Soy products provide most vegetarians with a large part of their diet’s protein.
However, recent debates about the safety of soy have caused many of us to wonder if we’re actually harming ourselves and our children by eating so much soy.
When my husband and I first switched to a vegetarian diet, we both relied pretty heavily on soy products like veggie burgers and tofu. However, we eventually decided to try other food alternatives, and we don’t eat much soy at all anymore. However, it still concerned me that soy might actually be harmful, so I did some research recently and here’s what I’ve come up with.
One of the first places I looked for help was the excellent website of Dr. Raymond Wiel. As a pioneer of good health through nutrition, he has always been one of my go-to resources for information. According to an article on his site called “Is Soy Milk Safe?“, Dr. Weil feels that soy can be safely eaten in moderate portions (1-2 servings per day) until the research into soy is definitive. He feels that warnings of increased breast cancer and early puberty are unsubstantiated so far.
Another resource I used was a very informative article from Natural Life Magazine. They, too, cite experts who feel that the dangers of soy are still largely unproven. In the article, the magazine points out that the most definitive research isn’t on the danger of soy, but it’s effect on vitamin absorption:
Soy is thought by some vegans to be a source of Vitamin B12. But there is research to indicate that Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and may actually increase the body’s requirement for the vitamin. Soy also apparently increases the body’s requirement for vitamin D. Other research has found that high levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. The phytic acid is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking.”
They suggest that you limit your soy consumption to fermented products such as tempeh or miso.
Apparently, fermentation reduces the phytate and antinutrient levels in soybeans.
The researchers at small-farming advocacy group The Cornucopia Institute take a bit more of a stand on the safety of soy. A study they did in 2009 revealed that many manufacturers of soy products used petroleum-based solvents such as hexane to process the soybeans they used. Hexane is considered a neurotoxin by the CDC and the Cornucopia Institute’s report convinced several manufacturers to change their suppliers to those using safer (and hexane-free) methods.
The Cornucopia Institute has a free list of hexane-free brands available on their website if you want to print one out.
The takeaways for me after all of my research are that soy products should be eaten in moderation and should be made from organic soybeans. It’s also better to use fermented soy as opposed to fresh. Until the research is finally definitive, I think these steps are what seem safest.