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The Great Soy Debate

By Erik on Feb 18, 2011 10:00 AM in Tips & Updates

By Erik Fantasia

Processed foods have long been criticized for the amount of sugar, salt, artificial flavorings, and preservatives they contain, as well as their lack of beneficial nutrients compared to fresh, natural alternatives. 

Until recently, few have worried about an additional item found in many processed foods - soy.  From soy-based oils, to lecithin, to textured protein, soy has found its way into nearly every manufactured food in the supermarket, including cookies, candies, pastries, pastas, cereal, and ice cream. Should we be concerned about the increasing number of soy-based products in our diet?

History of Soy

Asian societies have been consuming soy for thousands of years in the form of miso, tofu, tempeh, and natto.  These products are all processed from raw soybeans either by fermenting or from precipitated soaked beans. This processing is required to remove a number of unpleasant components found in raw soybeans, some of which are toxic to humans.

These traditional soy products were relatively unknown outside of Asia until the 1970s and 80s, when tofu, in particular, gained popularity as a healthy protein source and meat substitute. In recent years, though, tofu sales have been falling as consumers have shifted their interest to soy-based meat alternatives made with textured vegetable protein and energy bars and snacks.

Even though the use of soy additives and soy-based products has exploded in recent decades, humans only consume a miniscule proportion of annual worldwide soy production; 98% of soy meal is used for animal feed.

Anti-Soy Arguments

Recently, a number of accusations have been leveled against soy – a product many of us have long regarded as a healthy, high-protein food. Some of the claims are as follows:

  • Soy protein is poorly absorbed.  Despite the high-level of natural proteins found in soy, trypsin inhibitors still present after processing actually block protein absorption.
  • Soy minerals are poorly absorbed.  Phytates, found in soy products that are not-fermented, block the uptake of essential minerals in the intestinal tract, such as calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium.  Unfermented soy products include soy milk, soy infant formulae, soy protein powders and soy meat alternatives, such as soy sausages and veggie burgers made from hydrolyzed soy powder.
  • Soy products are toxic.  Nitrosamines, a carcinogen, along with aluminum and other toxins are often found in highly-processed soy products.  Soy contains phytoestrogens that disrupt the endocrine system

Many of the loud voices spreading these arguments have come from members of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), a US non-profit organization dedicated to “restoring nutrient-dense foods to the human diet through education, research and activism.” The Foundation promotes the consumption of unprocessed foods, including raw (unpasteurized) milk. Since its founding more than 10 years ago, WAPF has been waging a war against soy, publishing online articles such as “Soy Alert - Tragedy and Hype,” calling for a ban on infant soy formulas, and even suing the State of Illinois for serving prisoners meals with soy as a substitute-meat. Kaayla Daniel, a member of WAPF’s board of directors, authored the book 'The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food' in 2005.

Flawed Arguments?

Critics of WAPF claim the foundation is biased and has been misleading consumers by citing examples of sensationalist findings that take existing research out of context. For example, some of the research used to state their case comes from studies performed on rats and other animals, which have highly different nutrient requirements and reactions compared to humans. Other arguments focus on trace amounts of toxins and anti-nutrients present in soy that are harmful when consumed in extremely high concentrations. The truth is many healthy foods contain substances which are harmful in unrealistically large amounts, including celery (psoralens), broccoli (goitrogens), peanuts and peanut butter (aflatoxins), and mushrooms (hydrazines).  Laboratory research that looks large amounts of these substances tested in isolation cannot be applied to humans consuming actual foods in realistic quantities.

The Bottom Line

There’s no doubt that highly-processed foods are less nutritious than their freshly-prepared counterparts – soy included. If your diet is high in processed soy-based products like soy burgers, hot dogs, chili, or other packaged and processed soy foods, consider replacing some of them with a more natural soy source, such as tempeh or edamame.

Your thoughts…

What are your thoughts on soy-based food products?

Calorie Count co-founder Erik Fantasia and his girlfriend, Heather Curtis, are currently traveling through South America as part of a trip around the world.  You can follow their adventures online with Facebook and their blog.


I am much more concerned about the fact that our livestock is being fed something that scientists still aren't sure is healthy? 

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Are all of those "anti-soy arguments" relevant for edamame?  My kids love them and eat them all the time.  I thought they were getting a terrific source of protein.  Is protein absorption blocked even in soy's natural state?

Soy in the form of tofu, tempeh and edamame has been consumed by humans for many many years in some fo the countries the reap the best health. While overly processed foods are certainly not the best choice soy can be a healthful addition to a thoughtfully planned meatless meal.

Here is a good article on the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine web site.

The Weston Price people are a bunch of crack pots with a clear agenda and I would not consider anything they have to say worthy of consideration because it is based on junk studies. Because I am vegan I am concerned with these issue and therefore use reliable sources like medical studies from major health organizations and scientists to base my decisions on.

i eat mostly  soy food and other then  that turkey breasts. i eat no processed food all fresh or organic. im now on a non  starch diet nad i feel  great. for mantaining my 56kg is  great am 170cm

I've heard that the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine is a pretty radical group that have gotten more into the political realm and less toward the furthering of medical science.  I would take a look at their complete agenda before following anything they recommend. 

I have been vegetarian for 14 years, and I've eaten just about all sorts of meat substitute products.  I think that as stated above the key is moderation--I don't eat them every meal.  The best diet is a varied one, so I also rely on mixing partial protein foods.  I am more concerned about the hidden soy in highly processed foods, as those are more likely to be from non-GMO soy.

When processors add anything, "natural" or not....they alter the chemical reactions of what ever they interact with, animal or human.  As a person who cannot digest soy products nor dairy and things like Splenda etc. this eliminates a lot of food options out there. It is both a blessing and a curse.  It forces me to read labels constantly and makes eating out, a challenge. By the same token I do not frequent the fast food arena which has helped lead our society down the obesity trail not to mention other medical and even legal issues. 

We can choose to fret about what is healthy and not...right or wrong, to infinitude, but the bottom line is that we are each responsible for what we put in our mouths. I think the best advice I have learned is: everything in moderation, including moderation and  Keep it simple. 

According to this a book I read half of- "Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy" by JJ Virgin, PhD, CNS there is "No Joy in Soy".

She says its one of the top genetically modified crops in order to endure the spraying of pesticides. And then she says they're in aluminum casks and because soy contains fat then it can retain toxins easily. Along with her argument that its refined and contains a lot of sugar. She says a high soy intake (whats high?- she never mentioned that) has been linked to lower thyroid function.

Now this was in the book I was reading and I had thought "Wow, well when I drank only a serving of soy milk it'd help me to feel fuller and I was more successful at weight loss." The book gave me second thoughts on the matter of soy milk. But nonetheless I skipped the soy milk and then when I started to gain weight again- I retreived it once again and I lost a few pounds.

I'm not saying soy milk is bad or non-nutritious but it seems to help in my weight loss but there's always going to be arguments based on everything. I feel like you need to go with your best judgement and how YOUR body reacts to it.

I agree with what Dr. Andrew Weil has to say about soy "the good out weighs the bad" Just look at the countries with the most longevity of life...heavy soy bean consumers.

It's hard to tell what's hype and what's true science from these groups who are either promoting soy consumption or deprecating the fact that it's pushed as a health food. However, what's in less doubt is that soy is considered one of the big eight food allergens, that many children develop (and most outgrow) soy allergies at a young age, and that the incidence of soy allergy in adults (including myself) is increasing. htm

Overexposure to a food source can result in allergy. In the U.S., soy products of one kind or another can be found in most processed foods.

Oh, and for those who say countries that are heavy soy bean consumers have the highest life expectancies... I'm curious, based on this list of life expectancy by country  where the information is coming from that they are all high soy bean consumers. A lot of them are high olive and olive oil consumers instead. Spain, which comes in at #13, has some of the highest rate of smoking, too. Are you going to go out and start smoking just because they are also at #13 in longevity?

OVERALL diet is a key to longevity, if that's what you're really looking for. A wide range of foods is good, with mostly plant material, along with good, nutrient-dense protein and healthy fats. Personally, soy being included in that is not an option for me, and maybe I'll live a little less time, but I'm more invested in quality than quantity anyway. Wink

My greatest concern with soy is it's estrogenic properties. The fact that we are putting it in EVERYTHING is inundating us with too much estrogen. It's causing all sorts of problems like early puberty for our children and hormonal problems for many of us women. I am thankful for this info on the processing of it. Makes me even more educated on this topic. I don't like when we start substituting ANY food product in ALL of our foods. Just one more reason to focus on whole, unprocessed foods.

I have heard a rumor that soy contains a form of estrogen. I would like to read how this could effect a persons hormone balance, especially in baby formula! How dose this effect our live stock! 

Original Post by: fatflo

I have heard a rumor that soy contains a form of estrogen. I would like to read how this could effect a persons hormone balance, especially in baby formula! How dose this effect our live stock! 

It is not a "form of estrogen" if it was there would be regulations on it- think about it- I asked my GYN and that was his comment. Think about Asian cultures, who base thier dietary regimine on  Soy- I have heard for select individuals the "estrogenic affects" can react with some hormonal balance, like women who are estrogen positive. I consume soy- non GMO and organic- daily and it works for me.

My greatest concern with soy is for those of us who are allergic to it.  As more and more companies are substituting soy flour, soy meat, soy protein, soy fillers, eating at restaurants can become life threatening.  I get so tired of menus that say "garlic butter" becuase "garlic margarine" doesn't sound as good.  Even tuna packed "in water" is actually packed in "vegatable broth" which is soy water.  Turkey breasts and lunch meats are injected with "vegatable broth" (soy), soups, stews, chili, all thickened with soy flour  

-- I mean, really -- They make sugar free, low fat, lactose intolerant, gluten free, foods, but try to find food (in a grocery store or a restaurant) without soy! 

I find no flaws in your argument. We are often just looking for the lesser of the evils !

I am a 13-year breast cancer survivor.  My tumor was estrogen-receptor positive, meaning that estrogen feeds the tumor.  My oncologist said that the phyto-estrogens in soy can 1) interfere with treatment if the patient is put on an estrogen-blocker medication like Tamoxifen (which I was on for 5 years); 2) that phyto-estrogen can feed stray cancer cells not destroyed by chemo/radiation; 3) there are NO studies showing the benefit to women at risk for breast cancer who include soy in their diets.

You cannot compare the Western diet with Asian cultures where soy is part of the diet from birth.  Assuming that soy added to the diet as an adult will lower the risk of breast cancer is a mistake and faulty logic.

I'm concerned about the amount of soy found in processed foods in the US.  It's nearly impossible to avoid it unless you make all your own foods & don't use any prepared/processed/packaged foods.  The food industry is controlling what we eat to a very large extent, and their motivation is profit, not health.


Unless you buy organic, most soy is GMO- which is really scary as we don't yet know the full dangers there.

I think commedienne Phyllis Diller said it best: "Every time one of those D@*n rats die, we lose something good to eat!"

 Fermented soy does not have the deleterious effects of raw or unfermented.  

"Getting the Most from Soy Products excerpt from   

  Fermented Soy Foods   by author RoseMarie Pierce, BSc Pharm

...Choose organic fermented soy products such as tempeh, miso, natto, tamari, shoyu, and fermented whole soybean powder, milk, and yogurt. Genetically manipulated soy ingredients should be avoided whenever possible. In the US and Canada, almost all soy that is not referred to on the label as organic has been genetically manipulated. It is best to avoid hydrolyzed soy (vegetable) protein. New research suggests that soy formulas may be unsafe for infants.

It is relatively easy to cook with tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari, shoyu, and natto. Fermented soy powder, milks, and yogurt can be made into nutritional shakes and smoothies or included in pancake mixes, muffins, breads, and other baked goods. Cookbooks and recipes can make using soy even easier. Traditionally prepared, fermented soy foods are a healthy protein source.

Guide to Popular Fermented Whole Soy Foods

Miso: A rich, salty, fermented paste (made from salted soybeans alone or mixed with grains such as wheat, barley, and rice) that is cultured and aged.

Shoyu (soy sauce): Originally a by-product drained off miso, this dark brown liquid is typically used in Asian dishes. Tamari soy sauce is a by-product of miso without added grains.

Tempeh: A popular Indonesian food made by combining soybean with either rice or millet and a mould culture for 24 hours. It’s a hearty, chewy, meat-like cake that can be grilled as a burger or added to a main dish.

Natto: A sticky, pasty-textured, slightly sweet-tasting soy ferment, eaten for breakfast or dinner as a topping on rice or added to vegetable dishes.

Fermented tofu: First a tough-textured tofu is made from cooked puréed soybeans processed into a custard-like cake; it is then fermented to make a white, creamy food resembling semi-soft cheese.

Fermented soymilk or yogurt: Made from soymilk that is fermented by probiotic bacteria, it can be used as a dessert or to make sour cream, cream cheese, or a form of ice cream.

Fermented soy powder: A whole-food, bacteria-fermented powder used in nutritional shakes, bars, or in baking, with all the nutritional value of traditional fermented soy."

RoseMarie Pierce, BSc Pharm, is a holistic pharmacist with more than 30 years of experience in conventional and natural medicine. Reach this popular writer, lecturer, and hormonal health specialist at

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I agree with the person who posted the quote from naturalnews. I think the key is eating fermented soy. Those countries that use soy in traditional foods all use a fermented form. Soy milk is now showing up here in Korea, but it is not part of the culture. I think there is a reason for that. 

Just like olives have to be cooked in order to become the tasty food we know, tofu and other fermented products may have been developed to make a food which was otherwise not easily digestible palatable.

No expert references, just some common sense thought.

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they are not 'heavy' consumers, they treat soy as a condiment.  stick with the fermented types.  soy is also a top allergen, and it's hidden in so many foods.  proponents of soy aften hawk their own brand of soy protein, check to see if Dr Weil does this, I know Dr Northrup is a huge soy fan and has her own soy products.

Your traditional medical doc is a poor source for nutritional info, if you're lucky he had one semester of nutrition is all his years of medical training.  do your own homework in this arena.

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My son has almost faced death due to milk proteins, and nuts.  If it was not for SOY he would not be here today.  Soy is the greatest window to children whom have MILK Protein allergies.  As we know there are more growing Milk protein allergies then Soy. 

SO I say THANK YOU from the parents on the other side of the coin.  We know the concerns of anyone with allergies, but alternatives must be available for everyone.

Next time you go to the super market, look at the normal foods you feed your children and tell me, what contains milk and what contains soy.  It is a choice us parents have to make sure we have available for keeping our children alive. 

I love SOY it has allowed me to have an alternative for when that ICE CREAM TRUCK rings its bells down our block and all the kids come running in to get money for ICE CREAM, I am able to hand my son a great big SOY ICE CREAM CONE.... 


Death = MILK

is our choice..... FDA Approved.....

You know what?  I searched for years to find the MAGIC combo that would make me lose weight: Low carb diet, low fat diet, blood type diet, slim fast, etc.  We think we can lose weight if we eat the same diet THIN people eat: fish, soy, dairy, grapefruit, yogurt, flax, bran, blah-blah-blah!  Still looking for the MAGIC fix, aren't we? 

Bottom line: we will lose weight when we learn to eat OUR American diet in its proper proportions.  Eat what agrees with you, what you are not allergic to, what you can tolerate, all in moderation and in the correct portion for your body type and activity level.  We can't just try to copy the dietary habits of another country and expect to become thin and healthy.  There are too many variables to make that happen. 

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jriceput--I too have a dairy allergy. Apparently as a child I was diagnosed, but the doctor told my mom to make sure I didn't have milk before bed (the proteins in my saliva caused my skin to break out because of drooling while sleeping)--you know its un-American to not give your child milk (tongue in cheek here). He never said--don't feed her dairy products. 40 years later after a lot of discomfort and searching for answers I was told I have a dairy allergy (Mom--oh, yeah the pediatrician said that when you were little). Unlike many doctors thoughts on childhood allergies--I did NOT outgrow it. I don't think dairy=death for most people, though I DO think that our American culture leads us to think "hey if a little is healthy, a lot must be more so!". You are right in that casein (milk protein) is found in so many places--in things you wouldn't think would have it (potato chips!?). Those of us with food allergies have to be very dilligent when shopping, and for the most part (like it or not) we cannot use many processed foods. Soy is one alternative, though I have taste aversions to it myself (if I wanted a vanilla milkshake on my cereal I would have thought of it years ago). I agree with those who have stated moderation in everything, including moderation. The other evening, Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News reported on recent studies that zinc can reduce the time and severity of a cold. The report and Brian reiterated that zinc performs best when taken at the onset of symptoms and should not be taken all the time. He ended the report by stating that despite this advice, he expects sales of zinc lozenges to skyrocket. This is because of our MORE IS BETTER attitudes--and if this attitude changed, there would be no debate over food, common sense would be our guide.

“If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” ~Thomas Jefferson, 1781


This new Greenpeace GMO list is our weapon, our sword !

True Food Shoppers Guide mobile application for iPhone and Android!

Complete List U.S Non-GMO oklet.pdf, Update: f


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I agree with hobbs, not just soy but corn and sugar beet also


Since I can't have dairy so I would be missing out on many foods without these soy substitutes.  They are really helpful for many recipes and add variety to my life such as soy yogurt for snacks and soy frozen dairy for desserts.  Just plain cookies gets boring and have usually not protein (or very little like if they contain nuts.)

The GMO doesn't worry me.  I'm not reproducing and if LSD didn't kill me then GMO food won't either.   Personally I think GMO has lots of advantages like being natural pest & mold resistant so fewer or no chemicals need to be sprayed in the fields.  Genetically Modified to me means improved by mankind not just Mother Nature who does a great job but works very slowly and gradually.  This just speeds up the process and insures that we get what we want, not what might occur by chance - or might not.

The GMO doesn't worry me.  I'm not reproducing and if LSD didn't kill me then GMO food won't either

Wow, Koalabear...LSD may not have killed you but it certainly addled your brain.  Genetically modified to resist Roundup weed killer and now the weeds are becoming resistant so higher levels of Roundup must be used.  Harrmful residues are present in the soybeans which, if not ingested directly by humans, are present in the meat of the animals that ate the soybean meal....pigs, chickens, and cattle.  How can that be good?  And not only soybeans, but corn as well....and now the USDA wants to allow Roundup resistant alfalfa varieties.  The residues are accumulating in the soil and affecting following crops.

I am new here, having some trouble maneuvering, especially since I really only signed in so I cold join in comments occasionally, and you required all this info on my weight, height, etc. But no problemo. You have some great articles and recipes. Enjoying those most of all, and many intelligent commenters.

On the soy debate, it was one thing -along with not being especially picky about grass fed beef, milk, butter and hormone and anti-biotic free meats- that I really got a shock on. My understanding is that fermented soy is good, but the stuff they stick into soooo many foods is bad, creates estrogens (the bad kind not the good kind) and breast cancer is at an all time high: 1 in 6 or 1 in 7 women in USA. As a bc survivor, this gets very personal for me. Now and then I don't check every ingredient I eat or do indulge in an occasional Tbsp. of mayo in a recipe (mostly cause I can't make it and it is a really big mess to make and doesn't last long and is not as tasty) and don't refuse something in a restaurant or at a friend's house, but I don't eat un-fermented soy additives for the most part anymore in my food AND in my nutritional supplements (BEWARE many of these also have these!).

I agree that fermented soy products are better than some of the others but soy products in moderation are not dangerous unless a person has a specific allergy to it.  Far more individuals are allergic to wheat or corn than are having issues with soy.

As for the group cited in the article, I too am far more suspicious of the politics behind them  Certainly the American Milk Producers Association wouldn't be above contributing heavily to finance such misleading studies, and I say that as someone who's father raised dairy cattle in the Midwest and was a member for many years.  Now that I'm here on the west coast, it's even worse.  The Calif Dairy Assoc is afraid that if our citizens found out the truth about this so called
"nearly perfect food," they would quit drinking milk or feeding it to their kids and that would cause a huge loss of profits.  After all, money is what the food industry in this society is all about. 

Look around and see how many folks now eat cheeseburgers instead of simply a burger, ranch dressing on everything including pizza, pizza itself having tons of cheese, cheese fries, ice cream, cappuccino instead of coffee, the list goes on & on.

Soybeans, soy protein, soy sauce, tofu, etc. give me a four-day migraine. I wish they would stop putting it in so many food products.

The amount of soy consumed by Asian communities (at least foreign ones) is very small compared to what we eat here. And yes, it's been a part of their nutritional heritage for centuries -- as ANIMAL FEEDS. 

My concerns with the soy we get here is the processing, and the fact that we get *so* much of it (labeled as stuff we don't even recognize). It's also, with corn, one of the most GMO foods on our plates. I don't need that!

And as for the statement about "sensationalist" conclusions from feeding trials with animals being applied to humans...  does ANYONE look beyond the oft-repeated dogma that we rely upon, even from our "expert" communities? Do you understand that our warnings regarding cholesterol are based upon a study in which *RABBITS* were force-fed large quantities of cholesterol, and (what a surprise) had a problem with it?  Do *you* know of any carnivorous rabbits? And yet we certainly depend upon those results to push us toward crash-cutting cholesterol and supporting the statin industry. There has not been any causative connection between cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Even the highly regarded researcher (Ancel Adams) who helped develop our present lipid hypothesis admitted that there was little, if any correlation, between cholesterol and CVD. 

Yes, there may be mad science out there. But if I hear it, and keep hearing it, and can cross-reference it... well... I'm willing to consider its validity. Science is of no value whatsoever if we just stick to what we (think we) already know. 

Who was it who said that a mind is like a parachute... it only works if it's open.


I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  I am 45.  I was tested and found that my breast cancer was estrogen and progesterone positive.  I had a lumpectomy and four lymph nodes removed.   I am currently taking Tamoxifen, to block the estrogen.  I was told never to eat Soy, especially GMO Soy.  Soy = estrogen.  Soooo many foods have soy.   Take a look america,  something is very wrong.

Thanks for pointing out the issue in an unbiased manner. 

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