The misconception of soy foods.
Are all soy foods bad for you? For some time now soybeans, and derivatives of soy, have been a hot debated issue. The experts engage frequently as to whether soy is a promoter or a destroyer of good health. Since I was 18 years of age my life has been constantly influenced by soy especially fermented soy products. My personal experience with soy has been that of health promotion and preservation. So after a recent discussion with one of my students in Spain I decided to jot down my own research to really untangle this “anti-soy madness”. Allow me to share with you my understanding which is an accumulation of over 35 years of nutritive study. As you will see not all soy foods are the same.
Soybeans belong to the family of legumes. Other members of the legume family include beans such as azuki, red kidney, lentils, barlotti, as well as chickpeas. Peanuts are included as well, as they are technically not a nut but a legume. All legumes have phytic acid (phytates) but soy has a very high amount . Soybeans then, even organically grown soybeans, naturally contain so called “antinutrients” such as saponins, hemagglutinin, soyatoxin, phytates, trypsin inhibitors, goitrogens and phytoestrogens/isoflavones.
Unfermented soy foods increase your body’s vitamin D requirement, which is why some companies add synthetic vitamin D2 to soymilk (a toxic form of vitamin D). Also soy contains a compound resembling vitamin B12 that cannot be used by your body, so soy foods can actually contribute to B12 deficiency, especially among vegans. Traditional fermentation methods destroys these “antinutrients”, which allows your body to enjoy soy’s nutritional benefits. However, most people here in the West, do not consume fermented soy, but rather unfermented soy, mostly in the form of soymilk, soy flour, soy margarine, tofu, soy protein powders, soy sausages/veggie burgers made from hydrolysed soy powder, soybean oil, TVP (textured vegetable protein), and soy infant formula. Soy products/additives are also found in many supplements and ‘health foods,’ and most likely come from unfermented soy.
According to an article in The Guardian, researchers have discovered that consuming unfermented soy may be linked to reduced male fertility, increased cancer risk, damaged brain function, developmental abnormalities in infants, and early onset of puberty. The Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit nutrition research organization, supports these findings with other scientific studies detailing the health dangers of unfermented soy. The most serious problem with soy may be its use in infant formulas. Most of the fears concerning soy formula are around the high level of estrogens. Professor Richard Sharpe, head of the Medical Research Council’s human reproductive sciences unit at Edinburgh University, recently completed studies on soya milk and testosterone levels and found a link between the amount of soy consumed and lower hormone levels. “Soya formula milk is a very recent western invention. There is not the historical evidence to show it is safe,” said Dr. Sharpe. Soy’s “antinutrients” are quite potent.
Drinking just two glasses of soymilk daily for 1 month provides enough of these compounds to alter a woman’s menstrual cycle, but if you feed soy to your infant or child, these effects are magnified a thousand-fold.
As dangerous as unfermented soy is, fermented soy from organic soybeans is a different story altogether and can be a beneficial part of your diet. Fermented soy is a great source of vitamin K2, and K2 (combined with vitamin D) is essential in preventing dementia, and various types of cancer. Fermented soy improves bone health. There is 11% of your DV (Daily Value) for calcium, 20% DV of magnesium, 65% DV of manganese and 27% DV of phosphorus in 100 grams of Tempeh. These nutrients are all associated with bone health and a reduction in your risk of osteoporosis. Heart health is also associated with fermented soy products. High levels of heart healthy nutrients like niacin, calcium, magnesium, folate, potassium and copper are found in many fermented soy products and are essential for a healthy heart. Menopausal symptoms may also be reduced by adding fermented soy products to your diet. They are a good way to include activated soy isoflavones into your diet. They are compounds that have estrogen-like effects and soybeans are the richest sources of isoflavones. They are available as glycosides in soybeans and include genistin, glycitin and daidzin.
Soy’s health benefits ONLY apply to fermented and organic soy!
As often as I’ve warned against nonfermented soy, such as dry or fresh whole soybeans (edamame), TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein), soy milk, and raw tofu, I’ve also extolled the wonderful health benefits of traditionally fermented foods, and fermented soy is part of that pack. After a long fermentation process, the phytic acid and antinutrient levels of the soybeans are mostly neutralised, and their beneficial properties, such as the creation of natural probiotics, become available to your digestive system.
Healthy options include:
Natto, fermented soybeans with a sticky texture and strong, cheese-like flavor. It’s loaded with nattokinase, a very powerful blood thinner. Natto is actually a food I eat often as it is the highest source of vitamin K2 on Earth and has a very powerful beneficial bacteria, bacillus subtilis. It can usually be found in any Asian grocery store. Alternatively you can order natto starter (bacteria and spores in powder form) online and make your own. I recommend to try eating natto first in a good Japanese restaurant to determine if you can appreciate it because many find it’s texture and taste unpleasant.
Tempeh, a fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavor. The same applies here like natto you can find a starter online and make your own. Making your own has the benefit of not needing to pasteurize which makes it superior in nutrients compared to the regular shop variety.
Miso, a fermented soybean paste with a salty, buttery texture (commonly used in miso soup). There are various misos which you can buy in a good health food store. The regular misos for everyday use are brown rice (genmai) miso and barley (mugi) miso. Brown rice miso is gluten free and barley miso contains gluten. White rice (shiro) miso is a short fermented, sweet, yellow miso used more in warmer weather or for special dishes.
Soy sauce, traditionally, soy sauce is made by fermenting soybeans, seasalt and enzymes, however be wary because many varieties on the market are made artificially using a chemical process. Again a good health food store will provide either Tamari soy sauce which is gluten free or Shoyu which is fermented with wheat and therefore contains gluten.
Fermented tofu or “stinky” tofu cheese, when you take fresh tofu and sink it in a bucket of miso for several weeks the tofu will change in character and ferment giving it the very same benefits as other fermented soy products. There are also other fermented tofu cheeses available today in the health food store.
Contrary to what you may have heard, Asians do not consume large amounts of soy. They use small amounts as a condiment (about two teaspoons daily), but not as a primary protein source. And the type of soy they consume is traditionally fermented soy.
Two new studies have shown that fermenting soy dramatically reduces its potential allergenicity, and also increases the number of essential amino acids in soy products. When soy products were fermented, immunoreactivity was reduced by as much as 99 percent, according to tests that compared the blood plasma reactions for both fermented and unfermented soy products. Fermentation had also improved the essential amino acid composition in the soy products and produced new peptides that may be beneficial.
So if you want to take advantage of the health benefits of soy, go ahead! Just make sure you’re eating the fermented varieties and avoid all nonfermented soy products.
Author: Kenneth Prange, 19th December 2015