The soybean is a species of legume native to East Asia. Soy farming started around 1100 BC in China. At this time, soybeans were not deemed fit for human consumption. Instead, these legumes were used to feed animals and to increase soil health. It wasn’t until the Chinese began fermenting soy, thus making these beans more digestible while eliminating toxicity, that they began using it for human consumption. Asian diets now include fermented soy products, such as miso, tempeh, natto and tamari.
Unfermented Soybeans have anti-nutrients. All plants have some anti-nutrient properties, but the soybean plant is extremely rich in anti-nutrients. These anti-nutrients are nature’s way of protecting the soybean plant so that it can live long enough to effectively reproduce. They offer protection from the radiation of the sun and from invasion by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. These anti-nutrients make the soybean plant unappetizing to animals. If they are not removed by fermentation, soybeans can be a dangerous food to eat. The major anti-nutrients in unfermented soy are goitrogens, phytates and enzyme inhibitors. Furthermore, soybeans contain dangerous phytoestrogens that have toxic effects on the body.
The problem: Today in the United States, it seems that soy protein is everywhere! To make matters worse, soy in the United States is commonly in the form of soy protein, soybeans, soy protein bars, soy formula, soy burgers or tofu. These foods come from unfermented soy. For vegetarians or those who are lactose intolerant, soy may make up a large part of the diet. Furthermore, soy producers are pushing Americans to eat more and more soy, supposedly like the Asians, in order to combat cancer, heart disease and a number of other health ailments. Soy manufacturers actually recommends Americans eat up to 100 grams of soy protein per day! This is 10 times the amount that the average Asian might consume! Furthermore, when Asians do consume soy, it is usually fermented. Many Americans jumped on the soy bandwagon and suffered health problems due to consuming massive amounts of soy in its unfermented state.
Dangers of Unfermented Soy:
- Goitrogenic: Goitrogens are substances that suppress the function of the thyroid gland by interfering with iodine uptake. This can cause hypothyroidism, which often leads to the symptoms of low metabolism, constipation, dry skin, fatigue, depression and weight gain. Soy, in its unfermented form, is a goitrogenic food. In time, soy can actually destroy the thyroid. Low thyroid also means the action of the heart is reduced, thus resulting in lack of oxygen to the cells. This is a prime condition for cancer.
- Phytoestrogens: Soy contains isoflavones are estrogen-like substances. Soy contains isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens — plant-based estrogens. In fact, soy is higher in phytoestrogens than almost any other food. Phytoestrogens mimic estrogen in our bodies. It is soy’s weak estrogenic properties that are often touted as a health benefit of soy. Unfortunately, most of these studies were actually funded by the soy industry. In fact, it is shown that consuming phytoestrogens is actually dangerous for the body. These soy isoflavones have been shown to inhibit thyroid function by inhibiting the action of thyroid peroxidase. Thyroid peroxidase is an enzyme essential for the production and transport of thyroid hormones. Again, low thyroid lowers ones metabolism, can cause constipation, dry skin, fatigue, depression, weight gain, and also increases the risk of cancer. Furthermore, it is very common for Americans to have estrogen dominance due to chemicals, hormones in our foods and toxins in our environment. Consuming soy products only increases estrogen production in the body. Breast cancer, PMS, bloating, fatigue, headaches, weight gain (especially around the midsection), low thyroid, autoimmune diseases, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, infertility and low libido are caused by estrogen dominance. An infant taking the recommended amount of soy formula is consuming the hormones equivalent to 4 birth control pills a day! This is one of the reasons (on top of the hormones added to our meat and dairy products) that girls are starting their periods as young as age 6!
- Genistein: Genistein is an isoflavone found in soybeans. Genistein can block thyroid production. Furthermore, genistein blocks certain transport proteins which slows the transport of glucose, meaning less energy production throughout the body. It also slows down enzymes involved in the transfer of energy from one molecule to another. These enzymes also drive cell division, tissue repair and blood vessel regeneration. Because genistein regulates cell division, it was thought to be a popular substance to fight cancer. The problem is that genistein lowered cellular energy in normal cells as well. Genistein slows down the growth of blood vessels to tumors but it also has the same effect on blood vessels leading to normal, healthy cells. Genistein can actually result in the starvation of healthy blood cells. This leads to reduced oxygen levels in cells which can lead to cancer. High consumption of genistein has been shown to lead to dementia and reduced brain size. Furthermore, there is a growing concern about feeding infants soy formula due to the high amount of genistein. Studies have found that it decreases the thymus size and leads to a repressed immune system. Some countries have banned the use of soy formula for infants.
- Phytates: Soybeans are very rich in phytates. Phytates bind minerals such as zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and calcium in the digestive tract. Zinc may be more affected than the other minerals. Zinc is an essential mineral that supports wound healing, protein synthesis, reproductive health, nerve function, and brain development. Furthermore, decreasing the amounts of zinc and copper in the body can further decrease the activity of the thyroid gland. Most legumes, seeds, nuts and grains contain phytates that can be removed by soaking overnight. The soybean, however, must be fermented in order for the phytates to be broken down.
- Enzyme inhibitors: Our bodies naturally secrete digestive enzymes when food is eaten. Enzymes such as amylase, protease and lipase are secreted into the digestive tract in order to help break food down for assimilation in the body. Unfermented soy products contain a high amount of enzyme inhibitors which interferes with the digestive process, thus making the protein and carbohydrates from soybeans almost impossible to completely digest. This can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, pain and undigested food can eventually lead to food sensitivities and even autoimmune diseases.
Alternatives to soy:
Try coconut milk, hemp milk or almond milk.
Look for soy-free veggie burgers or meat substitutes (i.e. Sunshine Burgers or Quorn products).
Consume fermented soy in the form of miso, tempeh, natto or tamari in small quantities.