All of us are influenced by marketing at some point. If we were not, companies would stop ploughing funds into their marketing departments. Of course, this is just basic capitalism when it comes to choosing a pair of jeans. But the issue becomes decidedly unethical when food choices are concerned.
Soy is a perfect example of this. It’s a great source of protein, we are told. It helps balance estrogen, we are told. It protects against cancer, we are told. The only problem is that none of this is true. We are told lies.
Soy is a poor source of protein. Although, for a plantfood, it figures reasonably high on the ABV scale at 79, this does not take into account the trypsin inhibitors that are present in soy. These chemicals actively block the action of protein-digesting enzymes. Dr Nicolas Gonzales, an American doctor who has won acclaim for his successful use of pancreatic enzymes in cancer patients, describes soy as ‘the most powerful trypsin inhibitor of any food on earth’. Trypsin inhibition means you absorb less of the protein in your diet. I will leave you to conclude on the value of a protein food that compromises protein absorption.
Does soy balance estrogen? Only if it is low. This is because soy contains phytoestrogens, plant chemicals that can bind with estrogen receptors in the body. Officially, the jury is out on whether this binding to the receptors can be helpful (by blocking more powerful forms of estrogen from attaching) or whether it simply drives up the estrogenic actions in the body, negatively affecting sleep patterns, water retention and fat storage as it does so. When looking at the research, a clear pattern emerges; papers funded by the soy industry find that it is helpful for estrogen balance in the body. Independent research tends to be indecisive or firmly conclude that soy is to be avoided. Mary Enig PhD, a nutritional researcher at the Weston A Price Foundation, discovered that 100g of soy protein had the same effect on estrogen levels as taking a contraceptive pill. Worrying for women, tragic for men.
As for the anti-cancer effects of soy, this is not a complete lie but a severe case of massaging the truth. Soy it it’s natural form has no anticarcinogenic effects at all. Fermented soy does. When the product is fermented, two isoflavones are formed; dadzein and genestein. Until fermentation occurs, these compounds are not present. This means all the common soy products (tofu, soy milk, soy yoghurt, soy nuts, edamame, soy flour, soy protein) provide no anti-cancer activity. Only soy sauce, miso and natto do (together with traditionally-fermented tofu, largely unavailable in the Western world).
Of course, you will not hear anything about this distinction. Neither will you hear about the well-documented goitrogenic effects of soy (this means it compromises the function of your thyroid gland). You will also hear very little about genetic modification, yet 91% of the soy put into the food supply has undergone genetic modification. Naturally, this is a personal choice should you wish to consume frankenstein foods, but the reality remains: we, as a scientific community, do not know what long-term effects GM foods have in humans. We still don’t know why GM foods show little effect on some rats and kill others.
The reason you do not hear this discussed is that the soy industry spends an estimated $6bn annually on marketing and cajoling authorities into promoting the bean. It may seem crazy that an industry has sprung up touting the benefits of a food so unsuitable for human consumption, but upon investigation the rationale falls into a more common pattern. The climate in America lends itself well to soy production; this was noted in the 1970s, and this economic concern was the biggest driver behind the increased production of soy and the ensuing propaganda war against ‘tropical’ oils like those found in coconut (which, incidentally, are extremely beneficial for human health).
We are regularly told how soy consumption in Japan is one of the many reasons why their population suffers lower levels of cancer. But, while iodine intake remains the most likely explanation for the improved hormonal health and reduced cancer rates, the reality is that the Japanese do not consume unfermented soy as a habit. Turns out they’re not stupid.
While some post-menopausal women do find the estrogen-boosting effects of soy helpful, it remains the case that there are much better ways to achieve this effect (such as ground flax, pueraria mirifica and red clover). I never consume soy apart from small amounts from soy sauce, miso and the occasional natto (politely described as an ‘acquired taste’); I suggest that all my clients adopt the same policy. Meanwhile, the sale of any genetically-modified food that interferes with thyroid function, impairs protein digestion, increases estrogen remains morally bankrupt, and marketing it as a health food is simply absurd.