Soy is such a fraught topic in the health world: everyone seems to have an opinion on it, and those opinions are neatly split into two camps. On the one hand, there are people who think soy can do no wrong, and on the other, there are people who think it is one of the unhealthiest foods in the world.
For a long time, I belonged to the second camp and avoided soy religiously. I have to say, though, that I didn't notice any special effects from excluding it from my diet, except that I had a particularly annoying restriction to deal with. This was especially difficult as I am a vegan, and I suddenly could hardly eat any of the specialty foods I had previously enjoyed.
I later introduced soy back into my diet, and though I paid extra attention to how my body reacted, I really didn't notice any problems with it. As far as my (quite sensitive) body could tell, it just seemed like a normal, wholesome food.
But what about all of the claims about soy being unhealthy? I looked into some of them, and found that the claims didn't really make much sense. Let me do a breakdown.
The most common thing you will hear about soy is that it contains phytoestrogens. These chemicals mimic estrogen (the main female hormone). Opinions are divided on this: some people think it helps to balance the body, other people think it's a major problem, especially if you are a man.
I for one think that a little less testosterone would do our society good. But really, the effects of phytoestrogens are so small as to be negligible.
Transgender women have attempted to use phytoestrogens in concentrated form to feminize the body. So these are people with male bodies actively trying to get breasts from soy concentrate! Guess what happens? Nothing. It doesn't work.
"A 2010 meta-analysis of fifteen placebo-controlled studies said that "neither soy foods nor isoflavone [phytoestrogen] supplements alter measures of bioavailable testosterone concentrations in men.""
So let's please forget once and for all about phytoestrogens. They were a cool idea, but in reality they are just not a big deal.
Now some people, notably the distinctly un-vegetarian Weston Price Foundation, have made an issue about soy's phytic acid content.
Phytic acid can cause, to an extent, certain minerals to be unabsorbable by the body. Scary right? Well, unless you realise that practically all seed foods (grains, nuts, beans) contain it.
Going with stats from Wikipedia again, you can see easily that several foods (pinto beans, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, linseed) have more phytic acid than soy, sometimes by a large margin (sesame seeds have 5 times the phytic acid of soy).
Other foods like rice and wheat have 80% and 40% of the phytic acid content of soy, respectively.
Quite a bit less, for sure. But it's pretty certain you'll eat more than double the amounts of at least one of these staples than you will eat of soy.
If you don't want phytic acid in your diet you're just going to have to give up seed foods. Good luck with that.
Ah, now there is one criticism of soy that has some grounding: it is very frequently GMO. In the United States, for instance, 90% of all soy produced is GMO. Percentages are similar in Europe and elsewhere.
What's more, at least some of these beans (I couldn't get a figure for exactly how many) are "Roundup Ready" soybeans, the Monsanto product which is immune to herbicide and allows growers to cover their fields with vast quantities of the said poison.
So - that's bad.
The good is that soy products are frequently organic, seeing as they are marketed to health conscious people in the first place. Organic foods, as you probably know, cannot be GMO.
Among those which aren't organic, it's also quite frequent for the producers to make a point to use non-GMO soybeans and they will advertise this fact somewhere on the packet.
So it's quite easy to avoid GMO soybeans. And bear in mind that even if you did avoid soy entirely, you'd still be eating plenty of GMOs in the other foods you do favour.
In the end, I think people demonise soy because it's just such a famous food. It's a big, easy target, and some people just feel like they need a target to attack.
What about the other side of the equation - is soy as healthy as some say?
Well, it is quite high in protein. But then again, most beans are. And protein is a rather over-rated nutrient; it's very hard to get too little protein, even on a vegan diet. Most starchy foods contain ample amounts of protein.
Young soybeans (edamame) are quite easy to digest, too. I find them a good simple food for a certain phase of the reintroduction of foods after a fast.
I think, though, that soy's best health benefits come from the fact that it is such a good substitute for so many unhealthy foods. There is great tasting soy yoghurt, soy icecream, soy milk, and soy cheese. And tofu and tempeh can be satisfying alternatives to meat.
Soy contains no cholesterol - unlike animal foods - and has plenty of fibre and other nutrients - unlike animal foods. Its fat and protein are both of healthier sorts than that of animal foods. Basically, soy helps you eat less meat, eggs, and dairy; and that is only a good thing for your health.
I hope this article has been useful.
Sophia Gubb is a blogger and counsellor dealing with indigo children and adults, spirituality, personal development and activism. She is a lightworker and determined to make the world a better place however she can. You can find her and her writing at www.sophiagubb.com