The Health Risks Of Soy And Soy Products
(And Why PEERtrainer Guides People Away From Soy)October 24th, 2012
By Brian Rigby, Clinical Nutrition Writer
In both the PEERtrainer Cheat System and the PEERtrainer Fresh Start Cleanse, we steer people away from soy products. In the Cheat System we provide a direction and allow you to move in that direction at your own pace. In the Cleanse, we have people remove soy entirely for a period of time. The removal of soy is one of the things helping with the consistent weight loss we see on average with participants.
However, people do want to know why soy should be removed, so we reached out to three members of our experts' network to have them explain the science, who highlighted some reasons soy should be removed from the diet.
First up is Jonny Bowden, PhD, author of the new book The Great Cholesterol Myth (we insist you get that book) and great friend of PEERtrainer who says:
"The thing to remember is that the form of soy food eaten in Asia bears little resemblance to the soy-based food products we eat over here. I've been to four cities in Japan and I never once saw a soy hot dog, soy ice cream, soy chips or soy cheese.
What I did see--and what I do recommend--is naturally fermented soy products like miso and tempeh. The rest of it is junk food masquerading as health food.
A little edamame and even some tofu now and again certainly won't kill you or destroy your thyroid, but this American notion of "all soy all the time" as a health strategy is complete nonsense."
Next up is Sara Gottfried, MD, who is the leading expert on how foods affect the functioning of your hormones:
"It seems like such a simple question: Is soy good or bad for you? But ask 100 nutritionists about soy products and you'll get wildly divergent opinions for several reasons: first, soy is a common food intolerance or allergen; second, soy can slow down thyroid function as a 'goitrogen;' and third, soy products usually come as processed foods, and I recommend eating the way your great grandparents ate.
If they wouldn't recognize a soy-based "hot dog," don't eat it. Additionally, soy products act as endocrine disruptors and stimulate some hormone receptors, such as for estrogen, and block others, as mentioned previously for thyroid hormone.
Based on the current science on soy, and especially if you struggle with your weight and/or hormone issues, I recommend eating only whole soy foods such as tofu or tempeh or miso, and limit to twice per week."
Finally, JJ Virgin, PhD, author of the new book The Virgin Diet, wanted to add the following key points to this discussion:
One study showed that high midlife tofu consumption - high being only 2 servings per week - increased the risk of late-life cognitive impairment and dementia in both men and women.
Soy is rich in phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. In other words, soy can be an antinutrient. Fermented soy neutralizes the phytates in soy, which makes it healthier.
Soy is also full of trypsin inhibitors. Trypsin is an enzyme produced in the pancreas that we need to digest protein. Trypsin inhibitors can interfere with protein digestion and cause pancreatic disorders. Not surprisingly, in countries where there is more soy consumption, we find more pancreatic, stomach and thyroid cancers.
Although soy is a complete protein, it has very low amounts of two essential amino acids, lysine and methionine, so it is not a quality protein source. The immune-boosting cysteine (another amino acid) in soy is also bound, inhibiting its absorption.
Soy can lower testosterone in men.
In children, soy can stymie development.
For women, depending on how much you eat, soy can affect ovulation. Although phytoestrogens are being touted as good for postmenopausal women, there is not yet any clear proof to show that this is the case.
Most of soy (some experts agree up to 90%) is genetically modified.
When soy is sprayed with pesticides, especially the fat part of soy absorbs those pesticides. If you eat soy at all, it's crucial to only buy organic soy.
Soy is a top food sensitivity. When my clients completely remove soy from their diets for 3 weeks, their symptoms - including headaches, fatigue, and bloating - often disappear.
Clearly, a lot of what the experts say overlaps, especially the premise that soy should not be consumed in the heavily processed form it is most commonly found in today. To sum up, here are five of their most pressing points, discussed in further detail.
The Majority Of Soybeans Are Genetically Modified
Only recently has bioengineering allowed scientists to introduce novel DNA into food crops--the Chinese farmer in times past had no such capability--but genetically modified (GM) soybeans now make up the majority of all soy crops (over 90%). There is a heated debate over whether GM foods are safe or not, but the truth is that there simply is not enough data yet to conclusively determine this issue.
In the meantime, there are studies which suggest that the new proteins found in these foods can and do make their way into not only our bodies, but also into the bodies of developing fetuses, meaning they can cross the placental barrier. 1 This adds yet another facet to the question of the safety of GM foods, as very little has been done by way of research to determine the effect GMOs could have on development.
The bottom line here is that the risks seem too great compared with the potential benefits, at least when it comes to soybeans (which are modified to resist common pesticides and herbicides, like glycophosphate). There is no benefit to the consumer, it is solely a means to greater profit (mostly for the companies creating GM products and not for the farmers themselves).
Soybeans Are Heavily Sprayed With Pesticides And Herbicides
Since most soybeans are genetically modified to be resistant to certain chemicals, it follows that the majority of soybeans actually are sprayed with chemicals like glycophosphate (Roundup). There's no such thing as an organic GM soybean, so when you eat soy, chances are you're also consuming some pesticides and herbicides as well.
What about organic soy products? With organic products, you may have less to worry about with pesticides and herbicides, but that doesn't mean the soy used was non-GM. While the farmer probably has every intention to keep his crop free from the modified genes used in GM soybeans, the fact is that DNA spreads fast and it's hard to verify whether a certain strand of DNA has made its way into the crop (without having testing done).
This means that while the farmer can honestly say that he didn't plant GM soybeans, the truth is that he doesn't know for certain unless his crop gets tested.
Soy Is Allergenic And Promotes Sensitivities
As with the previous two problems with soy, this one probably did not surface until recently when we began adding soy to everything in our diet. In children, soy is one of the most common allergens, and while children often outgrow their allergy, soy remains one of the top foods to cause sensitivities.
Sensitivities do not present the same way as allergies do. Allergies are acute reactions to a certain stimulus (such as peanuts) that cause your immune system to go on full alert; Sensitivities are subtler, triggering your immune system slowly over time and increasing levels of chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation is not immediately life-threatening like an allergy can be, but over time it erodes your health and can cause many other insidious problems, like heart disease or cancer.
Not everybody is sensitive or allergic to soy, but if this is the first time you've considered whether you could be sensitive to it, then you're not alone--the majority of people have not considered whether certain ingredients in their food could be negatively impacting their health, and that means that chances are good that there is a large number of people out there who would experience immediate benefits from eliminating soy from their diet.
If you've never tried eliminating soy (or other foods which commonly cause sensitivities, like dairy and gluten), then the PEERtrainer 14-Day Fresh Start Cleanse is a great place to start, as it is expertly designed to remove the most common causes of sensitivities and inflammation.
Soy Can Affect Your Thyroid
Soy contains goitrogenic compounds, which means that it can have an effect on the thyroid gland. 2 For most individuals, this effect is small, but for those who are already have compromised thyroid function it can drive them into hypothyroidism with all of its associated risks.
Since thyroid disease is a frequent and often undiagnosed issue (over 10% of the population may suffer from a thyroid problem, and frequency rises with age),3 a sizeable portion of the population could be putting themselves at risk of hypothyroidism without realizing it. If soy makes up a large part of your diet, it's sensible to limit intake of it, at least until you are certain that you don't have a undiagnosed thyroid problem.Related PEERtrainer Article:9 Things Your Doctor Does Not Know About Your Thyroid
Soy Contains Phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are not necessarily bad, but we also have little evidence that they are as beneficial as the soy industry would like you to believe. On the flip side, consuming large amounts of any food which can mimic a hormone in your body is likely to cause more problems than it solves.
When soy became the dominant protein-substitute in foods, we became increasingly exposed to isoflavones and their estrogenic effects. For men, as JJ Virgin noted, large intakes of soy have been linked to lowered testosterone and impaired libido. 4 While it seems that small amounts are unlikely to have effects such as this, as the amount increases, so does the probability that it could have a hormonal effect.
The Bottom Line
Soy, consumed as it is today, has ceased to be a healthy part of the diet. In the amounts, and the ways, we currently eat it, we're increasingly risking food sensitivities and alterations of hormones. If you love soy, then at the very least you owe it to yourself to find out if you have any issue that soy may be compounding:
1. Are you sensitive to soy?
2. Do you have an undiagnosed (or diagnosed) thyroid problem?
3. Is soy interacting with necessary hormones in negative ways?
4. Does the soy you are consuming contain genetically modified proteins which could cause long-term ill?
If, after asking yourself these questions, you determine that soy is not negatively impacting your health, then having some edamame, miso, or tempeh is probably not going to cause you harm. On the other hand, if you haven't considered these questions, then there is a very real possibility that the soy you think you're eating because it's healthy is actually eroding your health!Related PEERtrainer Articles:
PEERtrainer's Complete Guide To Protein
Protein Powders And Shakes
This Hormone Literally Dissolves Stored Fat
How Fructose Prevents Belly Fat From Being Burned
Get The Free PEERtrainer Cheat System
Aris A, Leblanc S. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reprod Toxicol. May 2011;31:528-33.
Messina M, Redmond G. Effects of Soy Protein and Soybean Isoflavones on Thyroid Function in Healthy Adults and Hypothyroid Patients: A Review of the Relevant Literature. Thyroid. March 2006;16:249-58.
Bjoro T, Holmen J, Krugers O, et al. Prevalence of thyroid disease, thyroid dysfunction and thyroid peroxidase antibodies in a large, unselected population. The Health Study of Nord-Trondelag (HUNT). Eur J Endocrinol. November 2000;143:639-47.
Siepmann T, Roofeh J, Kiefer F, Edelson D. Hypogonadism and erectile dysfunction associated with soy product consumption. Nutrition. July/August 2011;27:859-62.