Dubbed the ultimate meat alternative of the 90s, praised by vegetarians, and health conscious consumers, soy products are sweeping the nation. A darling of natural and health food stores, soy products made it big when they started to appear on the shelves of major supermarket chains. FDA was not far behind approving “Soy Protein for a Healthy Heart” food labeling guidelines.
The range of soy based products is impressive – soy yogurt, soymilk, soymilk creamer, soy ice cream, soy hot dogs, soy burgers, soy butter, the list goes on and on. Starbucks, famous for its flamboyant coffee drinks, got on the action as well. You can order your favorite nonfat-140degrees-decaf-venti-chai-creme-frappuccino with soymilk instead of regular milk.
FDA asserts that 25 grams of soy protein per day, when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Soymilk products are perfect for people who are lactose intolerant. Soy products advertised as an excellent source of vegetable protein for vegetarians, vegans, and even body builders.
The list of other health benefits associated with soy is tempting – cholesterol management, bone health, cancer prevention, helps manage diabetes, decreases hot flashes, helps to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. With a health resume like this, it is only a matter of time until someone comes up with soy protein shampoo. Oh, no, they did not! Yes, they actually did.
But then something happened. In a surprising move, unconvinced by alleged benefits of soy, a group of fitness professionals started raising some hard questions about soy protein and other soy-based products. Once designated in China as the fifth sacred grain, a darker side of soy slowly emerged.
As it turns out, soybeans contain potent enzyme inhibitors that cause intestinal problems, cancer, and growth retardation. They are also high in phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of essential minerals – iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
The genistein and daidzein (two isoflavones found in soy), bind to Estrogen Receptors. As a result, many adverse effects can occur such as reduction in Testosterone, and thyroid gland production, birth defects, reduction in HDL (good) cholesterol, decreased protein synthesis, which in turn means difficulties with muscle development.
In 2006, the American Heart Association (AHA), despite its previous “thumbs up” to soy as “the best thing since sliced bread”, dropped a bombshell. According to AHA, soy protein does not lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, blood pressure, or triglycerides; it also does not improve HDL (good) cholesterol.
You might be thinking, “What about Asia? They seem to be pretty healthy, and they eat a lot of soy”. There is one important distinction – fermentation. This process brings out the benefits of soy while substantially reducing, or even elimination negative effects of isoflavones. For more information, Guardian has an excellent article about the soy controversy – Should we worry about soya in our food?
Do you eat soy-based products? Have you experienced any adverse effects?