks of breast and ovarian cancers, due to longer exposure to sex hormones.  There is also a possible link between soy and lower sperm counts in young men.

Just 100 grams of soy contains the hormonal equivalent of one contraceptive pill.  Considering all the hormonal diseases that are running rampant today in the West (including infertility), it seems wise to check our consumption of soy.

2.  Soy Disrupts Our Thyroid

The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, just as the sex hormones are, so these two issues are intimately related.  The phytoestrogens in soy also act upon the thyroid to have a goitrogenic effect, which means they depress thyroid hormone production, slow down thyroid metabolism, and potentially cause an increase in the size of the thyroid (known as a goiter, hence the term goitrogenic).  All of that adds up to one thing: hypothyroidism.

I have suffered from hypothyroidism since 2001, possibly earlier.  There are many symptoms of this disease, and it is often overlooked or misdiagnosed as depression (which at first happened to me).  In fact, some experts estimate that there are as many as nine million undiagnosed cases of hypothyroidism in the United States alone.  If you have any hypothyroid symptoms, try to eliminate soy from your diet right away.

3.  Soy Contains Anti-Nutrients

Anti-nutrients are chemicals and compounds that prevent nutrients from being properly used by the body.  Here are two examples of anti-nutrients found in soy:

Protease Inhibitors
Soy contains protease inhibitors, which frustrate the body’s digestion of protein.  Studies show that this could cause the pancreas to be over-worked in the digestion process, and eventually lead to pancreatic dysfunction.   Protease inhibitors are found in especially high amounts in raw soy – one reason raw soybeans are considered toxic.  Heating and processing the soy lessens the amount of protease inhibitors considerably, but it is never completely eliminated.

Phytic Acid (or Phytates)
Soy (and many other grains, as well) contains phytic acid, which acts like a magnet for many important minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, therefore preventing their absorption into the body.  Though phytic acid can also help with ridding the body of unnecessary and/or unwanted heavy metals such as lead and mercury, this cleansing effect is bad news for those who rely heavily on soy for mineral content in their diet, such as those in developing nations.

Image by little blue hen

What About Soy in Asian Cultures?

Many people are understandably surprised when they discover the negative effects of soy, and often point out that Asian cultures have eaten soy for thousands of years, with seemingly great health benefits.  There are two important factors to consider here.

1.  Asian cultures have historically eaten soy primarily in its fermented forms: miso, tempeh, soy sauce, and tamari are all fermented soy products.  The fermenting process significantly lessens the protease inhibitors and phytates in soy, almost to the point of elimination.  Tofu is the only non-fermented form of soy that has been historically common in Asian cultures.

2.  Traditionally, Asian cultures have eaten these soy products in small amounts, more as sauces and condiments than main dishes. A typical starter of soup with three cubes of tofu is very different from a tofu-based entree where tofu is acting as a meat substitute.  The average Asian diet in China, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan includes between nine and 36 grams of soy per day.  Compare that to a cup of tofu (252 grams) or soy milk (240 grams).

In our home, we do eat small amounts of fermented soy, such as tamari and miso, very occasionally.  But we completely avoid the newer forms of highly processed soy products such as soy milk, soy protein isolate (common in protein and energy bars), soy protein powder, and soy cheese. These are totally outside the historical understanding and consumption of soy in Asian cultures.  In addition, some of them, such as soy protein isolate, contain much higher concentrations of phytoestrogens than less-processed, more traditional soy forms.

A Few Last Things To Consider

The soy industry is just that – an industry, with the goal of making money.  They are desperate to convince us that soy is a miracle health food, and they have invested millions of dollars in marketing to do just that – quite successfully, I would add.  For every risk I mentioned above, there is another study that contradicts that risk and wants to call me crazy.

Soy is not without its benefits, I admit.  But I encourage you all to check out the facts for yourself.  There is just too much evidence of unnecessary risk for me to consider soy products to be an acceptable food source in our home. What about you?

Learn more about soy from these sources, which I used in writing this article:

Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon
The Whole Soy Story, by Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD
Whole Soy Story.com
Soy Online Service.co.nz
Soy Alert: Health Food or Danger?
Natural Health News: Be Aware of Soy Risks
Do Soy Foods Negatively Affect Your Thyroid?
Wikipedia: Soybean

Have you ever heard about these risks associated with soy?  What do you think?

**A note from Stephanie: For those curious about my stance on soy, I think that Katie has summed it up very well. I could have written this post myself, and would have said very similar things. Our family also avoids all processed, more modern forms of soy and only consumes naturally fermented and organic soy in very minimal amounts.**

Katie Fox loves to learn about natural living, and believes that caring for the earth and caring for yourself don’t have to be mutually exclusive. She loves to help other people understand how they can both contribute to and benefit from a switch to a more natural and organic lifestyle. She is a stay-at-home mom and a native Texas girl, happily married to her best friend. She is the editor of the popular blog, Simple Organic.

Image by Jenny Lee Silver

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Comments

  1. This is not the first time I’ve read this information, and oh, how I wish I’d known this 10 years ago. I actually fed my son soy formula because he could not tolerate regular (we won’t even go into my regrets about not breastfeeding). As I am personally dealing with a number of hormonal issues (PCOS, a hysterectomy 2 years ago for endometriosis) I am very concerned about the long term effects of all that soy in his tiny newborn body. At age 10, he is very healthy, but our diet still needs a lot of work, as I married a very picky eater and our son takes after him.

  2. Wendy M says:

    Excellent! Thank you. This has been my opinion for a year now, not to mention when I would try soy milk I could tell a big difference in my hormones – it was like self-induced PMS. Maybe this is the beginning of each person spreading the word about NO MORE SOY! It takes a lot of voices to make corporate America listen.

  3. Thank you for this excellent, informative and important post. Until about 5-6 years ago, soy milk was the standard milk in our home. I was pleased to be providing my children with such a healthy alternative to modern dairy products. It was during a rare doctor’s visit where we were discussing the early perimenopause my friend was going through that my doctor extolled the virtues of soy in the alleviation of perimenopausal symptoms. My doctor, a lovely Christian woman, has a special interest in the natural and herbal treatment of perimenopausal/menopausal symptoms. She said that one cup of a popular soy-fortified cereal with soy milk would be very helpful to my friend.

    It was at this moment that all the concerns that I had read about soy came flooding into my mind. If this was so great for my perimenopausal friend to help balance her hormones, what was I doing feeding it to my children, especially my little boy?!?! I started to do some further research and very soon afterwards, we bought our last carton of soy milk forever.

    During my research, I was lead to the Weston Price Foundation, which has helped me form some new ideas about healthy eating.

    Thanks again, mama!
    .-= ChristineG´s last blog ..Nourishing Herbal Tea Especially Great for Pregnancy =-.

  4. I live in China and I have to add my 2 cents. The only thing is that many Chinese people drink at least one cup and sometimes 2 of soymilk everyday. They also eat green soybeans boiled in salted water often as an (and I’m going to spell this incorrectly) hors d’eurve. There are also other dishes they make with yellow soybeans…many more than you mentioned. I’m interested to know what you think of this. I’ve read some of the information that you mentioned but we’re vegan and so tofu is an easy substitute for eggs and soymilk for milk. Alternately, we don’t do a lot of either of those though, so we’re probably okay anyway, but what about the Chinese eating so much soy?

  5. Thank you SO much for this well written article! I have been telling people this for years and they all look at me like I’m crazy!
    .-= LisaAnn´s last blog ..Give-a-way- Candy time- =-.

  6. What are your views on edamame (soybeans in the pod)? Having grown up in Japan throughout my childhood, soybeans were a common side dish. Do you think it’s harmful to eat these as well or just consume them in smaller quantities?

  7. I’ve also found it pointed out that traditionally if asian countries ever did use tufu not only was it in small quantities it has ALWAYS been paired with sea vegetables (which they eat a lot more of than americans do anyway) which are like natures powerhouse multi-mineral supplement. When you are consuming 1500X the amount of a mineral than u need in one day on a regular basis a little phytates are hardly of concern. Also just wanted to say also that another non-dairy substitute that may be an even better choice than almond or rice milk is unsweetened coconut milk which can be purchased in a can and thinned to a consistency that you enjoy, especially if you just use it to eat on top of cereal.

  8. Thank you so much for this very informative post! I also try to avoid soy in my diet, and have found that the more “real foods” I eat the easier it gets to avoid it (I never eat straight soy products like tofu, so the majority of the soy in my diet was probably coming from soy protein added to processed foods). I do find it frustrating that it is added to so many things – even Breyers ice cream, which is supposed to be all natural!

    Thank you again for the post!

  9. Great article! I’m always concerned when my friends say “I don’t each much soy yet I know the majority of their diets are prepackaged foods. They have NO IDEA how much soy is hiding in the ingredient lists! Blech!
    .-= Ambre´s last blog ..And the Little Children Will Lead Them =-.

  10. I’m just curious whether anyone knows if the possible side effects of soy can be reversed? I’m now feeling rather guilty (and uninformed) because I had my sons drink soy milk as young toddlers rather than cow’s milk (mostly because of issues with going to the bathroom). We’ve since pretty much just stopped drinking milk of any sort all together.

    • Kathryn says:

      @Sara K, You might consider trying goat’s milk or almond milk, if you haven’t already. Both are lactose-free, with a lot of other health benefits. A couple of caveats: goat’s milk can be very expensive, and almond milk is off-limits for those with nut allergies. Also, if you decide to make your own almond milk, be sure NOT to use bitter almonds, which contain arsenic.

    • Jeniece says:

      @Sara K, I saw a documentary once called Supersize Me that talked about the health problems that occur due to eating the wrong things (in this case, McDs every meal for a month). The body is amazing at detoxifying from the junk as long as we feed it the right foods. Though the documentary didn’t have anything to do with soy, the producer did say that ALL the negative effects (liver failure included) of eating poorly were reversed. I think that would be true with soy side effects too. No need to feel guilty for doing what you thought was best at the time. I’m sure you’re boys will be fine. I just switched to raw dairy and love it.

    • @Sara K, I would also agree that the body is amazing at healing itself when given the chance. I wouldn’t worry about the past; just give your sons a nutrient-rich diet now and their bodies will get what they need to move forward healthily.

  11. Well written and thoughtfully explained. There really is a huge push on how wonderful everything soy is in a lot of the health food industry.

    I find it so interesting how “behind” the US is on a lot of foods, additives or medicies that other countries are already understanding are harmful, yet we keep right on using. Its going to take dedicated people who dig a little deeper and share their knowledge to spread the news, so thanks!
    .-= Kait Palmer´s last blog ..The Business of Christianity =-.

  12. Wow. I didn’t know any of this! We don’t eat much soy, and other than the occasional (maybe, once every few months) carton of soy-milk, we eat almost no soy, but my 3 year old son does love that milk, and now I know that almond or rice milk is a better option than soy. Thanks for the post,
    Sarah M

  13. What a great article, Katie, and now I don’t have to write one up myself ;). Pretty much everything I would have said has been said in this article.

    On an anecdotal level I was convinced I was lactose intolerant in college. I could not drink milk, eat ice cream, or soft cheeses without digestive issues. I drank soy milk and ate soy ice cream like it was going out of style.

    It has been 5 years since I quit soy because of the above mentioned concerns. I have since found to have a low thyroid and hormone imbalance. It seems to be repairing itself very slowly through a traditional foods diet.

    I also discovered raw, pastured milk from local dairy and cultured dairy products. I eat raw cheese, cultured dairy, and occasionally raw milk with no digestive issues from before.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Winner and a Coupon Code for Stainless Steel Bakeware =-.

  14. ~AnneGirl~ says:

    Way to stand up and expose the dangers of soy!! Thanks so much!

  15. I’ve heard this lots before, and don’t really like soy anyways. We do very occasionally use tofu about a few times a year in a stir fry, since my daughter LOVES it, but because of the issues, its not often like I said. I figure those few times will be fine.

  16. Jeniece says:

    I agree with most arguments about the contemporary use of soy. While the evidence is pretty convincing, I had to laugh at your argument that it contains anti-nutrients because ALL grains contain anti-nutrients. That’s what makes them shelf stable so they don’t spoil in a week or two like fruits and veggies do. That’s also why the soaking, fermenting, and sprouting of grains is used so extensively around the world (other than industrialized nations where food processors decided long ago to just strip the grain and remove the anti-nutrients all together…an extremely unwise, but nevertheless purposeful decision). I personally don’t use most soy products (tamari being the only exception), but just so long as they are prepared properly and used sparingly, you’ll be ok. Great topic.

    • @Jeniece, yeah, I tried to briefly mention that in parentheses but it was really beyond the scope of my article here to get into the issue of grains in general. We actually eat very little grains in our home….because of the anti-nutrients and because 2 of us are gluten-intolerant, it’s just easier for us. I would rather eat other things than spend time properly preparing a lot of gluten-free grains. :)

  17. thank you for this. we are adopting soon and will (unfortunately) have to use some kind of baby formula. i was already looking into alternatives (like making my own) but now i definitely will steer clear of soy-based formula!

    makes me wonder: why doesn’t the US government warn of this like other western governments have? maybe because we subsidize soy so heavily…
    .-= sarah´s last blog ..wedding reception food and drink ideas part 5 =-.

    • @sarah, yes, the govt subsidies really complicate the US food industry, unfortunately. It really stinks. About formula – if you’re interested in making your own, check out the homemade baby formula recipes in the cookbook Nourishing Traditions. I personally know of a few babies who have thrived on these formulas. We are about to adopt, too! Although we don’t know yet whether we will bring home a baby or toddler….Anyway, congratulations on your adoption! Good luck! :)

  18. Kristen says:

    I’ve also been avoiding soy since diagnosed as hypothryoid after my first baby was born. I was trying to eat lots of “healthy” soy protein during that first pregnancy, and sometimes wonder if that contributed to the thyroid problem. Great post!

  19. I thought this was an interesting article. I am a vegan and we do use soy sometime though I have been trying to limit our use. I recently swictched to Almond Milk which was a great substitute for soy milk and can also be easily made at home. I would say we eat one tofu based meal once a week for my family of 4 so hopefully that is not too much. I know soy is in a lot of thing though so I guess I will have to be on the look out for them! Thanks!

    • Hey, I am also vegan, but I really appreciate this post. Although I don’t agree with all of it, I think it’s important that we have a balanced perspective on soy. My husband does vegan cooking classes and totally avoids soy in his recipes, mostly to counteract the stereotype that vegans just eat a lot of tofu, soymilk, and fake meat. We don’t use soy in our home, except on a rare occasion. I have two young children and I do not believe that soy is a necessary part of a vegan diet.

  20. This is very interesting and I have heard these arguments before. I tend to side with the asians on this one. Our family eats Maine grown & processed (we live in Maine), non-GMO, organic etc. tofu, we eat miso and I make our own soymilk (with organic, non-GMO beans) for breakfast cereal. We don’t drink it but do like to pour it on oatmeal. And that’s the extent of our soy consumption. We too have done a lot of research on this topic and feel this is better for us than the animal based alternatives. I know the writers here will disagree, but that’s ok (smile).

  21. I completely agree and am so glad you posted this. I haven’t gotten to writing on this subject yet but would love to post a link to it. It’s just right for FamilyNatural! Thanks!

  22. Great post! The phytoestregens are the precise reason I stopped drinking soy milk. I used to love it because I bought into the idea it was a great source of learn protein. As I began making the switch to traditional foods, I read about the amount of phytoestregens in soy products and some of the effects on the body, specifically in regards to women’s health. Won’t touch the stuff now!

  23. FABULOUS post!! Thanks for taking the time to “spell it all out”!! I am bookmarking for future reference…thank you!

    Blessings,
    Camille
    .-= Camille´s last blog ..Cherish the Moments =-.

  24. Great info. Lets not forget that it’s difficult to find Non-Genetically modified soy these days because of Monsanto’s super soy seed created many years ago. Food Inc. talks much about this. You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Damazontv&field-keywords=food+inc&x=0&y=0
    .-= Jackie@Lilolu´s last blog ..Safe Within Your Love =-.

  25. The more I hear about it, the more I am convinced that it isn’t a wise choice for our bodies. Thanks for shedding more light on the subject!
    .-= Jessica @ This Blessed Life´s last blog ..Yard Sale Shopping CT edition =-.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] for you, why would it be a wise choice for your baby? You can read more about the dangers of soy here and the dangers of commercial formula in general [...]

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  3. [...] I do not recommend unfermented soy products (more on that in a future post, for now check out this post by Stephanie at Keeper of the Home). Not all soy sauces are created equally! Real tamari is [...]

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  6. [...] If you cannot find any hormone-free milk, I would personally ditch the dairy milk and choose coconut, almond, or even rice milk instead. (But stay far away from soy milk!) [...]