I have always been an omnivore, eating pretty much anything that comes along with some preferences and some dislikes. I am married to a vegetarian who’s transitioning to vegan. And I grew up in Germany with a quite different diet than what I have now in New Zealand. So I have seen quite a lot of food in my life, even have eaten things that most people in New Zealand probably would never eat.

My move to New Zealand has seen some interesting food realted issues popping up. I noticed that suddenly I was not good with the usual quantities of milk any more, so first reduced consumption and then stopped it altogether. It would bloat and give me a tummy ache. I later learnt that this may be an issue with A1 vs A2 milk, the latter apparently more common – or exclusively – in Europe. I have not done resaerch into it, I just avoid milk for this and other reasons.

Bread was soon put onto the restricted food list as well. I grew up with a sourdough rye bread while in New Zealand the vast majority of bread is white yeast. Caused pretty much the same issues as the cow milk. Background to this may well be because a sourdough is already fermented and kindof pre-digested. Again, not going into the details here.

So much for the introduction.

Being married to a vegetarian and not cooking extra at home, the family tend to eat vegetarian – with lots of soy products. So this post is more of a collection of thoughts around soy products. And yet again there’s confusing information out there. The general perception is that soy is good for you: Non-animal, vegan, high in protein, etc.

But then you do a bit of research and googling and find quite contradicting information as well. The following are some quotes.

Soy is pervasive in our lives. Not only are soybeans made into food products like tofu, soy sauce, and meat substitutes, but we also eat them in the form of soybean oil and soybean meal.

WWF

Without proper safeguards, the soybean industry is causing widespread deforestation and displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples around the globe.

WWF

The environmental destruction caused by soybean farming isn’t limited to the Amazon; it occurs throughout the world wherever soybeans are produced.

Small Footprint Family

Monocultures have never been good in any instance, neither in plant production nor animal farming. Deforestation has been a major concern for other types of productions like plam oil and palm kernel.

Where do the soy beans go?

When we look at global production, maybe we need to look at where the soy goes.

Soybeans also reach our tables as oil—which represents around 27% of worldwide vegetable oil production. While its most common oil-based form is table oil, soy is increasingly used for biodiesel production.

WWF

For years we’ve seen the perpetuation of a largely false stereotype – that increased soy production reflects growth in popularity for vegan and vegetarian diets. This erroneous myth has helped spur the widespread belief that soy-based foods (and the vegans and vegetarians who eat them) are as much responsible for environmental destruction as animal-based products, like meat and dairy. 

And although soy production does come with environmental costs, most of it’s not grown for the reasons we think: the real driver behind excessive soybean cultivation is not ardent vegans and vegetarians, but, counterintuitively, the meat, dairy and egg industries. This is because the vast majority of the world’s soybeans – between 80-90%, is fed to farmed animals. Of the soy remaining, just 6% is turned into soy products for human consumption.

Food Unfolded

Is soy good for us?

So even if we put aside that 80% goes into animals, are soy products good for you?

There’s nothing natural about today’s modern soy protein products; they are very much factory-made pseudo-foods. Textured soy protein, for example, is made by forcing defatted soy flour through a machine called an extruder under conditions of such extreme heat and pressure that the very structure of the soy protein is changed.

Small Footprint Family

And the opinions vary.

The Takeaway: Soy is a unique food that is widely studied for its estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects on the body. Studies may seem to present conflicting conclusions about soy, but this is largely due to the wide variation in how soy is studied. Results of recent population studies suggest that soy has either a beneficial or neutral effect on various health conditions. Soy is a nutrient-dense source of protein that can safely be consumed several times a week, and is likely to provide health benefits—especially when eaten as an alternative to red and processed meat.

Harvard University

Does the type of soy matter?

So, if you choose to eat soy foods, you will find the most benefit from eating small quantities of organically-grown, whole-food, fermented soy, like real soy sauce, miso, tempeh, or natto, the way Asian people have safely enjoyed soy for millennia.

Small Footprint Family

Part of the uncertainty is due to the intricacy of soy’s effects on the body. Soy is unique in that it contains a high concentration of isoflavones, a type of plant estrogen (phytoestrogen) that is similar in function to human estrogen but with much weaker effects. Soy isoflavones can bind to estrogen receptors in the body and cause either weak estrogenic or anti-estrogenic activity. The two major soy isoflavones are called genistein and daidzein. Soy isoflavones and soy protein appear to have different actions in the body based on the following factors:

  • Type of study. Is it being examined in a study with animals or humans? Soy may be metabolized differently in animals, so the outcomes of animal studies may not be applicable to humans.
  • Ethnicity. Soy may be broken down and used by the body differently in different ethnic groups, which is why individuals from some countries who eat a lot of soy appear to benefit from the food.
  • Hormone levels. Because soy can have estrogenic properties, its effects can vary depending on the existing level of hormones in the body. Premenopausal women have much higher circulating levels of estradiol—the major form of estrogen in the human body—than postmenopausal women. In this context soy may act like an anti-estrogen, but among postmenopausal women soy may act more like an estrogen. Also, women with breast cancer are classified into hormone type—either hormone positive (ER+/PR+) or hormone negative (ER-/PR-) breast cancer—and these tumors respond differently to estrogens
  • Type of soy. What type of soy is being studied: Whole soy foods such as tofu and soybeans, processed versions like soy protein powders, or soy-based veggie burgers? Fermented or unfermented soy foods? If supplements are used, do they contain isoflavones or soy protein?

Harvard University

So, still confused? So am I.

Guess the key takeaway is: Avoid any processed food. The more processed, the less likely it is probably for your body and the more likely it is to contain traces of the production agents. And of couse: buy organic and avoid the things like pesticides and herbicides.

 

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