To eat or not to eat?
As my friends and family are well aware, I absolutely love talking about food. I love when chats about favourite recipes and food products turn to a great discussion on the many positive effects a plant-based diet has on the human body. It is during these discussions that I frequently get asked about soy. Some are surprised I eat so little and others are surprised I even eat it at all.
We do eat soy in our house, but only in limited quantities and only ORGANIC. We also make every attempt to avoid soy in its processed form and aim for the fermented soy products. This is my take on soy……
Since the rise of the plant-based diet, there has been so much conflicting information about soy. As Peggy Kotsopoulos states in her book Must Have Been Something I Ate, “the controversy surrounding soy can stir up more drama than an episode of Jersey Shore”. 🙂
So what do you make of it all? Is it good for you or is it bad for you?
Well, that really depends on a few factors. Are you eating soy in its whole state or processed state? How much of it do you consume or, most importantly, how much prepared and packaged foods do you consume?
Dr. Campbell, along with many other plant-based diet advocates (Dr. McDougall, Dr. Barnard, and Dr. Esselstyn), conclude that whole or minimally-processed soy foods can be beneficial for health. The phytoestrogens, “plant” estrogens, in soybeans work to remove the excess hormones in our body that fuel certain types of cancer. Isolfavones – you may have heard of this term – are a class of phytoestrogens. Isoflavones have been heavily researched, as they are so commonly found in soy products.
Edamame (whole soy beans), tempeh (fermented soy bean), miso (fermented soy bean paste), tamari (fermented soy sauce) and tofu are all examples of whole or minimally-processed soy foods.
The problem is that excess quantities and concentrations of phytoestrogens may actually be harmful to the body.
If we consume foods that contain soy in its processed form then we are in fact receiving insanely concentrated amounts of phytoestrogens. You may be consuming processed soy without even knowing it. Soy has been celebrated as the “legume champion” in the Western world and, as a result, it has made its way into our food BIG TIME.
It has become that good transition food for those aiming to eat more of a plant-based diet. It is the base of most imitation meats and cheeses and it is even found in cereals, crackers, baked goods, and protein powders, as a filler. A filler with literally no nutritional value.
I first discovered how prevalent soy was in our food many years ago when I had my daughter on an elimination diet to detect food allergies. It is then that I realized we need to stay clear away from packaged foods, as much as possible.
According to Dr. Campbell, “Americans are consuming 10-15 times more soy than the Chinese”. The reason for this is that we are eating it in its processed form.
Processed soy goes by many names. You may feel that you need a science degree for grocery shopping! Isolated soy protein, soy protein isolate, MSG, and texturized vegetable protein (TVP) are all names for soy in its processed form.
Since soy is in nearly all processed foods, many individuals have developed an allergy or intolerance to it. For this reason, it has been given the name “the new gluten”. Along with corn, wheat, gluten and dairy, soy is considered one of the most common allergens. Some of the symptoms, like digestive upsets, are very similar to the wheat/gluten allergy or intolerance.
So, it is best to avoid processed soy and avoid prepared and packaged foods. So, why choose ORGANIC?
Next to corn, soy beans are one of the most genetically-modified crops in the U.S. According to Rose Marie Pierce, “in the U.S. and Canada, almost all soy that is not referred to on the label as organic has been genetically manipulated”. Although scientists are not fully sure of any health consequences of eating GMO foods, I personally choose to eat organic soy, as to avoid the GMOs.
So why eat soy at all?
Fermented soy such as tempeh, miso, and tamari offer many health benefits. Rose Marie Pierce discusses this beautifully in her article “Fermented Soy Foods” (see the above link).
Although tofu is considered “minimally processed”, it does contain a lot of usable calcium and protein making it an excellent choice for those transitioning away from animal-based foods. Although there is no need to be concerned about protein requirements on a varied, whole foods, plant-based diet, I will tell you that a one-half cup of tofu contains a whopping 20 grams of protein.
Individuals transitioning to a more plant-based diet for compassionate reasons may choose soy as an animal-based alternative. In her book The 30 Day Vegan Challenge, Colleen Patrick Goudreau states that consuming tofu is “simple, humane, and helpful”. In eating tofu, you avoid “consuming enzymes extracted from dead baby calves”, as you would with say animal-based cheeses.
Tofu is made from soy milk taken from whole soy beans. After much soaking, grinding, boiling and straining, a coagulant is added. This process makes tofu a “minimally processed” food. Magnesium chloride and calcium chloride (both found in sea water) are two common coagulants, one of which is added to tofu to cause curdling. It is these coagulants that boost the calcium level found in tofu. Since learning that these two coagulants are extracted from evaporated sea water, I am less leery about consuming tofu every now and then.
Soy is a food that is not at all required to meet the nutritional needs on a varied, whole foods, plant-based diet.
If you do choose to eat soy, be cautious and only eat it in moderation. Brendan Brazier, author of The Thrive Diet, states that “eating organic tofu once a week or so as your only source of soy is a perfectly healthy option if you do not have a sensitivity to it”. If you suspect a soy sensitivity, stay away from it and read your food labels carefully.
Choose whole soybeans or fermented soy products. Choose tempeh over tofu! Tempeh, miso and tamari are all fermented soy products. Remember that the more a food is processed, the less likely you will gain any health benefits.
Looking for a delicious tempeh recipe for the family? I recently made this from Arohanui Vegan Love and my kids loved it! My husband and I ate it “as is”, but my kids dipped their pieces in a wee bit of ketchup. 😉
Choose organic soy as to avoid the GMOs. When I purchase tofu, I look for SOL Cuisine Organic Tofu as the beans are grown right here in Ontario. Check out the Vegan Flavorista for some delicious tofu recipes.
Check labels carefully on packaged or prepared foods to avoid those excess isoflavones that may be harmful to the body. See here for a concise list of soy names and information on the soy-free diet. If you are looking for a soy-free cheese, Daiya makes great vegan cheeses with no artificial ingredients and preservatives. My personal favourite is the “Jack Style Wedge”. Or, try making your own!
Happy Valentine’s Day! I’ll end this post with a photo of my tofu hearts I made my kids for lunch. 🙂 I got a lot of good laughs, an “awww” and one big “oh mom”!! (My girls are nearly 14 and 10 years old).