One of the soy secret that I learned is the legume’s tendency to block our absorption of essential minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron, and zinc. That’s because soy is rich in phytic acid, a substance that interferes with mineral absorption.
Soy also contains toxins that interfere with the enzymes that we need for our digestion.
One of our most important enzymes is called trypsin, essential to the digestion of protein, which, coincidentally, kids with food allergies have a problem with.
According to respected nutritionists Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD: “These toxins that act as inhibitors [within soy] are large, tightly folded proteins that are not completely deactivated during ordinary cooking. They can produce serious gastric distress, reduced protein digestion and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake.
In test animals, diets high in trypsin inhibitors cause enlargement and pathological conditions of the pancreas, including cancer.”
But what about the billions of people in Asia who have lived on soy for thousands of years? As it happens, other factors having to do with the Asian diet seem to negate some of these effects.
Their cooking techniques—fermentation and precipitation—seem to counteract many of the worst effects of soy. Asians also tend to consume soy products along with meat or fish, so that, according to Fallon and Enig, “the mineral-blocking effects of the phytates are reduced.”
Now, I grew up on red meat and potatoes in the south, so I’ve never eaten tofu. But I knew people who lived on it.
And, as you just heard, one of the proudest days of my childhood was my bother shared my pleasure in steamed soybeans—I thought we were eating the joy of a healthy diet.
So I found it thoroughly unsettling to read about the potentially harmful effects of traditional Asian foods. But at least those methods of preparation counteracted some of the worst aspects of soy.
I was even more disturbed to learn that soy’s effects are far worse when it’s consumed in the form of soy protein isolates, such as in soy milk, soy cheese, and soy hot dogs, or in the soy protein added to virtually every processed food on the market as well as to most protein bars and protein powders.
As I thought about the allergy kids who relied on soy for their daily protein, I started to get a stomachache just reading these soy secrets. Then I learned something that was even more fascinating—in a nauseating kind of way. Apparently, pigs also have trouble digesting soy.
I read about this in a May 2003 American Soybean Association bulletin entitled “Correcting the Myths.” The association was boasting about soy’s benefits as livestock feed for multistomach animals, such as cows, but acknowledged that soy was “non-digestible” in animals who have only one stomach, such as pigs.
Of course, we humans have only one stomach, too. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read about the digestive process of a pig. But if we were having the same problems digesting soybeans as they were, I guess I had to know.
And the soybean industry spared me none of the gory details: “Instead of being digested in the stomach, [the soy] passes to the intestines where bacteria ferment it into gases that make animals feel full, and they can be discouraged from eating and gaining weight to their full genetic potential.”
Well, there’s a charming image . I pictured pigs scarfing down their daily ration of soybeans—and then stopping as their intestines became bloated and gassy. Yes, I could see how that might keep them from fattening up.
According to the bulletin, conventional soybeans contained too much of a carbohydrate called stachyose, which interferes with the piggies’ digestion.
So to help with the fattening process, the soybean industry had engineered a new type of soybean in which the hard-to-digest stachyose had been replaced by a gentler carb:
“the easily digested sugar sucrose. Hmmm. ”
What do you think happens to pigs who eat the sugary, high-sucrose soy?
That’s right, “those animals consume more feed and grow faster.”
Okay, I guess I can see why it would be good to plump up pigs on high-sucrose soy.
But what happens when we eat high-sucrose soy?
Won’t we keep eating and gain weight, too?
I haven’t been able to find an answer to that question.
But it does make me wonder about the role soy may be playing in our current obesity epidemic.
Now at this point you may be thinking, “Fine, but no one in our family eats tofu, and we don’t drink soy milk. So if the new high-sucrose soy is more fattening than the traditional kind, why should we care?”
If anyone in your family eats any kind of processed food—
- mac ‘n’ cheese
- goldfish crackers
- chicken nuggets—you do need to be concerned.
Because in the words of a 2006 article on www.gmo-compass.org nonprofit Web site that highlights the work of independent science journalists and provides information on genetically engineered crops, “Soy Is Everywhere.”
Now that’s a pretty big claim, but it’s no exaggeration. According to the Web site, “soy plays at least a small part in 20,000 to 30,000 products that are on the market today, whether directly as an ingredient or indirectly as a feed or nutrient source.”
On top of that, according to the FDA, soy is used to make soy lecithin, a “food ingredient used as an emulsifier, stabilizer, dispersing aid, and an incidental additive, such as a release agent for baked goods.”
In other words, soy is so useful in processed foods—helping to give those foods the consistency and shelf life they need in order to be widely distributed—that, from a manufacturer’s point of view, there are good reasons for it to be “everywhere.”
How had I not known this? As I began to read the labels of the processed food in my kitchen, I learned that soy was in almost everything in my cupboard.
Here’s just a brief list of some of the ways you and your family might be consuming soy—knowingly or, if you’re like me, unknowingly:
- Margarine, vegetable oils, and mayonnaise often include soy oil.
- Chocolate desserts and baked goods often contain lecithin that has been taken from soy oil.
- Fatty foods, fortified vitamins, and even sunscreens and lotions frequently contain either tocopherol or vitamin E, which are both produced as a by-product of plant oil. (Although we don’t eat sunscreens and lotions, there is some evidence that absorbing soy proteins through the skin might affect some of us, especially those of us with soy or peanut allergies.)
- Soy protein additives and soy isolate are often contained in prepared soups, sauces, meat substitutes, diet foods, and imitation milk products, such as nondairy creamer.
- Soy meal may be found in breads, snack foods, and pasta.
- Hydrolyzed soy protein is used in soy sauce and other seasonings.
- Soy can also be found in MSG, which is often added as a seasoning to processed and preserved foods and whose increased consumption has been linked to increased body weight.
(If you haven’t read my post on The Ugly Truth About Packaged Foods You Need to Know go have a look here. I talk in detail about packaged foods)
Between the soy I ate on purpose and the soy I ate by accident, I could only imagine the havoc I had wreaked on my digestion and my metabolism—not to mention the effects I must have had on my kids’ prenatal health. My Mama Guilt was growing to epic proportions, though I had to keep reminding myself that I had done the best I could with what I knew at the time.
But again, the bad news just kept coming. Because now I was about to find out that there was one more way in which our nation’s kids were being loaded up with soy. Many of them had, as infants, been given soy formula. And this, I discovered, might be the most dangerous product of all.
We have an entire action plan dedicated to toxic food additives and food allergies in our member’s area, which will help you with the harmful food ingredients in packaged foods