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July 18, 2012
Have you ever wondered whether the current craze for soy is healthy? Once a client declared, as she raised her ubiquitous white and green paper cup, "This is decaf coffee with soy milk. I just wanted you to know." She was assuming I thought that was a good way to drink coffee. And yes, it was great that she left behind the flavored syrups with high fructose corn syrup and the fake creamers with trans-fats, but what about that soy milk?
Let's take a look at soy. Originally, soy was used in Asia as a cover crop to enrich soil. It was much later that Asians used it to season and enrich their meals. In the West, soy was used first by industries to make paper coatings, glues and even as fire-fighting foam. Around the 1950s, food companies started producing soy isolate and soy lecithin. Currently, you can find soy in many foods including soups, imitation meats, non-dairy creamers, infant formulas, cereals and protein powders. If you are allergic to soy, you know just how difficult it is to find foods that do not contain soy. It is everywhere.
Some sources have suggested that soy is a good source of protein that can reduce cholesterol and diminish hot flashes. Let's examine at these claims more closely.
At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we recommend that our clients are cautious in using soy for several reasons.
- The phystoestrogens in unfermented soy can block the absorption of minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc. That soy milk, those protein bars and protein powders that you may use to improve your health may in fact be preventing you from building strong bones (calcium), relaxing (magnesium) or preventing the flu (zinc).
- According to Cancer Research, phytoestrogens may be carcinogenic—raising questions about the safety of consuming soy.
Let's summarize these findings. Soy can interfere with thyroid function. It is difficult to digest and does not allow you to fully absorb minerals. Soy has an estrogenic effect—reducing fertility in men, it does not conclusively reduce hot flashes or protect you from reproductive cancers. And as an infant formula, soy may cause early puberty in girls or late puberty in boys or stress our immune system. It really is not a complete protein that works in your body. So, soy milk in your coffee may be doing nothing beneficial for you and may have some serious unwanted effects.
Traditionally soy was used as a condiment in its fermented forms—as soy sauce, or miso in soups or small amounts of tempeh with rice and vegetables. Asian cultures use soy sparingly and traditionally. Soy milk, soy powders or protein bars do not exist in their diet. Research reveals that soy's benefits are inconclusive and may in fact prove to be harmful. If you like soy, use it sparingly, as a condiment or according to the recommendations of your nutritionist.
For more information about soy, listen to our June 25, 2011 radio show: The Dark Side of Soy.