The Soy Dilemma

 

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As a nutritionist specializing in mom, baby and toddler, I often am faced with questions about soy in relation to little ones. I am always hesitant when it comes to soy and work to find alternatives whenever possible for our little ones.

Really, though, my hesitation about recommending soy to little ones would be the same if these questions were coming from an adult woman in regards to her soy consumption.

Soy has been made out to be a healthy, nourishing food, when in fact, there are many reasons why this is not so.

Here are a few things for you to ponder:

  • Soy contains phytoestrogens, which in small amounts can be beneficial in a healthy diet.  Unfortunately we are overexposed to phytoestrogens in our food supply today, mostly in the form of processed foods which contain soy as filler. Phytoestrogens can lead to hormonal imbalances, commonly in woman, but also seen in men, and a host of other health related problems such as estrogen dominant cancers, including breast cancer in women, hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer and infertility.  A 1997 U.S. study by Setchell et al. found that infants on soy infant formulas were taking in six- to eleven times as many phytoestrogens as the amount known to have hormonal effects in adult soy eaters, based on equal bodyweight. Could there be adverse effects? I am willing to bet there will be.
  • Soy contains a compound known as phytic acid.  Phytic acid binds to minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc, preventing the body from absorbing them, which can lead to deficiencies.
  • Soy contains enzymes inhibitors. Enzymes inhibitors are molecules that bind to enzymes and inhibit their activity, which is to help in the digestion of the food we eat.  With enzyme activity inhibited, there is an increased risk of digestive distress.
  • Soy, unless you are choosing organic, is a genetically modified food. Genetic modification is a process in which the DNA structure of a food has been altered.  The largest genetically modified crops are soy, corn, cotton and canola.  The American Academy of Environmental Medicine states “genetically modified foods have not been properly tested and pose a serious health risk.  There is more than a casual association between genetically modified foods and adverse health effects.  There is causation.”  Since the invasion of genetically modified foods in 1996, chronic diseases and food allergies have doubled.  Biologist David Schubert of The Salk Institute warns that among the population, children are the most likely to be adversely affected by toxins and other dietary problems related to genetically modified foods.  He says without adequate studies our children become the “experimental animals”.
  • Soy made a big impact in the western world being labelled a “health food”; after all, those who ate soy in the eastern world were healthy, within normal body weights and didn’t seem to suffer from the diseases of our western world. So, like we often do on this side of the planet, we jumped in with both feet and soy made a huge imprint in our lives. Unfortunately, what we failed to realize, was that these cultures consumed soy, but in small quantities and not at the expense of other foods. It was a part of their diet, but it was not all of their diet. It was an accompaniment to a real food diet. These cultures show us that in moderation, the right soy can be beneficial.

So, what exactly do I mean by the right soy?

Fermented soy in the form of miso or tempeh is actually beneficial for us once in a while as the fermentation process creates “good” bacteria and deactivates the enzyme inhibitors.

Tempeh is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. It has a firm texture and an earthy flavour which becomes more pronounced as the tempeh ages.

My family and I consume miso, mostly as an addition to recipes, such as lentil sloppy joes.  My husband loves maple syrup and compliments this meal by saying, “It’s better than steak”. Now do keep in mind, as vegetarians, it’s been awhile since he has had a steak.

Maple Glazed Tempeh

1 block of tempeh (We use Henry’s), cut into 1 inch cubes
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tamari
2 tbsp water
1 tsp grainy mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1.  Combine the maple syrup, olive oil, tamari, water, mustard and garlic in a baking pan. Mix well. Add cubed tempeh and stir to coat.

2.  Let marinade for 4 to 6 hours, stirring occasionally. We often let it marinate overnight.

3.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees, add tempeh. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

4.   Towards the end, I add a little bit of water, about ¼ cup, stirring to get all remaining marinade. Once tempeh is served, I drizzle this on top.

Kim Corrigan-Oliver is the owner of Your Green Baby, a nutrition practice specializing in nutrition preconception through to toddlerhood. Her book Raising Happy Healthy Babies has been a hit with mamas around the world. She writes for blogs in Canada, the US and the UK, and is a regular contributor to Lakeridge Kids Magazine. Kim is a certified nutritionist and loves helping parents raise happy healthy babies. Follow Kim on Twitter, Facebook, or on her second blog Mothering with Mindfulness.

35 Responses to The Soy Dilemma

  • Kim Lutz says:

    Thank you for the info! Is the byline supposed to read Kim Corrigan-Oliver? It’s not totally clear who wrote this post.

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    Maggie Savage Reply:

    @Kim Lutz, It is supposed to read Kim Corrigan-Oliver, that’s something that we haven’t quite figured out how to fix yet. We’re working on it. Thanks Kim.

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  • Alisa says:

    This is so interesting Maggie. I’d been wondering about trying tempeh again. Since I cook mostly from scratch and label read, we don’t get the inadvertant soy through processed foods (except when eating out I’m sure!), so it is easy to enjoy a little once in a while … and I don’t like living without soy sauce! Some companies that aren’t organic are non-GMO. I contacted San-J and all of their sauces are non-GMO, even the ones that aren’t organic.

    [Reply]

    Maggie Savage Reply:

    @Alisa, Soy sauce is a hard one. We use Coconut Aminos but I do use organic, gluten-free tamari from time-to-time. Thanks for the information about San-J, Alisa!

    [Reply]

  • Emily Jelassi says:

    Thank you for this very interesting post. I’ve heard over and over that soy is good for you, but I didn’t know about the phytoestrogens…makes me look at soy in a whole different light.

    [Reply]

    Kim Reply:

    @Emily Jelassi, Glad you enjoyed the post. Many people feel the same why about soy and the phytoestrogens, it is definitely something to be cautious of. I am sure future research will continue to shed light on soy and how much and how we should consume in our diets.

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  • Maureen says:

    What about soy beans/edamame? Is that considered healthy? I eat these 1-2x a week on average. Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Mel Reply:

    I’d love to know this too as I let my 4 year old eat these sometimes and thought I was giving her something healthy.

    @Maureen,

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    Kim Reply:

    @Mel, I have a lot of clients who eat soy in its natural unprocessed state, and if they enjoy it, I tell them to keep it up. I suggest occassional consumption, but I do that with other foods too.

    As for your 4 year old Maureen, occassionally should be just fine. If she is eating any processed foods though, she may be getting processed soy, so you may want to consider the amount in her diet, if this is the case.

    And if you are eating edamame, go for non GMO and organic

    [Reply]

  • I have long not been a fan of soy for the very reasons stated. I’m not running to get on the fermented soy bandwagon either, but I understand everyone has to make their own personal decisions. I would add that some of the soy forms mentioned also have to be looked at for their gluten-free status. Miso, tempeh, and tofu all can contain gluten.

    I agree with Kim that I’m not sure who wrote the article, but I do appreciate it!

    Shirley

    [Reply]

    Kim Reply:

    @Shirley @ gfe, Most definitely Shirley, we have to be conscious consumers and ensure our products are gluten free if that is necessary for our family. There are companies who do produce these products gluten free.

    [Reply]

  • Joyce says:

    I’d also be intereested in knowing about organic Edamame — good for you? What is its relationship to hypothyroidism.

    [Reply]

    Kim Reply:

    @Joyce, Can be if it is organic and non GMO. In relation to hyporthyroidism soy falls into a category of foods known as goitrogens — vegetables, grains and foods that promote formation of goiter, also known as an enlarged thyroid. Some goitrogens also have an antithyroid effect, and appear to be able to slow thyroid function, and in some cases, trigger thyroid disease. Hope that helps.

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  • I keep going back and forth on the soy issue. Thanks so much for your presentation of the research. It gives me a lot to think about. I look forward to trying your “steak”! :)

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    Kim Reply:

    @Heather @Gluten-Free Cat, My pleasure, I am sure there will be more research in the future that may change your mind again :) Hope you enjoy the tempeh.

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  • Sara says:

    I’m lactose and milk protein intolerant and I drink soya milk every day. I tried other dairy free alternatives, but I can’t find any of them that I like as much as soy. Unfortunately, I have issues with my thyroid and problems linked to my fertility since I was a teenager (much earlier than I started consuming soya milk every day). I read some months ago about the issues linked to soy, and I cut the amount of tofu and tvp that I was used to eat weekly, but I really don’t manage to stop drinking soya milk… I need some advice, please!

    [Reply]

    Kim Reply:

    @Sara, This is a lot more than I can answer here. If you are consuming a lot of soy milk, you may want to look at making some changes. Even though your fertility issues occurred before you consumption of soy milk, high soy consumption can definitely effect hormonal levels, which can lead to a host of other problems. While the soy may not be a direct cause of the fertility and thyroid problems it definitely would not help them.

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  • Gena says:

    I appreciate the spirit of this post, but I think it’s a bit one-sided. Yes, it’s true that most soy crops in this country are GMO, and we should absolutely be taking pains to avoid all processed, GMO, and non-organic soy. But the phytoestrogen research is much more nuanced and complicated; nearly all of the physicians and researchers I’ve spoken to believe that the studies are conflicting, with a slight suggestion that non-GMO, unprocessed soy in moderation is actually health-supporting. There is a world of evidence beyond the simply fact that soy is a phytoestrogen; no one is doubting that it is. The question is whether or not its phytoestrogens have a deleterious impact on health, or even whether they are processed in a mechanism at all similar to the way we process regular estrogen. Numerous studies suggest that soy in adolescence actually guards against breast cancer.

    In other words, it’s important to be vigilant about sourcing and quality (as with all food), but it’s also important to survey the whole landscape of evidence, and not simply one part of it.

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    Kim Reply:

    @Gena, Good point Gena, I highly recommend people take the time to check out information before they make their decisions. Only you can decide what is best for you.

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  • LILA says:

    I have looked for info, I have yet to see much written about whether soy is safe for women, like me, who have had estrogen fed breast cancer.

    [Reply]

    Kim Reply:

    @LILA, Usually with estrogen dominant breast cancer, the recommendation is to limit soy in the diet.

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  • Amber says:

    This is such a great post! People often ask me some of the same questions about soy, as I don’t eat it (but will eat fermented soy on occasion). I will definitely be passing along this post!

    Be Well,
    –Amber

    [Reply]

    Maggie Savage Reply:

    Thanks for your support Amber!

    [Reply]

    Kim Reply:

    @Amber, Thanks Amber, glad you enjoyed the post.

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  • Karla says:

    Soy also contains oxalic acid and similar to phytic acid it binds with minerals and prevents absorbtion. We rarely use soy products and when we do its only in very small amounts.

    [Reply]

    Maggie Savage Reply:

    Thank for this info Karla! We’re the same – limited amounts.

    [Reply]

  • Deborah says:

    @Lila – I also had estragen positive breast cancer and my oncologist told me to stay away from all phytoestragens just as I’m avoiding all other types of estragen. He said the research is not definitive on this subject, but better safe than sorry and there is enough reason to believe phytoestragen is not good for those who had estragen fed breast cancer.

    All that said, I have 2 family members allergic to soy and we have avoided all forms of it in our house for 5+ years. There is enough research out there saying it is not good for us in the quantities the Western diet advises we consume it that I’m happy to avoid it.

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  • delena levine says:

    I do know the benefits of soy but my daughter also is unable to have soy in her diet…so I am left wondering other healthy alternatives for her and myself since I am not able to have nuts in my diet due to allergies

    [Reply]

    Kim Reply:

    @delena levine, Are you looking for healthy alternatives to the soy for protein intake??? Grains – quinoa, millet, amaranth are all great choices and gluten free. Don’t forget about legumes and beans, lentils and eggs. There is also protein in seeds, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, and hemp. Hope that helps.

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  • This tempeh recipe looks incredible. I love the combination of maple syrup and garlic mixed with tempeh. Thanks for writing such an informative post!

    [Reply]

    Kim Reply:

    @Laura @ Gluten Free Pantry, Thanks, hope you like it! Glad you enjoyed the post.

    [Reply]

  • Jess Brooks says:

    Hi Kim!

    Thank you for this post! I have several health problems, one of which is interstitial cystitis, so I regularly avoid soy, except on very rare occasions, because it can worsen my bladder problems. It’s helpful to know that there are other reasons that make it okay for me to continue to avoid it.

    You did, however, mention something about corn being highly processed as well. I just want to make sure I understand and see if the same thinking about soy relates to corn as well. You said organic and non-GMO soy is okay in moderation; is the same true for corn? I eat corn pretty often because of my gluten allergy, so I just want to make sure that the organic corn products I buy are acceptable. Please let me know when you can, and thank you for providing so much helpful information!

    Jess =)

    [Reply]

  • Shannon says:

    I am read a book right now that talks about this alot. Death by a Supermarket is the name of it. I have learned so much from it. Check it out.

    [Reply]

  • Great post Maggie and super informative! Thank you for shedding light on this topic!
    -GlutenFreeFind.com

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  • Annie says:

    This recipe looks great! We use a similar marinade for salmon. Delish! Thanks too for the info…we eat tofu and tempeh occasionally but I always wonder exactly what the deal with it is, especially because I am feeding it to our toddler.

    [Reply]

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