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
Soy Online
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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  1. Also, Almond & Coconut milk has a great skim milk like body with no aftertaste. And you can cook with it just fine. Cream can be replaced with raw cashews in cold water blended or food processed….stands up GREAT in vegan casseroles, soups or stews.

  2. I now am anxious about soy…so I have tried Quorn, what are your thoughts on that?

  3. Jacob Williams says:

    I think we’re being a little too “overly cautious” about soymilk here…Yes, there are cons to soy milk, but then again, THERE ARE CONS TO ALMOST ALL FOODS. There have been very credible studies that have stated that regular milk can even lead to a higher risk of cancer and coronary heart disease.

    GM products are everywhere. Soy is considerably healthier than most products. Don’t kid yourselves and blow things out of proportion. Soy milk is still good for you.

    And also to dispel a myth: Soy is not extremely modified to create soy milk. The process is actually very simple, and it has been done by the Chinese for over 2000 years. Dry soy beans are soaked, boiled, and then filtered. The process is pretty natural…

    Don’t kid yourselves. You could make a laundry list of “cons” to almost any food, including dairy milk and coconut milk. Soy milk is healthy for you. Don’t be scared by a few scientific terms.

  4. My reason for avoiding soy products is that in 1994 soya beans were genetically engineered for pesticide tolerance, and now the majority of the US crop of soya beans are genetically modified. No way I want to feed GE food to my family! Organic soya products from Japan filled a niche until Fukishima….

    All the best

  5. Thank you for this post, we had just switched to soy milk and now we will be definitely cutting it out. What type of milk or dairy do you use at home or recommend? I have a toddler and usually give him a half cup of milk before nap time.

  6. Tabitha says:

    One other thing that I would have added to the list: The fact that Soy products are PROCESSED from Soy beans. Does it not worry anyone that you are drinking milk made from a bean? What incredible amount of processing had to go into that to make a white creamy liquid?

    • Jacob Williams says:

      The process of making soy milk dates back over 2000 years in China. The process is actually very simple and natural. Dried soy beans are soaked in water, boiled, and then filtered with a skimmer… There’s no “incredible amount of processing”. Today, they add a few more chemicals in order to preserve the milk, and some sugar sweeteners. However, seeing as those chemicals are also in everything else we eat, there’s really not much to complain about.

  7. Cynthia says:

    A concern I have about soy is something my mother pointed out to me which is that almost all chicken feed (including organic) is high in soy. Doesn’t that make our eggs soy laden?

    • Yes, unfortunately. It’s best to try to find both chickens and eggs that are not fed soy, if possible. It’s not quite the same as eating large amounts of soy ourselves, but it’s still something that you want to minimize and avoid if possible.

  8. I will avoid soy from our diet after reading this. We have been drinking soy milk, homemade without any additives, and it’s not much but I use it too in recipes. We only eay soy cheese. Will switch to fermented soy and use sparingly. My question is also, what about endames? And you mention that there are other grains as well that like soy are harmful. What are they? What about wheat?

    • I think that edamame is fine in moderation. I haven’t read anything that makes me as concerned about it (particularly because it isn’t processed the same as most soy products), but I would stick to organic only and not make it a mainstay of your diet.

      As for other grains, I think conventional wheat is best avoided. It has been so altered and tampered with over the years, and there is much evidence that it contributes to many health problem. Many people don’t realize it but they are actually sensitive to wheat. Our family chooses to use ancient “wheat-like” grains instead, such as Kamut or spelt.

  9. I too avoid soy like the plague, because I’m hypo and I’m allergic to it. A LOT of people are allergic, but you rarely hear about it. There is a website called The Hidden Dangers of Soy that talks about the allergy part. I can’t believe how many people push it, and the only way I can get people to back off is to tell them I’m allergic to it. Otherwise they don’t shut up about it. And while some post meno women might need estrogen, you also need PROGESTERONE to go with it, otherwise you get fat and have a high risk of breast cancer.

    Run from soy!!

  10. I have been drinking soy milk, and eating soy cheese since I was small. I am of normal weight and hit puberty at an average time. My mother made me blind taste test different non-dairy milks when I was diagnosed as lactose intolerant and soy milk was the only one that tasted ok to me, and I have been drinking it ever since. Soy has never hurt me, only helped

  11. Heather K says:

    I was wondering if you could tell me whether or not edamame soy beans fall under this category. They’re different in many ways from regular soy beans, but haven’t heard anything about them from anyone who writes about soy’s harmful effects. thank you.

  12. Thank you for writing this article and giving words to what I have begun to suspect. I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid this past year. One of the first things that I noticed was the warning to not eat soy products. I have eaten soy since sometime in 1997 when I became a vegetarian. Soy was one of my main sources of protein. I have been wondering with the reading that I have been doing lately if eating soy is why I now have a thyroid problem.

  13. I’ve have always tried to avoid soy products for the same reasons. However, if you really do your research, you can find non-hormonal, non-GMO products. I now use (and sell) a protein powder like this so you get the benefits without the dangers. I hate that pediatricians are so quick to put infants on soy formula!!

  14. sarah davis says:

    Thanks for the article. I am also concerned about soy, but we have a unique situation. Our daughter has had a severe dairy allergy since she was 8 months old (she is almost 6 years old now). I breastfed her until she was 16 months. She is also allergic to all nuts and eggs. Getting good sources of protein in her body is hard, other than the meat option. So, she cannot have almond milk, and rice milk contains almost zero grams of protein. Any idea as an alternative to soy milk? Right now she drinks about 6 oz. of organic soy milk each day and also has some on her cereal.

    • I would try coconut milk. Much, *much* healthier then soy. I would encourage you to avoid the soy at all costs.

    • Gabrielle says:

      I would encourage you to try hemp milk, oat milk and flax milk substitutes.

    • Sarah, we have 2 daughters with issues like yours. We can have almond though, as our nut allergy is to tree nuts (peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts etc). We do a lot of coconut milk. Our pediatrician, dietitian, and GI specialist all gave the stamp of approval for coconut milk, almond milk and flaxmilk (only 4-8oz of flaxmilk/day). We found the vanilla flavored milks are LOADED with sugar, so we try to steer clear of those. We love the flaxmilk as it’s loaded with omega fatty acids, which our kids are low in with their diets. Hope it helps.

  15. I saw this post from a link on “moving to a more natural life” post today…I have a question, I’m not sure it has been addressed…what about EDAMAME? I know they’re a type of soybean…are they also unsafe? We eat a lot of them, and I grow my own in our garden. Any input would be appreciated…and I love your blog! Thanks…Heather

  16. I know that this post is a little but old, but I just found it. My husband will love it! He has been telling people (myself included) that soy is, well, the devil ;) He refuses to eat things with soybean oil, etc. etc. It’s everywhere! Thank you for some facts that are even more eye opening to the dangers!

  17. I’m a nurse practitioner, and I avoid soy products as well. I also recommend that parents avoid soy formula; I’m amazed at how many babies are being fed it! The American Academy of Pediatrics has cautioned against soy formula, except in “very limited circumstances”, due to all it’s harmful effects. Anyone who wants to learn more about the dangers should go to Dr Weston Price’s website:

  18. Excellent article! You addressed all the topics that I had red flags about for years. We eat fairly healthy as a family (except those pesky snacks) and I was trying to go more organic. I switched all household cleaners and most bath and body products. Now to tackle the food… I think I like what I am learning about rice and coconut products!


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