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|Straight Talk on Soy
by Casey Adams, D.Sc.
You may have heard some negative buzz on soy, but it's not really true--it's healthy for us and for the environment too!
Soy's reputation has had a rough ride over the past few years. Though hundreds of studies illustrating soy's ability to improve or protect against conditions such as postmenopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, hyperlipidemia, prostate enlargement, bladder cancer, hypertension, elevated homocysteine and several types of cancer have been published, questions have emerged. Soy's reputation as the ultimate functional food is under scrutiny.
Certainly the nutrient statistics support soy's stance as a healthy food. According to the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, 100 grams of soybeans supplies 36.5 grams of protein, 277 mg of calcium, 15.7 grams of iron, 280 mg of magnesium, 704 mg of phosphorus, 1797 mg of potassium, 4.9 mg of zinc, as well as vitamins A, E, C, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and folic acid. Soybeans also contain bioactive constituents such as polyphenolic isoflavones and various saponins known for their cancer protective effects. A half-cup of tofu provides 40% of the USDA Daily Value of protein and 25% of calcium.
These facts haven't prevented a flurry of anti-soy sentiment from flooding the press recently. Much of the anti-soy press appears to be driven by a rather small group of focused individuals gathering under a pro-dairy and red meat diet organization called the Weston Price Foundation. Founded in 1999 by Sally Fallon, its board members sound like a Who's Who of anti-soy advocates with Ms. Fallon, Mary Enig, PhD, Kaayla Daniel, PhD and Joseph Mercola, D.C. (honorary). Fallon and Enig's anti-soy article first published in 1999, gathered steam with Dr. Daniel's 440-page 2005 strenuous anti-soy book The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food. Both works have been generously quoted and promoted by Dr. Mercola's well-positioned commercial website and ezine alongside prolific pro-red meat/anti-vegetarian essays. Both strenuously promote soy as a dangerous food, accusing it of disrupting endocrine glands, affecting fertility, containing pro-clotting lectins, and trypsin inhibition of nutrients.
As this dark cloud floated through the web and mass media, many health experts defended soy's benefits and accused the literature of exaggerating and sensationalizing soy's negative effects. Statements by leading heart-healthy advocates Dean Ornish, M.D. and James McDougall, M.D. provided balance to the issue by reminding readers of the large library of research data confirming soy's many health benefits. Meanwhile, the science has been reviewed by leading health experts such as Andrew Weil, M.D., Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. who have cited soy's therapeutic uses in prostate enlargement, breast cancer, menopause, male infertility, osteoporosis, and PMS.
Interestingly, most soy scientists accept (as does Dr. Daniel) that heat and processing rids soy of much of its protease trypsin-inhibitor effects. They also point out that a large array of other healthy grains, legumes and vegetables also contain varying amounts of trypsin inhibitors. One may wonder what an aggressive anti-soy stance has to do with the late Weston Price, an early 19th century dentist known for his controversial positions on diet and teeth health. Dr. Price proposed a red meat diet many years before research linked red meat's role in cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other disorders. In a review by the Tufts University Department of Nutritional Science for scientific website accuracy, the Weston Price Foundation's website was given an "unacceptable" rating in 2003. In its review of the website Tufts stated "they appear to select obscure studies, take study results out of context and use undocumented 'facts' from their own publications to forward their agenda."
Soy's cardiovascular benefits have been well-studied. An American Heart Association 22-study review of soy research revealed soy consumption results in an average of 3% LDL reduction. Soyfoods Association scientists pointed out that a 3% LDL reduction translates to a 6% reduction of heart disease risk. In an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2005 meta-analysis of 23 soy studies of 1381 people, soy consumption resulted in an average of 3.7% reduction in total cholesterol, 5.25% reduction in LDL cholesterol, 7.27% reduction of triglycerides, and an increase in (good) HDL cholesterol on an average of 3.03%.
Decreased breast cancer rates among the soy-eating populations have been confirmed in several studies as well. In one 2002 study of 1095 Asian-American women in Los Angeles County, women eating soy four times a week or more during adolescence and adulthood had almost a 50% less chance of developing breast cancer.
Though appearing sensationally negative, the lectin/hemagglutin position of the Weston-Price group is challenged by research illustrating soy isoflavones' ability to reduce platelet aggregation and blood clotting related to stroke and heart attack. A 2006 controlled study from the Universidad de Chile on 29 post-menopausal women with an average age of 53.5 concluded soy's isoflavones daidzein and genistein "reduce the risk of thrombogenesis," according to lead researcher Professor Argelia Garrido.
The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australian, French, Israeli and Swiss government health agencies have all made statements warning mothers against soy-based infant formulae, recommending a doctor's consultation prior to its use. However, in the U.S., where an estimated 36% of infants feed from soy-based formulas at some point, there is a good basis for analyzing this. In 2004 the Journal of Nutrition published an analysis that reviewed 56 studies, most examining soy's effects on children and their development. Nutrition, growth-rates, hospitalization rates, reproductive development, neurobehavioral development, immune development, and endocrine development were all examined. The report concluded soy infant formulas have undergone continuous improvement to assure nutritional safety, and no conclusive evidence from either animal or human populations have indicated significant adverse effects of soy feeding. Their clinical report review found normal growth and development among adults fed soy-based formula as infants.
One illustrative study was done in 2001 by the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine. After extensively interviewing and comparing 811 adults (238 of whom consumed soy-based formula as infants), they found no significant health consequences of an early soy-based diet.
While some of the above-mentioned government agency announcements were made after increased thyroxine levels was found among soy-dosed animals, much of the government agency concern stemmed from a history of uneducated mothers feeding infants with unfortified adult soymilks--leading to nutritional deficiencies. As one Journal of Nutrition article pointed out, results based upon animals' injected high levels of genistein may not accurately reflect infant soy-based formula feeding--also noting genistein isn't found isolated in nature.
Unlike conventional soybeans, organic soybeans have precise tracking systems substantiating they do not come from genetically-modified soybean seed. Organic soybean farmers are also required to maintain their soils with natural crop rotations and natural fertilizers. As a result the soils are healthy, resulting in balanced levels of nutrients in the beans.
Today there are a number of new healthy organic soyfoods available for consumers. Cultured or curded organic soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and miso are available in various delicious flavors, making these foods more convenient and tasty. Several new lines of organic soy-based yogurts are available as well, containing not only cultured soy but living probiotics. Cultured soyfoods are considered easier to digest and healthier because the sugars in the soybean are broken down further by the enzymatic culturing and heating process.
Soybeans contribute an effective solution for environmental food production issues. Ten billion animals are slaughtered for food in the U.S. each year, and these farmed animals produce 1.3 billion tons of toxic pollution. While 800 million people live with chronic hunger and 16,000 children die from hunger-related disease each day, 43% of our grain is fed to animals for meat production. A reduction in American meat consumption of only 10% could effectively save one billion people from starvation. Because soybeans provide an effective source of protein, it would be considered a key food to help reduce meat consumption.
As Frances Moore Lappe pointed out in her classic Diet for a Small Planet, it takes 21.4 lbs of plant protein to make only one pound of beef. While farmland and ranchland cover about half of American lands, about 56% is used for meat production. About 80% of America's grain is fed to livestock herds. Today some 40 pounds of soybeans can be grown using the same amount of fossil fuel needed to produce one pound of meat. Furthermore, soybeans are one of the best uses of land and agricultural resources because an acre of soybeans produces more than twice the protein per acre than any other major food crop and some 15 times the protein per acre than land used for meat production.
Though the soyshine may have been tarnished by controversial statements, organic soybeans are still a wonderful and healthy food. Certainly overdoing any food is apt to bring about imbalances. The healthy history of tofu, miso, and tempeh consumption speaks for itself. This is not a dangerous food in any stretch of the imagination.
©2007 by Casey Adams
Casey Adams, DSc holds a Doctor of Sciences in Integrative Health, is board certified as an Alternative Medical Practitioner, and practices at the Wellness and Rehabilitation Center in Watsonville, CA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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