This article is also published on my website at http://www.yourveglife.com/soy-beans-misunderstood-beans
A short history of soy (also called soya or soja)
Soybeans are a species of legumes originally from East Asia and have been grown there traditionally for thousands of years, even before recorded history. They are still a major crop in China, Japan and Korea. According to an ancient Chinese myth, in 2853 BCE, legendary Emperor Shennong of China proclaimed that five plants were sacred: soybeans, rice, wheat, barley, and millet. Before it became a fermented food, soy was a sacred crop for its beneficial effects on rotation crops as a fertilizer.
Soy was then introduced in Europe in the 18th century and in North America in 1765 by Samuel Bowen, a sailor who visited China. Benjamin Franklin mentioned soy in his letters as something he would send home from England. But soy didn’t gain its notoriety until 1910 where it was just an industrial product. It was first used as food in 1920. Soy was also introduced to Africa in the late 19th century. It is now everywhere.
During the Great Depression, soy was used to regenerate the soil of lands who suffered from the dust ball. Henry Ford spent almost 2 millions dollars on soy research and consequently, his cars all contained soy in their manufacture, from paint to soy-based plastics. He created the “Soybean car” in 1940. He also promoted soy as a food and developed the first US soy milk, ice cream and all vegetable non-dairy whip toppings! His research even produced artificial silk (or Azlon). However, DuPont’s Nylon won the market of artificial silk.
During World War II, soybeans became a major protein substitute in the USA and Europe as well as oil. And it also was discovered to be a good fertilizer.
The main producers of soy today are the United States (35%), Brazil (27%), Argentina (19%), China (6%) and India (4%).
Uses as food
The non-fermented uses of soybeans include soy milk, tofu (invented in China) and the fermented versions include soy sauce, bean paste, natto, tempeh, etc. Soybeans are also used to make vegetarian versions of flesh products like meat as well as TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein), which easily replaces traditionally containing flesh meals and has been around for 50 years. However, the highly processed vegan meats out there are not very healthy uses of soy and should be limited or avoided.
The myths about soy
A lot of so-called studies which seek to demonize soy come from meat industry advocacy organizations, such as the Weston Price Foundation. These organizations promote the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs and so-called ancestral natural diets.
It is interesting that they claim to promote ancestral diets when we know that the consumption of dairy didn’t start until about 10,000 years ago and is therefore fairly new in the human diet. People are not lactose intolerant because it is a disease but because it is normal. The WPF denies a lot of scientific facts and promotes a lot of quack. On the other hand, soy was already grown for thousands of years by the time dairy was introduced in the human diet, which would qualify it as a true traditional food unlike cow’s milk. It is therefore ironic that the WPF hates soy.
Contrary to what a lot of meat eaters and environmentalists (who decided to fight Vegans over soy) believe, soy crops, for the most part, are not fed to Vegans. Soybean oil is the primary source of biodiesel in the United States, accounting for 80% of domestic biodiesel production. The majority of soy crops go directly to feed farmed animals which then feed the western world’s appetite for flesh based products. So the idea that Vegans are responsible for the destruction of the Amazon forest is ludicrous. The truth is that anyone who eats flesh directly participates in the destruction of the environment and the Rain Forests.
“About 85 percent of the world’s soybean crop is processed into meal and vegetable oil, and virtually all of that meal is used in animal feed. Some two percent of the soybean meal is further processed into soy flours and proteins for food use… Approximately six percent of soybeans are used directly as human food, mostly in Asia.” Soyatech.com
“According to the National Directorate of Forests, Argentina is experiencing the most intense deforestation in its history due to the replacement of forests with soy plantations, and Córdoba is the province where the most devastating environmental damage has occurred. From a 2009 article, More Soy, Less Forest – and No Water (Inter Press Service).
So the less than 5% of Vegans in the United States who don’t all eat soy can largely be ignored as so-called destroyers of the environment. However, the so-called environmental movement who still refuses to point out the effects of their meat centered diets on climate change is the one who should be ashamed. Changing light bulbs and switching to a Prius are meaningless actions if the Bill McKibbens of the world don’t go Vegan. But you won’t hear that from them.
The GMO issue
“The GM variety that is planted in 89% of US soy acres gets its foreign gene from bacteria (with parts of virus and petunia DNA as well). “ Institute for Responsible Technology.
“As of 2004, 85 percent of the U.S. soy crop was genetically modified, accounting for some 63.6 million acres of soybeans. Statistics for 2003 indicate that at least 55 percent of soy worldwide is now genetically modified.”Grist.org
According to another source, “In 1997, about 8% of all soybeans cultivated for the commercial market in the United States were genetically modified. In 2006, the figure was 89%”.
“In 2010, the figure was 93%.” Wikipedia.org
And of course for people who eat other animals, these animals are fed soy and it is next to impossible to detect GMOs in the end product. However, Vegetarians and Vegans are less likely to eat GMO soy as the products are usually easier to detect and are usually labeled.
It doesn’t mean however that we shouldn’t be well informed about GMOs in our tofu (or other processed foods). For instance, I now buy tofu that is either Organic or has the Non-GMO Certified label which I can even find at my local Smart & Final. So GMOs can be avoided by educating ourselves and we shouldn’t be avoiding our soy products because of the scare. Please see my article on GMOs.
The companies behind the largest production of soy are also the ones who promote GMO beans: Archer Daniels Midlands, Dow Chemical Company, DuPont and of course Monsanto Company. That gives you an idea of which products to avoid.
Soy beans contain large amounts of phytic asic, alpha-linolenic acid and isoflavones. Soybeans are considered to be a source of complete protein because they contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies require. Essential means that our bodies can’t synthesize them naturally and therefore it must be provided through food. Soy is a good source of protein and Omega-3 fatty acid, amongst many others and everyone can benefit, not just vegetarians and vegans. According to the US Food and Drug Administration:
“Soy protein products can be good substitutes for animal products because, unlike some other beans, soy offers a ‘complete’ protein profile. … Soy protein products can replace animal-based foods—which also have complete proteins but tend to contain more fat, especially saturated fat—without requiring major adjustments elsewhere in the diet.”
Soy is also linked to later puberty for girls and a reduced risk of breast cancer. Meat consumption is tied to early puberty in girls; soy is shown to delay puberty. The consumption of soy products also reduces the occurrence of hot flashes during menopause. We know that the western diet is behind the early menarche of young girls and it is coming earlier each year. This dangerous trend will determine the rates of breast cancers in women of the future.
Soy is also very high in protein (38 to 45%) and high in oils (about 20%).
Some people have raised concerns about the phytoestrogens contained in soy because of their resemblance to women’s estrogens. However, it may also explain why there is a reduced chance of breast cancer. As Dr. Neal Barnard explains:
“Why should soy products reduce cancer risk? Most research has zeroed in on phytoestrogens found in soybeans (phyto means « plant »). These compounds are in some ways similar to the estrogens (female sex hormones) in a woman’s bloodstream, but are much weaker. Some have suggested that phytoestrogens attach to the estrogen receptors in a woman’s body, blocking her natural estrogens from being able to attach and stopping estrogen’s cancer-inducing effects. By analogy, the estrogens in a woman’s body are like jumbo jets that have landed at an airport. Phytoestrogens are like small private planes that are occupying the Jetways, blocking the jumbo jets from attaching. This explanation is probably overly simplistic, but it may serve to illustrate how soy’s weak hormonal compounds can have beneficial effects.”
Soy also reduces the risk of fibroids, therefore reducing the need for hysterectomies. Soy also shows reduced prostate cancer risks for men which is logical as both breast and prostate cancers have dietary origins. Soy doesn’t appear to have an effect on the Thyroid either.
Soy can trigger an allergic reaction in some people and therefore should be avoided. The reasons for the allergies are not clearly defined, however, just as many other allergies, the incidence of soy allergies have skyrocketed since the first GMOs were introduced in the food supply.
“The UK is one of the few countries that conducts a yearly evaluation of food allergies. In March 1999, researchers at the York Laboratory were alarmed to discover that reactions to soy had skyrocketed by 50% over the previous year. Genetically modified soy had recently entered the UK from US imports and the soy used in the study was largely GM. John Graham, spokesman for the York laboratory, said, “We believe this raises serious new questions about the safety of GM foods.”Institute for Responsible Technology
What used to be a rare condition (and it is the same with Gluten intolerance) is now more or less an epidemic. Although Gluten free products reap the prize for most commonly known allergen, with dairy as a close second, soy allergies need to be watched for.
How much soy should we eat?
According to Dr. Michael Greger’s excellent NutritionFact.org website, soy is high in IGF-1 levels (Insulin-like Growth Factor) which are associated with cancer just like in animal products. If we consume a diet very high in soy, we get a level similar to eating animal flesh. Soy is the only plant which boosts the level of IGF-1, because of a different ratio of amino acid. Other plant foods do not have any effect on IGF-1. If you consume between 7 to 18 servings of soy a day, you may neutralize some of the beneficial effects of avoiding animal protein.
However, to encounter that risk, we would have to drink either 2 to 4 large cartons of soy milk or eat at least 8 to 10 or more blocks of tofu each day. I don’t know many Vegans who eat just soy all day long, but who knows. In fact, Asians who eat the most soy have much lower levels of breast cancer than their western counterparts.
Here is what Dr. Greger says however: “With that much added soy, the vegans in the study got literally pounds of more protein in their diets than the meat-eating controls, but it was all added plant protein. Soy, however, one of those rare plants that mimics the protein profile of meat. So with that much more animal-type protein in their diet were they even worse?
Surprisingly, they ended up with values about same as the meat eaters. But wait a second, in Asian countries, where they eat the most soy, they’ve traditionally just had a fraction of our breast and prostate cancer rates. Well the researchers found something interesting, the isoflavones, the phytoesterons in soy, may actually bump up production of IGF binding protein. So even though they had similar levels of IGF in their blood, in those eating vegan more of it may be bound up and unavailable to stimulate as much cancer growth.
Also, even in China and Japan, they don’t eat 7-18 servings of soy a day.”
Doctor Greger, however, recommends a maximum of three servings a day.
Go ahead and eat Tofu or other soy products. The evidence is that eating soy is not harmful unless you eat very large quantities as described above. But always watch for Genetically Modified soy and always buy organic, Non-GMO Certified or better yet, learn to make it yourself. It is also easy to make your own soy milk.
It is not mandatory to be a soy loving Vegan. Lots of Vegans choose not to eat soy based products. I certainly don’t recommend the vegan meats as a daily intake as they are highly processed and often contain not only ultra processed soy but other undesirable ingredients beyond the scope of this article. However, if, like me, you enjoy baking or frying a block of tofu once in a while, there are plenty of recipes out there to satisfy you. The benefits of eating soy products far outweigh any animal products you may have had in the past. And it is also cruelty free and better for the environment.
Additional information based on Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book « Super Immunity »: « 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 Journal 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 the phytoestrogens in soy actually block the effects of the body’s estrogen. Despite 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. »
Additional information from Dr. Neal Barnard in his book « Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs »
« Soy products have a special cholesterol-lowering effect. Aside from the fact that they have no cholesterol or animal fat, there is something about soy protein that brings down cholesterol a bit further. If your burger is made of soybeans instead of beef, you will not only skip beef’s cholesterol and fat, you will also get an extra cholesterol-lowering benefit. »
“As We Soy, So Shall We Reap” by Angel Flinn http://gentleworld.org/as-we-soy-so-shall-we-reap/
“The Truth About Soy” VegWorld Magazine – Issue 9 – April 2013 Interview with Dr. Michael Greger.
“Too Much Soy May Neutralize Plant Based Benefits” by Dr. Michael Greger http://nutritionfacts.org/video/too-much-soy-may-neutralize-plant-based-benefits/.
‘The Truth About Soy” by Dr. John McDougall on Soy http://youtu.be/wu2OjHvXFVw
“Weston A. Price Foundation: shills and quacks” by Tom Swiss from The Unreasonable Man blog http://unreasonable.org/node/1642
“Nutritional Facts and Fiction – Fanciful folklore is no match for modern science!” By Dr. Joel Fuhrman – VegSource.org http://www.vegsource.com/articles2/fuhrman_facts_fiction.htm
“Settling The Soy Controversy” by Dr. Neal Barnard – The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/neal-barnard-md/settling-the-soy-controve_b_453966.html
“Genetically Engineered Foods May Cause Rising Food Allergies”—Genetically Engineered Soybeans – Institute for Responsible Technology http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/health-risks/articles-about-risks-by-jeffrey-smith/Genetically-Engineered-Foods-May-Cause-Rising-Food-Allergies-Genetically-Engineered-Soybeans-May-2007
Dr. Joel Furhman « Super Immunity – The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting Your Body’s Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free » page 159.
Dr. Neal Barnard « Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs »
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