A Very Controversial Health Topic
Soy is a controversial topic among many dietary health circles, some say it’s good for our health and others tell you to avoid it. Soy was popularized for its health-promoting benefits because researchers found in Okinawa, Japan — considered by some people to be the healthiest place on earth — they consumed a lot of soy (although “a lot” might not be as much as you think).1 The key difference with the soy that Okinawans consumed, was that it is a much different type of soy than most consume today
The Traditional Process of Fermentation
Traditionally soy foods, that Okinawans and many other Asian cultures consume, went through a long, slow process of fermentation. The main advantages of fermented soy sauce are that it contains a wider variety of nutrient substances and the fermentation process makes Soy much easier for your digest and absorb.2 Some of the nutrients it provides are essential nutrients such as an adequate amount of protein, Vitamin D3, and manganese. Fermentation breaks down compounds in soybean into smaller units making them more digestible. One particular type of carbohydrate subcomponent called oligosaccharides3 promotes the growth of good intestinal flora like lactic acid bacteria.4 They’re considered “good” bacteria because they maintain the chemical balance in the large intestine and aid in the further breakdown of nutrient substances in food. Another incredibly important part of fermentation is that it “deactivates” many of the antinutrients, including phytic acid, in soy that act as toxins in your body.5
Modern Soy Health Concerns
Acid Hydrolysis, The Modern Process
Conversely, most modern soy foods are not fermented to neutralize toxins in soybeans, they instead go through a process known as acid hydrolysis.6 This is a much faster process as it may only take days while fermented soy sauce takes at least 6 months. But it necessitates additional stabilizing and flavoring ingredients. Furthermore, when soy foods are processed in this way it denatures their proteins7 and increases levels of known carcinogens such as Nitrosamines.8
Genetically Modified (GMO)
This is not the only problem with most modern soy as, at least, 90 percent of soy today is also genetically modified.9 Genetically modified foods are linked to many health problems because they kill off good bacteria in your gut and also damage the functioning of your digestive system. Combine this with the fact that soy products, traditionally fermented or not (often increased in the later), contain phytoestrogens which may lead to major disruption of your endocrine system.
Phytoestrogens are naturally-occurring plant compounds that are structurally and/or functionally similar to mammalian estrogens and their active metabolites.10 Isoflavones, a sub-class of phytoestrogens have been widely promoted for their purported health benefits such as the promotion of heart health and maintenance of bone health.11
However, phytoestrogens, particularly the isoflavones, fit the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of an endocrine disruptor which characterizes these compounds as those which, “alter the structure or function(s) of the endocrine system and cause adverse effects.”10 This is perhaps due to the most well-characterized mode of phytoestrogen action which is estrogen receptor (ER) binding. These findings have raised concerns that isoflavone intake, by mimicking or interfering with endogenous estrogens, could pose a risk to human reproductive health.
Other Health Concerns
There are yet more possible dangers of soy consumption, as the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado claims that trypsin inhibitors found in soy products interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. They also state that the vitamin B12 found in soy are not in their usable form and actually increase the body’s need for more B12.12 Additionally, the Weston A. Price Foundation has found at least one study every year, dating back from 1939 to 2014, showing adverse health effects of dietary soy.13 Although I bet you could also find studies showing beneficial health effects for most if not all of those years as well.
What Is My Conclusion?
Taking all of this, and more, I have concluded (in my opinion) that 95 percent of it is bad for you. My case in point is that at least 90% percent of the soy products we’re consuming today are conventional, GMO and toxic to your system. For that reason alone, most soy is bad for you. Also, in my opinion, even if you get organic, traditionally fermented soy foods they should still only be consumed in moderation and not as a staple in your diet.