Soybeans: Part 2

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Find part one here.

By Elena Day

Regarding Soy: One cannot dispute the soybean’s role in increased worldwide use of herbicides and pesticides as well as in the proliferation of factory farms. Associated problems of the latter include increased antibiotic use, excrement-filled lagoons which routinely spill into adjoining streams/wetlands (Google Virginia’s own Smithfield Foods Inc. violations) and concentrated methane emissions from supersized feedlots.

After January’s column I began reading labels and found soy protein, lecithin, or oil contained in a plethora of products, including personal favorites, Breton (Dare Foods) crackers and Newman’s Own salad dressings. Soy is as ubiquitous in our American diets as is high fructose corn syrup. Note that texturized vegetable protein or hydrolyzed vegetable protein is code for soy.

Eighty-five percent of the planet’s soybeans are crushed into meal for animal feed or oil. Soy is the most widely used oil or fat. It is often blended with other vegetable oils. The “agro-industrial complex” has found uses for even wastes of soy meal and oil processing. Soy has been promoted as nutritionally optimal for humans as well as the cows, pigs, and chickens for which an increasingly meat protein-hungry world clamors. There is ongoing controversy as to whether soy is a “superfood” or a “hormone-disrupting poison.”

One hundred grams or 3.5 ounces of whole unprocessed soybeans contain large amounts of manganese, selenium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iodine, calcium, vitamins B6, B2, B1 and vitamin K. The same amount of soybeans contains 17 grams of protein, 10 grams of carbohydrates and 9 grams of fat.

Beyond this, praise for the “golden bean” becomes problematic. Navigating incredibly numerous claims and counterclaims as to its benefits or perils is labyrinthine for one like myself without a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

Whole soybeans must be boiled or fermented to counteract the side effects of saponins, lectins and protease inhibitors. All of these in one way or another are destructive to the intestinal tract of monogastric humans. (Pigs and poultry are monogastric, while cows and other ruminants have a four-chambered, complex stomach.)

Soybeans are high in phytates or phytic acid (stored phosphorus), which may bind to zinc, iron and calcium, reducing their absorption in the human gut. Long, slow cooking reduces the phytic effect only minimally. Fermentation is more effective. But then phytates are also antioxidants and we’ve all been schooled to know that antioxidants offset cancers.

Protein quality is decreased when soybeans are processed at high temperatures. Hexane, a component of gasoline, is commonly used for all food-based soybean oil extraction. Hexane is a contaminant in all soy food products remaining after oil extraction. Controversy persists as this process continues to be unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Soybean oil is high in Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in Omega 3. Some Omega 6 fatty acids contribute to inflammation within the body. Omega 3 fatty acids decrease inflammation. Both 6 and 3 are essential fatty acids that humans must ingest in their diet as the body cannot manufacture them. These fatty acids are crucial to brain function and normal growth and development. Nutritionists warn that the ratio between Omega 6 and Omega 3 is optimally 1:1. Typical Western diets heavy on the processed foodstuffs (which more often than not contain soy additives) have ratios ranging from 25:1 to 14:1.

Soybean products are high in isoflavones, which are categorized as phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant-derived substances that can stimulate estrogen-like effects. Isoflavones can both activate estrogen receptors or at other times inhibit them. Isoflavones have been used as a natural alternative to estrogen drugs in menopausal women.  Concurrently, there are studies that soy isoflavones stimulate proliferation of epithelial cells in the breast, which may result in cancer.

Soy protein is the primary ingredient in infant formula. Twenty-five percent of the infant formula market is soy. Soy formula was originally introduced as an alternative to cow milk formula for babies with milk allergy. It is largely used nowadays to maintain a vegetarian diet and/or to avoid milk from cows injected with yet another Monsanto product, Bovine Somatotrophin (BST) or Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), used to increase milk production. (Monsanto began marketing BST in 1994.) Isoflavone content varies by formula batch. It is agreed that infants fed soy formula generally are ingesting seven times more isoflavones by weight than adult Asians eating a traditional soy-based diet. As of yet there has not been conclusive determination that the high amounts of phytoestrogens in soy formula have negative long-term effects.

From 1938 to 1971, doctors prescribed DES, Diethystilbestrol, a synthetic estrogen, to over 10 million women to reduce the risk of miscarriage. It was even recommended as a routine prophylactic to all pregnant women. DES was included in products as widespread as lotions and shampoos as well as growth enhancers for chickens and cattle. Adverse effects were first detected in 1971 when both male and female children of women who had been prescribed DES developed reproductive health problems. These included malformations of the uterus, cervix and vagina, increased risk of testicular cancer, lower sperm count, undescended testicles, infertility and late spontaneous abortion. Some of these were predicted from animal studies. Phytoestrogens are endocrine disrupters and thereby soy infant formula is suspect.

Before I throw up my hands in confusion and a bit of alarm, note that in 1999 the FDA approved the health claim that the daily consumption of soy is effective in reducing the risk of coronary artery disease. Reevaluation of this has been ongoing since 2007.

Hesiod, Greek didactic poet and contemporary of Homer (c.700 B.C.) wrote “observe due measure; moderation is best in all things.” Aristotle advised moderation as well. Perhaps regarding soy in one’s diet it’s best to eat moderate amounts of more traditional soy products such as tofu and miso. If one believes we are what we eat and we suffer the consequences thereof, it’s best to read labels. The 21st century is one of immoderation.

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