Monday, February 27, 2012

The Great Soy Debate

These are the soy products I found in my fridge and pantry. Notice how they are generally unprocessed, unsweetened, and even some forms that are sprouted. Miso is considered to be a particularly cancer-protective aged soy product, and can often increase the cheesy flavor to sauces and gravies.

It seems as though conflicting nutrition information is constantly bombarding us. We are confused. Who do we listen to? One source says that a food is bad for me, the next source says the very same food is healthy, and will help me lose weight.

How do we know what information is correct?

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and Dr. John McDougall are some of my favorite go-to sources for nutritional truth. Dr. Joel Fuhrman simply asks that we consider the source of the information being presented to us. If the source is from media, such as television, commercials, and advertisements, then it is safe to say that in general we can dismiss the information they are trying to present (or push on you). They are selling something. They want your money. Do they have sound research done be mainstream scientists (not funded by or connected to the food industry!) that can back up their claims?

We cannot get our knowledge of sound nutrition from the food industry. They have enormous pressure to boost their sales, and will say or do almost anything to get you to buy their products.

Dr. Fuhrman goes on to say that there is little disagreement in the scientific world of research about true health foods. The majority of scientific research and information available agrees on what foods are healthy for us to eat, and what foods are not healthy. Dr.'s Campbell, Fuhrman, and McDougall have dedicated a lifetime to studying and researching human health. They collaborate with scientists alike, worldwide, and have both the scientific and clinical studies to give backbone to their research. They all agree in their findings on what foods are best for optimal health.

We approach the soy debate with these things in mind. Dr.'s Fuhrman, Campbell, and McDougall all agree that soy, in it's minimally processed form, and in moderation, is a health food.

Just as most plant food can be detrimental to our health in it's concentrated form, soy also is unhealthy for us in a processed, concentrated state. Also, just as abnormal amounts of one food in our diet can be harmful, so can soy products. Carrot juice for example -- is very healthy, but if you only consumed carrot juice all day, every day, and nothing else, you would be malnourished, and your skin tone may even turn orange! We need a great variety of healthy foods, in their minimally processed state (closest to their original, natural form).

Concentrated forms of soy: soy isolates (usually in powdered form), tofurkey, soy meat analogues (soy meats), soy nuts, soy cheese, soy ice cream, and generally any refined, highly processed soy products found on shelves at your grocery store (soy in cereal, etc).

Minimally processed forms of soy: soy beans, unsweetened organic soy milk, edamame, soy yogurt, tofu (I love the organic, sprouted tofu!), tempeh.

Do you need to eat soy if you are vegan?


Do you need to be vegan in order to eat soy?


A vegan diet is not necessarily healthful (if you are eating everything processed and refined). And a person can make very healthy choices and still not be 100% vegan. Minimally processed soy foods are a beneficial addition to any healthy diet.

That being said, soy, as well as wheat, are both in the top six list of foods that the general public are most commonly allergic to. If you try soy, in it's minimally processed form in your cooking at home, and find consistent negative reactions physically, then your personal decision may be that you don't want to eat it. That is okay. There are many books, such as this one from Dreena Burton that are vegan and focus on avoiding soy (and wheat, too!).

When I was first transitioning to a whole foods, plant based diet, I was very concerned about soy. Sometimes I still am, and then I read great passages from these doctors, or see them in action as they give talks at forums, etc. My fears are quieted.

From the words of Dr. Joel Fuhrman's latest publication, "Super Immunity," we find this helpful passage:

"Asian populations have a lower incidence of hormone-related diseases, such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, and prostate cancer, than Westerners do. It has been suggested that soy consumption is one reason for this difference in disease incidence. Women who were born in Asia but migrated to the United States likewise have a lower risk of breast cancer, possibly due to their early exposure to soy. But obviously soy is only one of many factors that influence cancer risk, and now we know that it is many contributing factors that make a diet cancer-protective."

"It is now clear that soy intake during adolescence, a time when breast tissue is most sensitive to environmental stimuli and carcinogenesis, may reduce the risk of breast cancer later in life. Recent articles in Cancer Epidemiology and The American Jounal of Clinical Nutrition reported that soy consumption during childhood and teenage years reduced the risk of breast cancer in adulthood by 60 percent and 40 percent, respectively."

"Soybeans are rich in isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens are plant substances that are chemically similar to estrogen-- and since higher estrogen levels promote breast cancer, some people predicted that soy would, too. Now we know that phytoestrogens in soy actually block the effects of the body's estrogen. Despite many myths propagated on the Internet, the most recent and reliable clinical studies support a strong protective effect of minimally processed soy foods against breast cancer."
"In 2006, a meta-analysis in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute examining data from eighteen studies on soy and breast cancer that were published between 1978 and 2004 concluded that soy overall has a protective effect. Again in 2008, another meta-analysis in the British Journal of Nutrition compiling data from eighteen studies (which were not included in the 2006 meta-analysis) also concluded that soy consumption decreases breast cancer risk. These effects were dose-dependent--a 16 percent reduced risk for each 10 milligrams of soy isoflavones consumed daily."

"Soy has protective effects even after a diagnosis of breast cancer. A new study of breast cancer survivors has shown that premenopausal breast cancer survivors who consumed more soy had a 23 percent reduced risk of recurrence."

"Soy provides protection against other hormonal cancers as well. A meta-analysis of studies on soy consumption and prostate cancer found a 31 percent decrease in prostate cancer risk with a high consumption of soy foods. Soy has also been shown to be protective against endometrial and ovarian cancers."

"Soy products such as tofu and soy milk can be useful in moving toward a plant-centered diet with less saturated fat, less animal protein, more plant protein, and more fruits and vegetables. In the United States, the majority of our soy intake, which is very low compared to that of Asian countries, is consumed via soy-based additives or isolated soy protein in processed foods."

"Please note that the most healthful soy foods are those that are minimally processed--these include edamame, tofu, unsweetened soy milk, and tempeh. You should be aware that soy nuts and other processed soy products do not retain much of the beneficial compounds and omega-3 fats that are in the natural bean. The more the food is processed, the more these beneficial compounds are destroyed. Minimally processed soy foods are a beneficial addition to a healthy diet. I do not recommend consuming large quantities of soy products in the hopes of reducing cancer risk, however. A healthy diet should include a variety of beans, all of which have beneficial anticancer compounds, and not a disproportionate share of calories from soy. I always recommend that consumption of a broad variety of phytochemical-rich foods to maximize one's health. Beans are no exception--try to include various types of beans, including soybeans."

"Processed foods, because of their low nutrient levels, high amounts of salt, acrylamides, and other toxic additives, should not be considered healthy. Vegetarians and vegans who eat tofu-turkey, soy burgers, soy ice cream, soy hotdogs, soy cheese and other soy-derived processed foods on a regular basis are certainly not eating a healthy diet. Isolated soy protein is a heavily processed food with the natural micronutrients lost in processing. The key to good health is to eat unprocessed foods, because their nutrient-per-calorie density is high."

May I add that T. Colin Campbell's research on animal protein done in the labs was based on three proteins--casein (the animal protein found in cow's milk), gluten, the protein found in wheat, and soy protein. In his findings he concluded that only casein, the animal protein, caused an increase in the incidence of cancer in lab rats, while soy and gluten proteins did not.

Our family, has therefore chosen to consume unprocessed soy products in moderation. You and your family may choose differently. Hopefully this information that I have found will assist you in coming to your own healthful decisions.


  1. Wow Ashlee! I really appreciate the time you took to thouroughly cover this subject!!! I say with this, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear!!!

    I do also have to say that I would rather base my beliefs on the above scientists instead of on somebody that is just good at cooking healthy.

    I always have recently been disappointed when something says soy thinking that I had to avoid it at all costs! Like when Aimee suggested to me that she really liked the soy yogurts. I just remember my enormous health problems during my elementary years and Mom having to cater to that by learning how to make us Tofu Shakes. I fell in love with those along with almonds and salads. Before moving to Texas (before I turned 10) is when I really started to like salads! How many kids can you say that about today? Tofu shakes made me feel so good and I was so disappointed when I read in Natalia Rose's book that is was bad according to her. But now that you talk about processed stuff that sounds more with what I struggle with! I would rather go on believing in Tofu shakes! Thank you Ashlee!

    1. I respect Natalia Rose a lot. But I don't always agree with her or her encouraging people to eat so much goat cheese (or Robyn Openshaw, who I also respect, but she encourages the use of oils). Considering the source of our information is always so important.

      I loved tofu shakes, too! Now I don't even quite remember how to make them. When I was first married to Paul, he would tease me about them, and he wasn't used to the taste so I stopped making them. Do you remember the basic formula?

      I wish my kids liked salads! We are working on it. One of my flexitarian friends kids' eat salads like crazy. I get so jealous. So I told my kids today, "you guys are just gonna have to start eating salad. At least try it!"

      So you are welcome, Carolyn! Isn't correct health information so completely freeing?

    2. one of us will have to remember to ask Mom and see if she can remember it better than me!
      But I think it went like this:
      1 banana
      1 pkg tofu
      1 can frozen apple juice
      honey to taste

      I think I might be forgetting something? Might have to try it to see if I can remember better.

    3. Didn't she used to add a bunch of berries or something? I had forgotten about the juice concentrate, I totally would have spaced that.

  2. All of the studies that conclude that soy is bad for you is based on soy protien isolate. Not one study concludes poorly on the soybean from the whole, unprocessed bean. I thought that was pretty neat. You've got great references Ash!

    1. Thanks, Aims. I am glad that your reading/research agrees with my findings. It's nice to have study buddies...:)

  3. You should post your before and after photos with your story of why/how you went plant based!

  4. Good suggestion. I need to tie Paul down and have him take a picture (when I'm not in my "mommy clothes!"). He's gone so much now, it's hard to catch the right moment. We'll work on it!


    1. Guess what? I changed the name of my blog! And I spent several hours designing my own logos and re-designing the site! My camera broke so I had to go exchange it and so I will be posting more soon!


    2. sorry about your camera, it was brand new!

    3. I am gonna go check out your blog! How exciting. I would love to jazz up my blog with more pictures, colors, logos, etc. Maybe you can teach me some time.

      Can't wait for your posts.

      Carolyn, I have been loving your posts, too!! I am sorry you have a head cold. I just recovered from one of those last month. Yuck! I hope you get better soon -- Mom knows so much more than I do about getting better from illness -- she's such an awesome health index!