Soy is everywhere nowadays. For those that are just dairy free as well as those that are vegan it can be an easy, convenient substitute for milk, cheese, yogurt, and meat. As tasty as some of these soy products are however, I choose to limit my own use of them for a variety of reasons that include not only my own health but for the health of the environment.
The media often touts the low incidence of breast and prostate cancer in Asia, particularly Japan and China. Crediting traditional diets that include fermented soy products such as miso, tempeh, natto, and soy sauce as a factor in the health and longevity in the people in these cultures. The fermenting of soy creates probiotics, the good bacteria that our bodies require for healthy digestion and overall well being. It should also be noted that most Asian cultures that consume fermented soy daily, do so in small amounts, usually 10 grams or less a day.
Americans, on the other hand, mostly consume soy in processed foods such as: soy powders, soy chips, soy bars, soy supplements, soy milk, and soy cheeses. But those are obvious; you may also find soy in canned tuna, salad dressings, soup, cooking oils, mayonnaise, sauces, frozen dinners, baby food, and breakfast foods.
Why is processed soy so bad, and why should I avoid it?
Found in soy, phytoestrogens are a group of chemicals that can mimic estrogen. While estrogen is a necessary hormone for the reproductive health in both men and women, it is also plays a part in the health of our bones, and heart. So now you are thinking, “Pass the soy, I need more Estrogen!” Not so fast, put down that glass of soymilk and proceed with caution.
While estrogen is necessary to our overall health, like anything, too much of it may have a negative impact. There is some evidence that excess estrogen (or Phytoestrogens) may factor in hormone driven cancers such as breast, or prostate. Excess estrogen in the body may also negatively affect fertility, thyroid, digestive health, as well as your mood. With this in mind you may want to be more cautious when sprinkling soy cheese on your nachos.
While I don’t think you must completely avoid all soy-based dairy substitutes, I do feel it is important to be an informed consumer. As with any food, moderation is the key, and unfortunately unfermented soy is not only in all the dairy substitute products I listed above, it is also lurking in many of our most cherished processed foods.
When you are reading your food label look for soy protein concentrate, soy isolate, or isolated soy protein as these are unfermented processed soy products that bear little resemblance to the healthful soy being consumed by the Asians we are attempting to emulate.