PHOTO: is soy friend or foe? Like most things, it just depends on how you use it…

Soy and its Bad Reputation

Today’s nutritional tip is all about soybeans. Soybeans have a really bad rap. Anywhere you go on the internet, everyone tells you that soy will make you fat, that it will give you man boobs if you’re man, that it will give you testosterone problems if you’re a woman, and all other sorts of negative effects.

The interesting thing about soy is that it’s really high in protein, shockingly high compared to other things, which is why food manufacturers became very interested in it. It’s also very cheap and very easy to grow and it’s a resilient plant. It grows in lots of different climates and lots of different animals can eat it.

There are a couple of problems with soy. The biggest problem is that it’s been genetically modified, and we don’t really know what that’s going to do. Personally, I think genetic modification is the future of food, for better or for worse. I don’t like it and I’d rather just stay away from it. Organic soy is available. It’s inexpensive, and it’s readily available to the extent that most health food stores actually only sell organic soy products.

The real reason that people got into trouble with soy is particularly in the U.S. there’s a brand of soy milk called Silk. Silk is delicious. It’s amazing. It tastes like ice cream. You can drink it, you can put it on cereal, do whatever you want with it. It’s an incredible amount of soy that you’re taking in, and so it’s not uncommon for Americans or Canadians, North Americans, to drink liters of this stuff a day.

So more than anything, the poison is in the dose, and the challenge is it can cause different problems. It has phytoestrogens in it, which can cause hormonal problems. It’s pretty rare, but it happens when people are drinking soy milk all day long, and it can cause thyroid problems. Now, none of these things are really that common. It’s really not that big a deal. It’s for the people who are drinking soy milk all the time. Soy used in moderation is a really great food. And just to give you a comparison, something like flaxseeds, for example, also has phytoestrogens, but you don’t hear a ton of people freaking out about the phytoestrogens in flaxseeds because nobody drinks flax milk three times a day. They just have it a little bit here and there, and it’s very, very healthful.

The same is true for soy; it can be very healthful in small amounts. And for the most part, you want to have fermented soy. That would be in the form of Tempeh and Natto. Some people avoid tofu altogether. Personally, I don’t think that’s necessary. I’ve been a plant-based guy for 11 years, and so I know lots and lots of people who eat hugely soy-based diets. I don’t think it’s a great idea, but I’ve never seen huge health problems. Just people will get allergic reactions and they’ll get indigestion, and anything that comes from eating excessively one food.

So we can’t base a diet on soy, it can’t be our main source of protein, it should just be a condiment, it should be something that’s added in occasionally. I don’t think there’s any reason to be afraid of tofu. I don’t think there’s any reason to be afraid of soy products, unless you’re eating soy processed products, like the frozen Tofurky chicken McNugget type things. Those are just junk foods, like any other junk food.

But if you’re eating whole soybeans or fermented soybeans, there’s some pretty interesting properties, and specifically things like Tempeh are really delicious and have some fantastic health benefits. So my take is that at any given time the health industry needs an enemy. For 15 years it was red meat. Then suddenly people dug deeper into the research and realized, hey red meat doesn’t clog your arteries, saturated fat is actually fantastic for you. Certain types of beef can actually be quite healthy. And so they needed a new enemy. So the new enemy of the day is soy. I just think it’s a little bit over-hyped. I think it’s something that if you’re eating every single day you probably need to take a look at, but if you’re eating organic, non-GMO soy and you’re eating a few hundred grams per week, it’s probably going to be a great addition to your diet, and it might even help you.

As long as you’re not abusing it and as long as you’re eating natural and naturally prepared soy in small doses, it’s an interesting food nutritionally, it’s just not meant to be eaten every single day all the time.