Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Soy Good, Soy Bad?

This week I finally got to meet my two new roommates for the coming year. They are, in short, fantastic! They've both JUST come back from teaching in Korea and one of them became a vegetarian while she was overseas. She was so excited about coming back to Canada, where there are an endless sea of soy-based products - veggie burgers, veggie dogs, soy milk, tofu, etc. I think in Korea, at least my understanding, is that they have soy milk, tofu, tamiri, and other soy foods, but nothing that's processed/manipulated to appeal the Westerner that wants the familiarity of cow's milk or meat, but wants the apparent health benefits of soy. Oh, and they want the food to be in a convenient for (e.g. soy burgers, which take 2- 4 minutes to cook!).

Anyways, as is my tendency and, perhaps, one I need to rein in, I piped up about the possibility that SOY might not be soy good for us after all. Yes, that's right, soy might not be good. I know that this goes against what most of us have been told. I, for one, jumped on the soy bandwagon back in 2006 when my former nutritionist suggested I have a soy milk smoothie (or almond milk, to her credit) and eat Kashi Go Lean for breakfast (cereal high in protein AND soy). I also ate a lot of soy burgers and tofu. Yeah, I was a soy-eating machine until about 3 months ago when my new nutritionist red flagged the Western soy-based food products that most of us choose to eat as the 'healthy' option, aren't necessarily so healthy.

She then went on to explain the many reason why soy is not such a great choice - at least not in the quantities and forms that us Westerners are eating it - in processed foods and without fermentation (in Asia, soy is often fermented). I'll be honest, I kind of tuned out. It's not that I didn't want to listen or that I didn't believe her, it's just that I have become so inundated by conflicting advice about what to eat and what not to eat that I can't really stuff any more facts into my head. That being said, after our meeting I spent a bit of time reflecting on what I knew about soy - which didn't take long, because I don't really know much about it. I did, however, know one thing and that one thing alone convinced me that my new nutritionist was probably right about soy being bad.

The one thing I know about soy is that it is the second favorite commodity crop of the big food processors. Soy, along with corn, make up a vast majority of the typical North American's diet. We don't realise it, but every time we open a box of cereal, jar of peanut butter, bottle of pop, package of hamburger meat, or basically any food that's been processed to any extent, we are consuming corn or soy, or maybe both. No, no, I know there aren't sobean sdancing around in your peanut butter or corn poking out of the hamburger meat, but I bet there's soybean oil in your PB and I bet the cow that became hamburger was fed a diet high in corn. Soooo, yes, Soy and Corn - a large proportion of our protein and carbs comes from these two crops - it's just been disguised by the food industry to create the illusion of endless choice at the supermarket. Really, what we're eating is soy and corn that have been modified by scientists. Yum.

Anyways, this is the one thing I knew about soy from all of my readings about the food industry and this, in itself, was enough to give me a loooong pause for thought about the whole 'soy' debate. In the end, here's what my head produced as a conclusion:

'If the huge food processors, which you know are just trying to make $ and get rid of AMerica's surplus crops, are doing everything they can to get sneak soy into food products, it stands to reason that they are also behind the push to make soy-based products appealing to the masses as well. In fact, it would be much easier for them to just make us believe that soy is good for us - then they can spend less money figuring out ways to slip small amounts into familiar foods and just develop a whole new line of processed soy foods that are purportedly healthy for us'

This isn't rocket science, it's food science and marketing. And I'm skeptical of food scientists - it's their job to 'make' food that's supposedly better than mother nature's. I'm also skeptical of marketers, but who isn't?

So, where does that leave me and soy? Well, OK, I still eat soy. In fact, I had a tofu stir-fry tonight. But I have completely cut out soy milk, soy burgers and all boxed cereals. I've never been a big consumer of processed foods, but I am moving further and further away from even the innocuous food products that we don't necessarily considered 'processed', like Kraft Peanut Butter. I figure, the less processed foods I eat, the less I have to wonder how much corn or soy I've eat in a day!

I am a big believer in moderation - I don't think one can veer TOO far off the mark of being healthy and happy, so long as they live in moderation. The trouble with this, when it comes to food anyways, is that it's hard to practice moderation of soy or corn when it's slipped into almost everything we eat. So, I've decided to reduce my intake by reducing the number of processed foods I buy, which wasn't a large percentage to begin with. In some cases, however, I've just replaced one procesed food with another. For example, my soy milk is gone, but now I drink almond milk. Who knows, maybe the nut growers are also conspiring to feed us an abundance of nuts that aren't good for us!

Anyways, after writing this blog post I decided to see what the Internet had to offer with regards to the soy debate. Here are a few articles/sites for those of you that want more than the Shannon's Skepticism of the Food Industry to convince you that soy is not good - at least not how us Westerners eat it.

Soy Ploy

Soya Bean Crisis

A Different Conclusion - It Can Be Good


dragonsue said...

I have been told by doctors that I should on no account eat anything with soy in it, as it has an enzyme that blocks the meds I am on for an underactive thyroid. This has made me wonder what soy is doing to all those who are borderline with this condition?
You can't even eat a jelly doughnut without getting soy in it these days!

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