The marketing bandwagon has touted soy as the next perfect health food for decades with its health benefits aggressively pushed in the media. From 1992 to 2006, soy food sales increased from $300Mil to nearly $4Bil!i Soybean is the number one genetically modified crop in the world (93% of soy is GMO), containing high amounts of Glyphosate. Due to its high iron, oil and protein content, soy is cultivated for a variety of food purposes, but does more harm than good as shown by more than 170 studies. Most modern soy food, from soy milk to soy burgers, are processed, which means they contain natural toxins called “antinutrients” that pose a danger to your health by blocking your absorption of proteins and has phytic acid that blocks minerals – especially zinc. Unfortunately, most Americans (85% according to 2008 study) still believe that unfermented and processed soy products like soy milk, soy cheese, soy burgers and soy ice cream are good for them.
The survey also found that consumers:
- rank soybean oil among the top three healthy oils, with 70 percent recognizing soy oil as a healthy oil, and
- depend on soybean oil, commonly sold as vegetable oil, as one of their two most frequent cooking oils
This is a tragic case of shrewd marketing of misinformation and outright lies taking root among the masses, which will likely take some time to undo.
Ever since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim for soy foods in 1999 (which said diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease), soy sales have skyrocketed. In the years between 2000 and 2007, food manufacturers in the U.S. introduced over 2,700 new foods with soy as an ingredient, including 161 new products introduced in 2007 alone.
This has resulted in a booming multi-billion dollar business. From 1992 to 2007, soy food sales increased from a paltry $300 million to nearly $4 billion, according to the Soyfoods Association of North America.
The propaganda that has created the soy sales miracle is all the more remarkable because, only a few decades ago, the soybean was considered unfit to eat – even in Asia. During the Chou Dynasty (1134-246 BC), the soybean was designated one of the five sacred grains, along with barley, wheat, millet, and rice.
However, the pictograph for the soybean, which dates from earlier times, indicates that it was not first used as a food; for whereas the pictographs for the other four grains show the seed and stem structure of the plant, the pictograph for the soybean emphasizes 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 method of fixing nitrogen.13
The soybean did not serve as a food until the discovery of fermentation techniques, sometime during the Chou Dynasty. The first soy foods were fermented products like tempeh, natto, miso, and soy sauce.
At a later date, possibly in the 2nd century BC, Chinese scientists discovered that a purée of cooked soybeans could be precipitated with calcium sulfate or magnesium sulfate (plaster of Paris or Epsom salts) to make a smooth, pale curd – tofu or bean curd. The use of fermented and precipitated soy products soon spread to other parts of the Orient, notably Japan and Indonesia.
The Chinese did not eat unfermented soybeans as they did other legumes such as lentils because the soybean contains large quantities of natural toxins or “antinutrients.” First among them are potent enzyme inhibitors that block the action of trypsin and other enzymes needed for protein digestion.
These inhibitors are large, tightly folded proteins that are not completely deactivated during ordinary cooking. They can produce serious gastric distress, reduced protein digestion and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake. In test animals, diets high in trypsin inhibitors cause enlargement and pathological conditions of the pancreas, including cancer.14
Soybeans also contain haemagglutinin, a clot-promoting substance that causes red blood cells to clump together.
Trypsin inhibitors and haemagglutinin are growth inhibitors. Weanling rats fed soy containing these antinutrients fail to grow normally. Growth-depressant compounds are deactivated during the process of fermentation, so once the Chinese discovered how to ferment the soybean, they began to incorporate soy foods into their diets.
In precipitated products, enzyme inhibitors concentrate in the soaking liquid rather than in the curd. Thus, in tofu and bean curd, growth depressants are reduced in quantity but not completely eliminated.
Soy also contains goitrogens – substances that depress thyroid function.
Additionally, a very large percentage of soy is genetically modified (93%) and it also has one of the highest percentages of contamination by pesticides of any of our foods.
Soybeans are high in phytic acid, present in the bran or hulls of all seeds. It’s a substance that can block the uptake of essential minerals – calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and especially zinc – in the intestinal tract.
Although not a household word, phytic acid has been extensively studied; there are literally hundreds of articles on the effects of phytic acid in the current scientific literature. Scientists are in general agreement that grain- and legume-based diets high in phytates contribute to widespread mineral deficiencies in third world countries.15
Analysis shows that calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc are present in the plant foods eaten in these areas, but the high phytate content of soy- and grain-based diets prevents their absorption.
The soybean has one of the highest phytate levels of any grain or legume that has been studied,16 and the phytates in soy are highly resistant to normal phytate-reducing techniques such as long, slow cooking.17 Only a long period of fermentation will significantly reduce the phytate content of soybeans.
When precipitated soy products like tofu are consumed with meat, the mineral-blocking effects of the phytates are reduced.18 The Japanese traditionally eat a small amount of tofu or miso as part of a mineral-rich fish broth, followed by a serving of meat or fish.
Vegetarians who consume tofu and bean curd as a substitute for meat and dairy products risk severe mineral deficiencies. The results of calcium, magnesium, and iron deficiencies are well known; those of zinc are less so.
Zinc is called the intelligence mineral because it is needed for optimal development and functioning of the brain and nervous system. It plays a role in protein synthesis and collagen formation; it is involved in the blood-sugar control mechanism and thus protects against diabetes; it is needed for a healthy reproductive system.
Zinc is a key component in numerous vital enzymes and plays a role in the immune system. Phytates found in soy products interfere with zinc absorption more completely than with other minerals.19 Zinc deficiency can cause a “spacey” feeling that some vegetarians may mistake for the “high” of spiritual enlightenment.
Milk drinking is given as the reason why second-generation Japanese in America grow taller than their native ancestors. Some investigators postulate that the reduced phytate content of the American diet – whatever may be its other deficiencies – is the true explanation, pointing out that both Asian and Western children who do not get enough meat and fish products to counteract the effects of a high-phytate diet, frequently suffer rickets, stunting, and other growth problems.20
If you have any sort of thyroid issues going on, it is really the best policy to avoid all soy all the time as soy is a potent goitrogen (thyroid suppressor) even if fermented.
Soy Protein Isolate: Not So Friendly
Soy processors have worked hard to get these antinutrients out of the finished product, particularly soy protein isolate (SPI) which is the key ingredient in most soy foods that imitate meat and dairy products, including baby formulas and some brands of soy milk.
SPI is not something you can make in your own kitchen. Production takes place in industrial factories where a slurry of soy beans is first mixed with an alkaline solution to remove fiber, then precipitated and separated using an acid wash and, finally, neutralized in an alkaline solution.
Acid washing in aluminum tanks leaches high levels of aluminum into the final product. The resultant curds are spray-dried at high temperatures to produce a high-protein powder. A final indignity to the original soybean is high-temperature, high-pressure extrusion processing of soy protein isolate to produce textured vegetable protein (TVP).
Much of the trypsin inhibitor content can be removed through high-temperature processing, but not all. Trypsin inhibitor content of soy protein isolate can vary as much as fivefold.21 (In rats, even low-level trypsin inhibitor SPI feeding results in reduced weight gain compared to controls.22)
But high-temperature processing has the unfortunate side effect of so denaturing the other proteins in soy that they are rendered largely ineffective.23 That’s why animals on soy feed need lysine supplements for normal growth.
Nitrites, which are potent carcinogens, are formed during spray-drying, and a toxin called lysinoalanine is formed during alkaline processing.24 Numerous artificial flavorings, particularly MSG, are added to soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein products to mask their strong “beany” taste and to impart the flavor of meat.25
In feeding experiments, the use of SPI increased requirements for vitamins E, K, D, and B12 and created deficiency symptoms of calcium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, copper, iron, and zinc.26 Phytic acid remaining in these soy products greatly inhibits zinc and iron absorption; test animals fed SPI develop enlarged organs, particularly the pancreas and thyroid gland, and increased deposition of fatty acids in the liver.27
Yet 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 giveaway programs.
In spite of poor results in animal feeding trials, the soy industry has sponsored a number of studies designed to show that soy protein products can be used in human diets as a replacement for traditional foods.
An example is “Nutritional Quality of Soy Bean Protein Isolates: Studies in Children of Preschool Age,” sponsored by the Ralston Purina Company.28 A group of Central American children suffering from malnutrition was first stabilized and brought into better health by feeding them native foods, including meat and dairy products. Then, for a two-week period, these traditional foods were replaced by a drink made of soy protein isolate and sugar.
All nitrogen taken in and all nitrogen excreted were measured in truly Orwellian fashion: the children were weighed naked every morning, and all excrement and vomit gathered up for analysis. The researchers found that the children retained nitrogen and that their growth was “adequate,” so the experiment was declared a success.
Whether the children were actually healthy on such a diet, or could remain so over a long period, is another matter. The researchers noted that the children vomited “occasionally,” usually after finishing a meal; that over half suffered from periods of moderate diarrhea; that some had upper respiratory infections; and that others suffered from rash and fever.
It should be noted that the researchers did not dare to use soy products to help the children recover from malnutrition, and were obliged to supplement the soy-sugar mixture with nutrients largely absent in soy products – notably, vitamins A, D, and B12, iron, iodine, and zinc.
Marketing the Perfect Food
“Just imagine you could grow the perfect food. This food not only would provide affordable nutrition, but also would be delicious and easy to prepare in a variety of ways. It would be a healthful food, with no saturated fat. In fact, you would be growing a virtual fountain of youth on your back forty.”
The author is Dean Houghton, writing for The Furrow,2 a magazine published in 12 languages by John Deere. “This ideal food would help prevent, and perhaps reverse, some of the world’s most dreaded diseases. You could grow this miracle crop in a variety of soils and climates. Its cultivation would build up, not deplete, the land… this miracle food already exists… It’s called soy.”
Just imagine. Farmers have been imagining – and planting more soy. What was once a minor crop, listed in the 1913 US Department of Agriculture (USDA) handbook not as a food but as an industrial product, now covers 72 million acres of American farmland. Much of this harvest will be used to feed chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, and salmon. Another large fraction will be squeezed to produce oil for margarine, shortenings, and salad dressings.
Advances in technology make it possible to produce isolated soy protein from what was once considered a waste product – the defatted, high-protein soy chips – and then transform something that looks and smells terrible into products that can be consumed by human beings. Flavorings, preservatives, sweeteners, emulsifiers, and synthetic nutrients have turned soy protein isolate, the food processors’ ugly duckling, into a New Age Cinderella.
The new fairy-tale food has been marketed not so much for her beauty but for her virtues. Early on, products based on soy protein isolate were sold as extenders and meat substitutes – a strategy that failed to produce the requisite consumer demand. The industry changed its approach.
“The quickest way to gain product acceptability in the less affluent society,” said an industry spokesman, “is to have the product consumed on its own merit in a more affluent society.”3 So soy is now sold to the upscale consumer, not as a cheap, poverty food but as a miracle substance that will prevent heart disease and cancer, whisk away hot flushes, build strong bone, and keep us forever young.
The competition – meat, milk, cheese, butter, and eggs – has been duly demonized by the appropriate government bodies. Soy serves as meat and milk for a new generation of virtuous vegetarians.
Marketing Costs Money
This is especially when it needs to be bolstered with “research,” but there’s plenty of funds available. All soybean producers pay a mandatory assessment of one-half to one percent of the net market price of soybeans. The total – something like US$80 million annually4 – supports United Soybean’s program to “strengthen the position of soybeans in the marketplace and maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets for uses for soybeans and soybean products”.
State soybean councils from Maryland, Nebraska, Delaware, Arkansas, Virginia, North Dakota, and Michigan provide another $2.5 million for “research.”5 Private companies like Archer Daniels Midland also contribute their share. ADM spent $4.7 million for advertising on Meet the Press and $4.3 million on Face the Nation during the course of a year.6
Public relations firms help convert research projects into newspaper articles and advertising copy, and law firms lobby for favorable government regulations. IMF money funds soy processing plants in foreign countries, and free trade policies keep soybean abundance flowing to overseas destinations.
The push for more soy has been relentless and global in its reach. Soy protein is now found in most supermarket breads. It is being used to transform “the humble tortilla, Mexico’s corn-based staple food, into a protein-fortified “super-tortilla” that would give a nutritional boost to the nearly 20 million Mexicans who live in extreme poverty.”7 Advertising for a new soy-enriched loaf from Allied Bakeries in Britain targets menopausal women seeking relief from hot flushes. Sales are running at a quarter of a million loaves per week.8
The soy industry hired Norman Robert Associates, a public relations firm, to “get more soy products onto school menus.”9 The USDA responded with a proposal to scrap the 30 percent limit for soy in school lunches. The NuMenu program would allow unlimited use of soy in student meals. With soy added to hamburgers, tacos, and lasagna, dietitians can get the total fat content below 30 percent of calories, thereby conforming to government dictates. “With the soy-enhanced food items, students are receiving better servings of nutrients and less cholesterol and fat.”
Soy milk has posted the biggest gains, soaring from $2 million in 1980 to $300 million in the US last year.10 Recent advances in processing have transformed the gray, thin, bitter, beany-tasting Asian beverage into a product that Western consumers will accept – one that tastes like a milkshake, but without the guilt.
Processing miracles, good packaging, massive advertising, and a marketing strategy that stresses the products’ possible health benefits account for increasing sales to all age groups. For example, reports that soy helps prevent prostate cancer have made soy milk acceptable to middle-aged men. “You don’t have to twist the arm of a 55- to 60-year-old guy to get him to try soy milk,” says Mark Messina. Michael Milken, former junk bond financier, has helped the industry shed its hippie image with well-publicized efforts to consume 40 grams of soy protein daily.
America today, tomorrow the world. Soy milk sales are rising in Canada, even though soy milk there costs twice as much as cow’s milk. Soybean milk processing plants are sprouting up in places like Kenya.11 Even China, where soy really is a poverty food and whose people want more meat, not tofu, has opted to build Western-style soy factories rather than develop western grasslands for grazing animals.12
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