Soy ~ it’s ubiquitous, we can find it in the grocery stores, health food stores and convenience stores. It’s in food products for people, food products marketed directly to children and products for our pets. It is often touted as a health food but is it really?

The signals are mixed

You can take a walk through any grocery store and see products boldly labeled and marketed as ‘soy free’ and the same ‘soy free’ can be found on pet foods. Yet other products are boldly labeled and marketed as ‘heart healthy soy’ and ‘with all the benefits of soy’. So which is it and why?

The Asian population has been eating soy for centuries. Some argue it can to be directly linked to many health benefits for them such as lower incidences of heart disease and cancer rates.

Can something so good also be so bad? YES

Not all soy is created equal.

First, soy foods in the Asian population is on average only about 2 teaspoons per day. Asians generally consume soy foods in small amounts as a condiment, and not as a replacement for animal foods. Also, the way they treat their soy is very different than the average soy food option in the United States.

There is something to be learned, or rather, remembered, from our Asian ancestors. The Asians learned to ferment the soybeans before consuming. This allowed them to make foods like tamari, soy sauce, natto, miso and tempeh.

Why ferment?

Because fermenting neutralizes the anti-nutrient toxin found in soybeans called phytic acid. Phytic acid is present in all grains and legumes to some degree, but soy contains the highest level and has the potential to reduce mineral absorption more than any other plant source.

What does this phytic acid do?

When not neutralized through methods such as soaking or fermenting, it does not allow the nutrients within the soybean to release and be utilized in the body. To make matters worse, phytic acid bonds (chelates) with other nutrients already present in our bodies such as zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron and takes them out of circulation, rendering them useless to your well-being. In short, phytic acid is a thief. Finally, this nutrient burglar also inhibits enzyme production needed for proper digestion of our food. Enzymes such as pepsin, used for breaking down proteins in our stomach. Trypsin, used in the small intestine for protein digestion and amylase, essential for the breakdowns of starch into sugar.

So how do we know what soy to eat?

First let’s talk about what not to eat. Read your labels, processed soy, textured soy, soy protein and in other words not ‘whole’ soy are the products of manufacturing and refined food ‘products’. Not a good choice.

If you want to eat soy, look for things like Edamame. This is the young soybean in its whole form and naturally lower in phytic acid. Or fermented soy products that are highly digestible and have neutralized the phytic acid. Also soy that has been properly soaked lowers the phytic acid content. In moderate amounts, these forms of soy may benefit health.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat don’t let it kill you.

Is soy worth eating?

Well that’s very controversial and often debated, because many actions of soy are called into question. One of the big parts of that debate is over the pros and cons of something that soy has a high level of, something called Isoflavones. They are a class of phytoestrogens which are plant-derived compounds with estrogenic activity (hormonal). That means they have the ability to mimic estrogen in our body. They can interfere with the action of our own estrogen and may reduce or activate the activity of estrogen. Therein lies a debate. Research is still being done on how much it takes and whether or not this is good or bad. Moderation perhaps?

The Elephant in the room

None of the above means anything if you are not starting with soy that was grown organically or from a natural state. Not the ‘natural’ that you read on food labels (which means nothing really). Currently, more than 90% of the soy grown in the United States is a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO).

GMO soy is created in a controlled laboratory. GMO soy is engineered and grown in a dead and nutrient starved soil. The soils physiology is altered and degraded due to the toxic levels of continued spraying of Glyphosate (the main ingredient in Round Up weed killer). Glyphosate kills natural living organisms such as worms, insects and other beneficial soil microbes killing its ecosystem and robbing it of vital nutrients. The Glyphosate is sprayed a minimum of three dousings throughout the growth cycle of the soy. The result is not a food found in nature, but rather a freakish plant that nature never intended.

When was the last time you soaked your vegetable garden with Glyphosate like those found in Round Up and then planted your food? Then applied it two more times throughout the growing season. No one can say that a plant grown in poison is not going to have poison in it.

If soy is not labeled Organic leave it on the shelf.

Bottom line: soy is still controversial. It is very easy to find information from experts on both sides of the debate. To eat or not to eat? Well, in moderate amounts and especially fermented, organic sources of whole soy may have some health benefits? If you eat it, listen to how your body feels and leave the processed soy products behind. Ultimately, we are in charge of our health. Own it and thrive!