Soy or Not Soy – What’s Healthy for Me?
Years ago we never heard of this strange food called soybeans. Americans ate beef, potatoes, and rice, familiar vegetables like spinach, cabbage, and broccoli, familiar fruits like oranges and apples, and desserts made with lots of sugar and heavy cream. And we enjoy our meals and we manage not to be an obese nation.
Our awareness of food, what is good for us and what is not so good, has changed dramatically. Most of the time I hear people apologize for eating a delicious dessert full of sugar. Few people can just eat meat unconsciously as there are many videos on the web showing cute and adorable animals. Many of us feel guilty about eating these precious living things. But not everyone is ready to become a full-fledged vegetarian.
Personally, I never cared much for the taste of soy or any of the variations of soy products. But then I realized the supposed health benefits. After all, the research revealed, Asian women living in Asian countries had far fewer cases of breast cancer or other cancers. The researchers attributed this to the Asian diet, which included a lot of soy, in addition to rice and vegetables, and was low in meat protein sources.
At first, all I remember seeing was this strange food called tofu that was served in Chinese restaurants. At the time, I only remember a Thai restaurant at the other end, on the west side of Manhattan. And there were no Vietnamese restaurants. As I became more and more aware of the benefits of brown rice, I remember being one of the first people to order it at my local Chinese restaurant. Eventually that restaurant and many others began offering brown rice for an extra dollar.
But tofu, and the business of selling tofu, did not remain a hidden specialty ingredient in local Asian restaurants. As America became increasingly health conscious and the effects of diet on health and the benefits of healthy living, soybeans and all of their subsidiary products became big business.
For a while, some of us stopped drinking milk in favor of soy milk. He stopped eating peas and beans in favor of edamame and started using soybean oil to cook products containing soy protein. In my opinion, the only possible negative effect of soy was the fact that it was purported to increase estrogen production. I remember wondering, but no one could give me a straight answer, “What if a woman takes estrogen replacement and also eats a lot of soy?”
It turns out that soy actually has a lot of negative effects, certainly not all of which are beneficial to our health.
- Chemically processed soy products, such as soy milk, soy protein, and soy oil, are the least desirable. A glass of soy milk can change estrogen levels and hormone function. Soy protein is often processed with a neurotoxin, hexane, and soybean oil processing often mixes it with that same neurotoxin.
- Raw and minimally processed soybeans, such as tofu, edamame, and soy sauce, are less toxic than the chemically processed variety, but can still be somewhat harmful to the body. Tofu contains “antinutrients,” substances that block the absorption of some essential minerals. Whole, unprocessed edamame, though often boiled while still in the pod, can contain antinutrients and can be hard on our digestion, causing stomach problems and the familiar bloating. Some soy sauces combine soybeans with some type of grain, often wheat, while others contain soy protein that is acid-hydrolyzed rather than culture-fermented. A healthier option is gluten-free tamari or unpasteurized fermented soy sauce.
- Fermented soybeans, such as miso, tempeh, and natto, retain the traditional health benefits of soy while avoiding dangerous side effects. Often used in soups, miso is full of probiotics, the good bacteria that help our digestion. Often used to simulate chicken and meat in vegetarian recipes, tempeh is rich in B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Natto, a traditional Japanese breakfast, has a sticky texture and a pungent smell, but it contains vitamin K and a good amount of probiotics.
The key to maintaining a healthy diet is to find out as much as you can about all the foods you eat, especially the foods you eat regularly, even every day. You want the benefits of a soy product that is rich in probiotics and natural vitamins but doesn’t cause digestive issues, bloating, or anything that interferes with vitamin absorption.
Should you replace chicken, meat, fish, and eggs with tofu to keep your body strong and healthy? The answer is probably “Yes and No”. Yes, if you balance your diet and make sure you get adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and healthy oils. Not if you are depriving your body of essential vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. Soy is a wonderful addition to the Western diet if we learn what we need to know about it and use it wisely.