by: Fallon, Sally
Sally Fallon is a nutrition journalist and food historian. She is the author of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, a full spectrum nutritional cookbook which documents the politics behind the cholesterol theory of heart disease. She can tell us which fats and oils are beneficial and which are harmful, with supporting scientific documentation. Sally is the editor of the Price Pottenger Nutrition Foundation Health Journal, and is a regular contributor to a wide number of alternative health publications.
THE LOSS OF OUR TRADITIONAL FOODS Many traditional wholesome foods like butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, cream, whole milk, whole cheeses, eggs, traditionally prepared grains, and traditionally processed vegetables and fruits have been driven out of the commercial marketplace by factory-fabricated substitutes, such as vegetable shortenings, hydrogenated fats, baked goods made with white flour, sugar, canned goods, low fat and pasteurized milk (low fat milk is not good for you), imitation butter, imitation cream, imitation eggs, imitation cheese and meat substitutes. These are not whole foods. The misapplication of technology to our food supply and our acceptance of that misapplication in the form of processed food is the root cause of our current health crisis and an enormous amount of suffering, from the agony of the cancer patient to the anguish of the learning disabled.
THE COMING OF SOY TO AMERICA Soy, a small pale legume from Asia is relatively new to our dinner tables in the Western Hemisphere. When the soy bean was originally introduced into the United States at the turn of the century, it was used in the manufacture of a number of industrial products (oil, plastic, and ink), but it was not considered fit to eat. Today, soy foods are found everywhere, even in normal supermarkets. According to the Soy Food Association of America, about 13.6% of the U.S. population now incorporates ersatz (artificial or inferior) soy-based products like hotdogs, sausage, bacon, cheese and frozen desserts into their diets. Large scale cultivation of the soy bean in the United States began only after the Second World War and quickly rose to 140 billion pounds per year. Most of the crop is made into animal feed and is extremely toxic to the livers of dairy cattle, and many of our dairy cattle now are completely barn-fed and get a lot of soy in their diets.
HYDROGENATED SOY OIL The other use of this huge crop is to make soy oil for hydrogenated fats, margarine and shortening. During the past twenty years the industry has concentrated on finding markets for the by-products of soy oil manufacturing, including soy lecithin and soy protein products made from the defatted soy flakes. And this has been a great challenge for the soy industry because it has involved overcoming consumer resistance to soy products, which were generally considered tasteless poverty foods. So the soy industry has promoted soy foods as health food to the Yuppie market. Hence the proliferation of soy products resembling traditional American food. Soy milk for cows milk, soy baby formula, soy yogurt, soy ice cream, soy cheese, soy flour for baking and textured soy protein as meat substitutes usually promoted as high protein, low fat, no cholesterol health foods to the upscale consumer increasingly concerned about his health. Now in order to do this they had to demonize the foods that soy was replacing: butter, whole milk, meat, cream, cheese, eggs - all the traditional whole foods that nourished our ancestors.
HEALTH CLAIMS MADE FOR SOY An incredible amount of hype has accompanied the meteoric rise of soy as a common food, both as to its health benefits as well as its Epicurean value. A popular booklet sold in many health food stores describes soy foods as "uniformly high in protein, but low in calories, carbohydrates and fats, entirely devoid of cholesterol, high in vitamins, easy to digest, tasty and wonderfully versatile in the kitchen". The claim that soy bean products provide a complete nutritional package needs to be carefully examined.
HISTORY OF THE SOY BEAN Soy beans come to us from the Orient. During the Chou Dynasty, from 1134 to 246 BC, the soybean was designated as one of the five sacred grains, along with barley, wheat, millet and rice, however, it was not at first used for food. The pictograph for the soybean emphasized the root structure. Agricultural literature of the period speaks frequently of the soybean and its use in crop rotation. Apparently the soy plant was initially used as a very effective method for fixing nitrogen in the soil.
FERMENTATION OF THE SOY BEAN The soy bean did not serve as a food until the discovery of fermentation techniques sometime during the Chou Dynasty. Thus, the first soy foods were fermented products like tempeh, natto, miso, and soy sauce. At a later date, possibly in the second century BC, Chinese scientists discovered that a puree of cooked soybeans could be precipitated with calcium sulfate or magnesium sulfate. Calcium sulfate is plaster of Paris, and magnesium sulfate is Epsom salts, and they used these compounds to make a smooth pale curd called tofu. So you might be interested to know that tofu is made with plaster of Paris or Epsom salts.
TOXINS IN SOY BEANS
ENZYME INHIBITORS The Chinese did not eat unfermented soybean products. They recognized that they were quite toxic, unlike the other legumes such as lentils, because the soybean contains large quantities of a number of harmful substances. First among them are potent enzyme inhibitors, which block the action of trypsin and other enzymes needed for protein digestion. You do find inhibitors in all seed foods, grains and legumes, but the problem with soy is that these anti-nutrients are very resistant to the types of cooking techniques and preparation techniques that we have traditionally used for our seed foods. They are not completely deactivated during ordinary cooking and can produce serious gastric distress, reduced protein digestion and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake. In precipitated products like tofu, enzyme inhibitors concentrate in the soaking liquid rather than in the curd. Thus, in tofu and bean curd, these enzyme inhibitors are reduced in quantity, but they are not completely eliminated. In test animals, diets high in trypsin inhibitors cause enlargement and pathological conditions of the pancreas, including cancer, and this includes the very large study on soybeans sponsored, actually, by Ralston Purina who makes soy protein isolate. Along with enzyme inhibitors, soy contains a number of substances that are goitrogens, that is, they depress thyroid function. Soy beans also contains hemoglutinen, a clot-promoting substance that causes red blood cells to clump together. Trypsin inhibitors and hemoglutinen have been rightly labelled growth depressant substances. They are deactivated during the process of fermentation.
PHYTATES Soybeans are also high in phytic acid or phytates. Scientists are in general agreement that the high phytate content of legume, soy and rice-based diets prevents the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc present in the foods. The soybean has a higher phytate content than most other grains and legumes, and it is highly resistant to the phytate-reducing techniques used in traditional cultures such as soaking or long slow cooking. Only a long period of fermentation will significantly reduce the phytate content of soybeans. Thus, fermented products such as tempeh and miso provide nourishment that is relatively easy to assimilate. But the nutritional value of tofu and bean curd, both high in phytates, is questionable. When precipitated products like tofu are consumed with meat, the mineral blocking effects of the phytates are reduced. The Japanese traditionally eat a small amount of tofu as part of a mineral-rich fish broth. Vegetarians who consume tofu and bean curd as a substitute for meat and dairy products risk severe mineral deficiencies. The mineral that soy blocks the most is zinc. Zinc is called the intelligence mineral because it is needed for optimal development and function of the brain and nervous system.
SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE The growth of vegetarianism among the more affluent classes has greatly accelerated the acceptability and use of these ersatz products. Most soy products that imitate traditional American food items including baby formulas and some brands of soy milk, are made with soy protein isolate, that is the soy protein isolated from the carbohydrate and fatty acid components that naturally occur in the bean. To produce the isolate, soy beans are first ground up and subjected to high temperature and solvent extraction processes to remove the oils. The resultant defatted meal is then mixed with a very caustic alkaline solution and sugars in a separation process to remove the fiber. Then it is precipitated and separated using an acid wash. Finally, the resultant curds are neutralized in another caustic alkaline solution and then they are spray-dried at high temperatures to produce a high protein powder. Soy protein isolate is not something that you can make in your kitchen. It is made in great big factories, chemical processing plants. This is a highly refined product in which both the vitamins and proteins are denatured. Even so, some of the trypsin inhibitors remain, even after such extreme refining. The trypsin inhibitor content of soy protein isolate can vary as much as five-fold. In rats, even low level trypsin inhibitor soy protein isolate feeding results in reduced weight gain and stunted growth compared to controls. These anti-nutrients are also called protease inhibitors and the soy industry has cleverly packaged them up as a cure for AIDS.
TEXTURIZED VEGETABLE PROTEIN A final indignity to the original soy bean is high temperature, high pressure extrusion processing of soy protein isolate to produce textured vegetable protein (TVP). Numerous artificial flavourings, particularly MSG (MSG is an extremely toxic neurotoxin) are added to TVP to mask their strong beany taste and impart the flavour of meat. Soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein are used extensively in school lunch programs, commercial baked goods, diet beverages and fast food products. They are heavily promoted in Third World countries and form the basis of many food give-away programs. These soy products greatly inhibit zinc and iron absorption. In test animals they cause enlarged organs, particularly the pancreas and thyroid gland and increased deposition of fatty acids in the liver.
SOY MILK is another popular product and it is instructive to compare traditional production of soy milk with modern production methods. In China, traditional preparation of soy milk begins with soaking the beans until they become soft and partially sprouted. The softened beans are ground into a mush on a stone grinder using copious amounts of water, then put into a cloth bag and placed under a weight or a heavy rock so that all the liquid is squeezed out. A lot of the anti-nutrients come out in the liquid. The resultant soy paste is then cooked in fresh water. Large amounts of dirty scum that rise to the surface are carefully removed. A lot of anti-nutrients come out in the scum. To serve, raw egg or dried shrimp (animal foods) are placed in a bowl along with scallions, soy sauce flavourings and vinegar, and the scalding soy milk is poured over these. The vinegar causes the soy milk to curdle slightly. In traditional times homemade soy milk was consumed by the elderly and by nursing mothers, but it was not normally used for feeding infants, nor as an everyday food. Industrial methods for the production of soy milk leave out the all-important squeezing and skimming step, the steps that the traditional peoples use to get out all these anti-nutrients. In order to remove as much of the trypsin inhibitor content as possible, the beans are first soaked in an alkaline solution. The puréed solution is then heated to about 115C in a pressure cooker, a much higher temperature than we could ever get by cooking something on the stove. This method destroys most, but not all of the anti-nutrients, but has the unhappy side effect of so denaturing the proteins that they become very difficult to digest and much reduced in effectiveness. The lysine is almost completely denatured by these processes they use to get rid of the anti-nutrients. The phytate content remains in soy milk and blocks the uptake of essential minerals. In addition, the alkaline soaking solution produces a carcinogen called lysinolene and reduces the cysteine content, which is already low in the soy beans. Lacking cysteine, the entire protein complex of the soybean becomes useless unless the diet is fortified with cysteine-rich meat, eggs, or dairy products, an unlikely occurrence, as the typical soy milk consumer drinks the awful stuff because he wants to avoid meat, eggs, and dairy products. Various refined sweeteners, preservatives and stabilizers are then added to soy milk products. It is then packaged and sterilized at very high temperatures so it has infinite shelf life.
SOY SAUCE When you buy a soy sauce, you want to buy the very expensive soy sauce. It comes in glass bottles and says "traditionally brewed" and it is worth the extra price. This traditional soy sauce is made by a fermentation process that takes six to eight months to complete. It is an artisanal process developed over many years; it is a great tradition in Asia. This long and careful procedure creates a mixture of phenolynic compounds including a natural form of glutamic acid. The natural form is the L-, or left handed form that contributes to the unique taste and aroma of traditionally brewed soy sauce.
NEUROTOXIC MSG IN SOY The modern bioreactor fermentation method produces a product by rapid hydrolysis in the space of two days, rather than by complete fermentation, and uses the enzyme glutamase as a reactor, so that the final product contains large amounts of the unnatural form of glutamic acid, the D- or right handed form that is found in monosodium glutamate (MSG). Basically, what they produce in this quick bioreactor method is MSG. MSG, of course, is a potent neurotoxin that causes everything from seizures and lack of coordination to brain cancer, Alzheimer's, vision disorders and violent behaviour. MSG and related substances are found in all modern (non-traditional) soy products. I received a letter recently from a man who was losing his vision after eating soy powders for a year.
ALUMINUM IN SOY There are high amounts of aluminum in soy foods. All this adds up to a product that is very bad for the nervous system. In fact, tofu made from soy beans has been implicated as a contributing factor in Alzheimer's Disease. A recent study of Japanese men who migrated to Hawaii found that the men who ate the largest amount of tofu had the most severe cases of Alzheimer's.
NITROSAMINES are potent carcinogens and these are often found in soy protein foods. They are formed when you spray things out of a nozzle into the air at high temperatures. They are found in things like powdered eggs, powdered milk and soy products. These highly carcinogenic substances are also in baby formulas.
FALLACIOUS HEALTH CLAIMS FOR SOY PRODUCTS
HIGH IN NUTRIENTS Fermented soy products contain protein, vitamins, anti-carcinogenic substances and important fatty acids. These are good things to have in your diet if they are traditionally fermented soy products, but even so, they are not nutritionally complete. Like all pulses or legumes, the soy bean lacks the vital sulfur-containing amino acids: cysteine and methionine - these are usually supplied by rice and other grains. Claims that fermented soy products like tempeh can be relied on as a source of Vitamin B12 necessary for healthy blood and nervous system have not been supported by scientific research. Finally, soy beans do not supply the all important fat soluble vitamins A and vitamin D and pre-formed A or retinol, which act as catalysts for proper absorption and utilization of all minerals and water-soluble vitamins.
DIGESTABILITY Are soy products as easy to digest as claimed? Fermented soy products probably are easy to digest, but highly processed unfermented products with their cargo of phytates, enzyme inhibitors, rancid fatty acids and altered protein most certainly are not easy to digest.
BABY FORMULAS Soy milk formulas are often given to babies with milk allergies, but allergies to soy are almost as common as those to milk. The claim is that soy is an acceptable substitute for milk in the feeding of babies and young children. The main ingredient of soy-based infant formula is soy protein isolate, so along with the growth-depressing trypsin inhibitors, these formulas have a high phytate content. The use of soy formula has caused zinc deficiency in infants and we know how important zinc is to the development of the nervous system. In fact, the reason mothers' milk is low in iron is because iron interferes with zinc and you don't want to be giving your children iron in their food until they are about six months old so they can absorb all the zinc from mothers' milk, preferably breast milk. Aluminum content of soy formula is ten times greater than that of milk-based formula and one hundred times greater than that of unprocessed milk. Aluminum has a toxic effect on the kidneys of infants. Soy formulas lack cholesterol, which is absolutely essential for the development of the brain and the nervous system. Mothers' milk is extremely high in cholesterol and mothers' milk has a special enzyme that helps the baby absorb cholesterol. It is very important for growing children to have a lot of cholesterol in their diet. Cholesterol is also very important for the development and the integrity of the intestinal wall, so that you do not get leaky gut syndrome. And I am sure that the reason we have so much of this problem today is that the babies were not getting enough cholesterol when they were growing up, or not absorbing it properly. Soy formulas also are made with sucrose rather than lactose and galactose, which are human milk sugars that play an important role in the development of the nervous system. Soy formulas used to have lactose added, but that was too expensive, so now they just add sucrose. Not surprisingly, animal-feeding studies show a lower weight gain for rats on soy formula than for those on whole milk, high lactose formula. I am not in favour of formula feeding at all, but if that is what by necessity you must do, you want a milk-based formula that has lactose in it. The best thing is to find a Jersey cow and get this wonderful Jersey cow raw milk. It should be very clean of course; the cow must be healthy and then you add lactose to it and a number of other things, including some cod liver oil and coconut oil. All of this is in my whole foods baby formula recipe, in Nourishing Traditions. Children on macrobiotic diets which include the use of soy milk and large amounts of whole grains also show lower weight gain. Children brought up on high phytate diets tend to be thin and scrawny.
DO SOY FOODS PREVENT CANCER? How about the claim that soy foods prevent cancer? This claim is predicated on two suppositions: i) that Asian populations consume large amounts of soy foods; ii) that Asian populations have low amounts of cancer. Both of these statements are wrong. The average consumption in China is 9 gm - that is less than a tablespoon, and the average consumption in Japan is 30 gm, which is between two and three tablespoons. Yet, The Simple Soy Bean and Your Health recommends one cup, or 230 grams of soy products per day in an optimal diet to prevent cancer. Now, nothing of the kind is being consumed in the Orient. And certainly, these are traditional soy products being consumed, not the soy protein isolate and so forth. Furthermore, studies have shown that consumption of legumes is not strongly correlated with the prevention of any degenerative disease, including cancer. Some studies, in fact, link the actual consumption of soy foods with increased rates of cancer. Why are rates of breast cancer are astronomically high in the U.S.? Principally because of the consumption of soy foods in the form of hydrogenated margarines and shortenings. These trans-fats in our food supply are a fast track to breast cancer. There must be 40 books on the market on how to prevent breast cancer, and none of them even mention the very carcinogenic effects on breast tissue of these trans-fatty acids. They are not only found in margarine, but in all of our processed foods, including canola oil.
HEART DISEASE What about the claim that soy foods prevent heart disease? This claim is based on the fact that soy foods lower cholesterol. This is true. Soy foods do lower cholesterol. However, lowering cholesterol does not necessarily prevent heart disease, and can, in fact cause an increase in other disorders, including cancer, intestinal diseases, stroke, accidents, violent behaviour, depression and suicide. All of these conditions are associated with lowering cholesterol. The great increase in heart disease in the United States has actually paralleled the great increase in the use of soy foods in the form of soy oil, devitalized, hydrogenated and added to all of our processed foods.
OSTEOPOROSIS Another claim for soy foods is that they prevent osteoporosis and hip fractures, again, based on indications that Asian countries have lower rates of osteoporosis, which is true. But this is really an extraordinary claim, given the fact that soy foods block calcium and cause vitamin D deficiencies. The likely reason that Asians have lower rates of osteoporosis is because their diet provides plenty of vitamin D from vitamin D rich foods like shrimp, lard and seafood. They still cook in lard in Asia and lard is a wonderful source of Vitamin D; it builds healthy bones. And they have plenty of calcium from bone broths. The traditional snack foods in these countries are broth-based soups, a wonderful source of calcium that is easy to use. The reason we have such high rates of osteoporosis in the west is because we have substituted soy oil for butter, which is a source of vitamin D and other fat soluble activators needed for calcium absorption. And we have used low-fat milks, which don't have the natural Vitamin D needed for calcium absorption which makes that calcium actually quite toxic because we cannot absorb it.
ESTROGENIC COMPOUNDS IN SOY
MENOPAUSE AND PHYTO-ESTROGENS Finally, let's look at the claim that soy foods can prevent hot flashes and ease the discomforts of menopause due to the presence of phyto-estrogens in soy, compounds that resemble human estrogens. These phyto-estrogens including isoflavones, are the darlings of conventional nutritional therapy, promoted not only as a panacea for hot flashes, but also for a variety of modern ailments including cancer, heart disease, fatigue and osteoporosis.
GOITROGENS Promoters of soy products such as soy protein isolate, or phyto-estrogens extracted from soy, usually fail to mention that soy products are goitrogenic to humans. That means they depress thyroid function. Certain substances found in the soy bean inhibit thyroid hormone synthesis, leading to goiter and other adverse changes in the thyroid gland. Low thyroid function is associated with a host of debilitating diseases including cancer, heart disease, fatigue, osteoporosis, and a difficult menopause. So if you are taking soy for your menopause, it is depressing your thyroid and it may cause you to have a more difficult menopause. My advice to you for avoiding any difficulties of menopause is to eat whole nutrient dense foods including plenty of animal fats and avoid processed devitalized skeletonized commercial foods.
INFERTILITY Actually my colleague, Mike Fitzpatrick in New Zealand, who has done a lot of work on soy phyto-estrogen, says that they are misnamed; they really should be called "phyto-endocrine disrupters" because they have an endocrine disruptive effect. Studies have shown the phyto-estrogens lengthen menstrual periods and reduce fertility hormones (Cassidy). Mike first discovered this when he was called by a couple named James who were New Zealand's largest parrot raisers, and they were having a lot of trouble with infertility in their parrots. One particular type of parrot that is unique to New Zealand is born with kind of a brown colour and in about nine months it develops a beautiful red plumage. The parrots were developing their red plumage at about three weeks, and then they lived for about two years. Normally, parrots live about 20 years. They traced the problem to the endocrine disrupters in the soy feed which was relatively new to the diet of the parrots. We also know from animal studies that soy causes infertility.
HORMONAL IMBALANCES IN INFANTS Speaking of the estrogenic compounds in soy, a recent study of infants fed soy formula found that these infants had concentrations of estrogen compounds in their blood 13,000 to 22,000 times higher than babies on milk-based formula or breast milk.
FEMINIZATION OF MALES One can only surmise what the long-term biological effects of the exposure of infants, especially male infants to such high levels of adult female hormones might be. The baby boy in the first six months of his life has a testosterone tide with testosterone levels as high as an adult male. This testosterone programs him to grow into a man, to have 3-D spatial thinking, to have differences in all of his organs, including the reproductive organs. You don't see the results or the effects until he reaches puberty. We are finding now, in medical literature, a tremendous amount of alarm about the number of boys who are reaching puberty with undeveloped sexual organs with penises the size of little babies.
EARLY MENARCHE IN FEMALES We are also finding more and more girls having puberty before the age of eight. Fifty per cent of African American girls have pubic hair and breast development before the age of eight. And 3% have this development before the age of three. This is an obscene tragedy. A study of girls in the Dominican Republic who had this early menarche found one correlation; they were given soy formula as infants. We really have a tragedy in the making on our hands; we also have liability class action suits that can hopefully destroy this industry.
POLITICS OF SOY The soybean industry in America is highly monopolistic, controlled by a small number of huge companies like Cargill Corporation, and Archer, Daniels, Midland Company. Archer, Daniels, Midland, the world's major soy processor, spends heavily on advertising, especially for news programs on major networks. The company spends $4.7 million for advertising on Meet the Press and $4.3 million on Face the Nation during the course of a year. ADM also has holdings in major newspapers. They control the media, so naturally the press presents soy in a favourable light. ADM lobbies heavily in Washington and supports university research programs. ADM president, Dwayne Andreas is fanatic about spreading soy-based foods around the world. There is a lot in it for him, but there is not much in it for us.
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED SOY RESULTS IN INCREASED PESTICIDE USE AND DESTRUCTION OF THE SMALL FARMER Soy is basically a monoculture requiring massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides. It is for this reason that Monsanto has recently developed a genetically-engineered strain of soy that is resistant to the herbicide Roundup. The long-term effects of these genetically engineered seeds on our ecology can only be guessed at, but the industry is gloating that within a couple of decades, 75% of all our foods will come from genetically-engineered seeds, with soy foods at the top of the list. Furthermore, this trend towards GMOs (genetically modified organisms) will continue to edge out the small conscientious farmer and producer. It will continue to centralize and industrialize our food production. The soy industry, with the help of the International Monetary Fund is encouraging the cultivation of soy in Third World countries; in essence, displacing traditional crops and ultimately the traditional foods that have nourished these societies for thousands of years. Profit from soy processing of genetically modified crops bypasses the farmer and small businessman, because it requires expensive investment in industrial equipment.
SUMMARY There may be some beneficial factors in soy foods prepared according to traditional fermentation methods like miso, tempeh and natto. In the Orient these are eaten in small amounts as condiments and not as a replacement for animal foods. Highly processed soy protein isolates and textured vegetable protein have little in common with traditional soy products. Tofu and soy milk are high in phytates and should only be eaten in small amounts. Promotion of modern industrially processed soy products should be viewed with skepticism. This is a huge and powerful industry. Consumer beware. There is no joy in soy. It is a ploy.
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Research in this article is fully referenced in Sally Fallon's book, Nourishing Traditions, which is available at Consumer Health.
Audiotapes and transcripts of her presentations at Total Health '99 are also available.