Soy:: The Good, the Bad, and the Truth

Soy the good the bad and the truth

Woe to the one that is the poor soy bean.  Never has one been so beloved and so demonized and all at once in such a short time span.   Never has something been so misunderstood and for what?  For nothing more than the mainstream media and the milk industry interchanging the words xenoestrogen and  phytoestrogen (more on this coming up) coupled with the fact that Monsanto and all their incarnations have genetically modified more than 90% of all the soy produced in the US.  On top of that, because of a really convoluted pipeline of farm subsidies and faulty reasoning that growing (genetically modified) soy is somehow cheaper and better for business AND the fact that soy isolates are cheap fillers for all kinds of food-like substances and those isolates such as soybean oil, texturized soy protein, tocopherol/ Vitamin E, Lecithin, and hydrolysed soy protein is fed to animals as well as humans.

So let’s separate the facts from fiction, shall we?

Myth #1- Soy is xenoestrogenic. Xenoestrogens are man-made chemicals that can enter the body and mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen. Xenoestrogens fit in the same receptors in the body and do the same thing that the natural hormone does. In addition, they can also turn-on more receptors — sometimes synergistically — making the effect of the estrogen or xenoestrogen more profound. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands and fatty tissue and is vital to  sexual organ health, (breasts fertility and even  maintaining the health of bone by working with calcium, Vitamin D and other minerals and hormones to prevent bone loss. In women, estrogen circulates in the bloodstream and binds to estrogen receptors on cells in targeted tissues, affecting not only the breasts and uterus, but also the brain, bone, liver, heart and other tissues. When in balance, used estrogen is metabolized in the liver and that used estrogen is excreted by the colon. Xenoestrogens are found in compounds such as birth control pills, beauty and personal care products, plastics, pesticides and many many other compounds.  (More on this coming up.)  When xenoestrogens are allowed to enter the body in the amount they do in our modern world it is equivalent to filling up a balloon to bursting.  Eventually there are just so many xenoestrogens circulating they can’t all be utilized in the ways they were meant to be and toxicity builds up leading to estrogen dominance, cancers such as breast, uterine, ovarian and prostate, menstrual irregularities, infertility, a contributor to adrenal insufficiency and even autoimmune illness.  Several studies have linked estrogen dominance to obesity which has dramatic health ramifications all its own.

Soy is a phytoestrogen which is a compound found in many plant foods such as lignans (flax seed), beans, seeds, some plants such as stevia, and even cereal grains.  Phytoestrogens have both a weak estrogen-stimulating (estrogenic) and paradoxically, an estrogen-inhibiting (anti-estrogenic) activity.  The estrogen-like activities may strengthen bones and prevent menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.  Soy contains substances called isoflavones, in the form of  genistein and daidzein, that are similar to estrogen.The estrogen activities from these isoflavones are much weaker than the actual hormone – in fact, they have only about 0.1% the activity.


Myth #2- Soy contains anti-nutrients which can interfere with the digestion of proteins and absorption of vital minerals.  This is no more the case than for any other bean, lentil, pea, seed, or even nut which all contain phytic acid, basically an anti-nutrient meant to keep it from being eaten until it can sprout and reproduce.  Properly preparing soy as a whole food, i.e. soaking, cooking, and/or fermenting usually releases these anti-nutrients and activates enzymes that make them highly digestible and assimilable by the body.

Myth #3-  Soybeans cause the thyroid to shut down.  Raw soybeans do contain some goitercentric compounds that can contribute to a malfunctioning thyroid, however, when are you really going to eat raw soy??  Cooking your soybeans renders those compounds harmless.  Also, goiters and hypothyroidism have been found in some infants eating a steady diet of soy-based infant formula but these formulas are, more often than not, filled with soy isolates and other compounds, not properly prepared by the manufacturer (mass-produced) and given in large quantities.

Myth #4-  Soy causes breast cancer.  Soy does have mild estrogenic qualities that may trigger tumor growth in estrogen sensitive cancers (breast and prostate), however, the fact remains, this generally only is because ANY estrogenic activity caused by estrogen dominance would be enhanced by any kind of estrogen production.  In my practice, I tell my clients that are recovering from breast cancer to avoid products with soy in the ingredients and to limit their whole soy (tofu, natto, miso, edamame)  intake to 1-2  3 oz. servings per week and, preferably from sprouted soybeans to further minimize any stray anti-nutrients. It bears saying that in Asian countries breast and prostate cancer rates are four to six times lower than in Western countries.

So why is the poor soybean so vilified of late? And why the conflicting evidence of its efficacy and hazards?  This is, in part, due to pseudo science and emotional reactions dredged up by both the hard-core meat and dairy industries and soy-loving vegetarians and vegans alike- by big agribusiness and soy manufacturers.

The real problem is the proliferation of “fake foods” created with the isolated parts of the soybean instead of small amounts of traditional soy foods.  All those food-like products, fake meats, soy milks, concentrated soy protein bars, created by separating the life giving essential vitamins (such as A,C, and E) and minerals, fiber, ALAs (Alpha Linoleic Acids), Omega-3, phytochemicals, fiber, and protein and mixed with toxic amounts of sugars and artificial sweeteners, wheat extracts, starches, dairy and eggs are often toxic “lab created” food substitutes fit for no human to consume and do not remotely resemble nature’s creation and the effects on your health communicate this loud and clear!

Bottom line, the whole is always better than the part.  Soy, provided you aren’t severely estrogen dominant (in which case avoiding as many phytoestogrens as well as xenoestrogens is advisable until after a thorough detox), in its whole form, properly prepared, and even then, in reasonable quantities can be a beneficial part of a healthy diet.  As always, balance is the key and tossing out all those packaged foods with more than 5 ingredients is a key step in avoiding the toxicity of soy isolates and concentrates.

If you think about the words “isolate”  and “concentrate” , they really say it all.  Anything isolated from the whole or concentrated into an extreme form (especially if isolated first!) should be avoided at all cost.

Think about balance and portions too, as well as using the whole soy food.  A tofu based dessert vs. a soy isolate containing “protein bar”.  A little soy-milk in a smoothie vs. a soy latte.  A small amount of tofu in a stir-fry vs. a texturized soy protein “hot dog”.  (I never got that, by the way, the whole soy burgers, soy hot dogs, even tofurkey thing!  What is the point of going vegetarian if you are just eating things that look like meat? I’m just saying…..)

By the way, many studies have been done on the benefits of soy for perimenopausal, menopausal, and menstrual symptoms, effects on breast and prostate tumors, and even as an anti-aging fountain of youth.  If I say this a thousand times I haven’t said it enough.  Soy is meant to be a PART of a healthy eating plan.  It is NOT the elixir of life.  It is NOT a wonder-drug or miracle cure.  It is not meant to be downed in infinite proportions just as it was never meant to be a cheap replacement for real food!  Stop looking at it as either a villain or a Godsend.  It is what it is.  It is a nutrient rich bean when whole and properly prepared (oh and NOT GMO) and a devil on the digestive, reproductive and endocrine systems when ingested in large quantities ESPECIALLY when isolated and concentrated or improperly prepared.  It is meant to be a part of a balanced diet if you enjoy it.  If you don’t like it, don’t eat it simply because you think it will prevent hot flashes.  You can just as easily eat a lot of beans and plants that will give you the same effect and love what you are eating.  If you like it, use it in its whole forms, preferably sprouted and/or fermented, in reasonable quantities NOT as a “Power Bar” before or after a workout.

Repeat after me.  A Power Bar is NOT a meal.  A Power Bar is NOT a meal.

Pity the poor soybean and pass the edamame!

Note::  I no longer recommend soy ( a little edamame usually doesn’t hurt as long as it is organic or non-gmo) as I do see more and more patients with severe intolerances and the phytoestrogens do tend to affect both women and men in our society where we are bombarded with soy!

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  1. says

    I have a very high breast cancer risk in my family and was told to stay away from soy. But, after reading this it seems in moderation it would be OK. I’ve never had breast cancer myself.

    • thedetoxdiva says

      Nichole, stay away from ISOLATES absolutely but a little whole soy in your diet is actually a GOOD thing if you can digest it. It is more adaptogenic than most people think!

    • thedetoxdiva says

      That’s why I said, if you enjoy them, eat them but if you don’t, there are many a varied way to get the same benefits without actually eating them.

  2. says

    I just recently made the switch to soy milk (love it) and tofu on some nights of the week, and I had heard the bad rap soy had, and yes, was worried. Thank you for posting this!! I found your blog through voiceboks, and it has been a life-changer. I’m fixing vegetarian meals 3-4 times a week now, I replaced the junk in my diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, and overall trying to live healthier. Thanks!! =)

  3. says

    We ate a lot of soy yogurt and soymilk because both my kids were allergic to dairy, but then I learned it might not be good for boys, so I stopped giving him much of it. But later my SIL was diagnosed with breast cancer and they told her to stop consuming any soy. So, then I was worried about my daughter too and we stopped buying it. Now the only thing in the house is a soy butter that we all really like, so I’m hoping that’s not enough to hurt.

    • thedetoxdiva says

      Soy butter is what you should be avoiding Jeanne. It’s isolated soy. You should have stuck with the soy yogurt and the soy milk and then watched the quantities. The thing about phytoestrogens are, doctors and others will tell breast cancer sufferers to avoid soy when phytoestrogens can be found in cereal grains (wheat, oats, spelt, rye), lavender oil, flax, beans, and a whole host of other plant foods but they do not act in the body in the same way as a xenoestrogen. Yes, in the case of breast cancer, avoiding ANY packaged foods and most phytoestrogens is advisable if it is an estrogen dominance related tumor (but most doctors do not test to see whether that is the case incidentally) avoiding most soy is advisable through treatment, if you are eating WHOLE soy that has been properly prepared even giving it, in reasonable amounts, to boys is not a problem.

  4. says

    These are great tips – with trying to eat more vegetarian food lately I find myself gravitating towards soy products, so this is quite timely and helpful!

  5. mary says

    Thanks for this. I must admit I’ve confused as hell about whether to eat soy or not….I know to stay clear of the GM variety (steer away from ANYTHING GM!) but I’ve had an inkling a little soy may be good for me and your article seems to confirm this.

  6. says

    Wow, thanks for putting this all together so clearly!
    I always did think that tofu and tempeh, both fermented soy, couldn’t be all that bad. After all, it’s one of the staples in the diet of those Japanese people who live to be over 100.
    Another reason to eat real, from-scratch food.

    • thedetoxdiva says

      Just make sure that the tofu is NON-US or organic and preferably sprouted so you make sure the anti-nutrients are neutralized and you should be ok.

  7. says

    Nice to see this, I get really tired of the mindless vilification of soy! I use a lot of unsweetened soy milk as well as some tofu, tempeh, miso, etc., and feel it’s a healthy part of my diet!

  8. Just me says

    I have never eaten soy and I don’t really like it. But I decided it’s safe to eat the sprouted soy beans that are a part of bibimbap, a Korean dish. And I broke out. It caused me acne. So now I don’t eat it. Do you think even non GMO sprouted soy beans grown in Asia can cause skin problems? Or is it just in my head?

    • thedetoxdiva says

      I think you might be shocked to know that Korea isn’t a MAJOR grower of soybeans and a lot of what they do grow ARE GMO…. (not all, of course). I think if they are sprouted and eaten in TINY amounts then they are fine but we are talking minute amounts! They do aggravate sex hormone imbalances which WILL cause YOU problems with hirustism.

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