The Lowdown On Soya..The good, the bad and the ugly.

Doctors are definitely confused by it, many health practitioners’ views differ on it and you’ll find articles that sing its praises and those that slander it. So let’s look at some of the facts. Soya, is it good or bad?

In Eastern cultures soya foods are traditionally eaten in their fermented forms, such as miso, tempeh and natto, making them easy to digest. Until the discovery of fermentation techniques during the Chao Dynasty (1134-246 BC), the soya bean was not used as a food. In fact, its early use was for its root structure to enable effective crop rotation and its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil.

The Good

  • Isoflavones and cancer prevention- Two substances genistin and diadzin are isoflavones present in soya beans. However, they are inactive and unusable unless fermentation has occurred, after which they turn into their active forms genistein and diadzein, shown to have cancer-protecting properties.
  • Fermentation of these isoflavones can occur in the human digestive tract via the action of friendly bacteria. A healthy gut flora is needed for healthy hormone metabolism and is crucial if using soya therapeutically for hormonal balancing.
  • Isoflavones can effectively help to balance oestrogen, without negative side-effects.
  • Soya aids bone health and may reduce osteoporosis risk in menopausal women.
  • The gentle oestrogen-like effect helps control menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.
  • Phytosterols in soya lower cholesterol and help prevent cardiovascular disease.
  • Soya is a complete protein, containing all 8 essential amino acids and is a good source of vitamins and minerals.

The Bad

  • Soya contains potent enzyme inhibitors that block the action of trypsin in the body, needed for protein digestion. It also contains phytic acid, a substance that blocks the uptake of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and copper in the digestive tract. The only way to effectively neutralise these substances is through fermentation.
  • Too much soya acts as a goitrogen, meaning it can slow down thyroid function. The majority of soya products are genetically modified and contaminated with pesticides with soya being one of the most highly sprayed crops on the planet.

The Ugly

Soya milk and soy protein isolate are made in large aluminum vats and “washed” with acid, resulting in the finished product being contaminated with this unhealthy metal, which has been linked to various diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It is then flushed with an alkalising solution to neutralize it again. The high temperatures of the processing denatures the other proteins in the soya. Nitrates, known carcinogens, are formed during the spray-drying of the protein powder, which is used in many foods including baby formulas.

Juggling the Pros and Cons

Generally people in the west over-consume soya in an attempt to use it as a replacement for items that have been hailed us unhealthy, such as cow’s milk. As a result soya is now in the top ten allergenic foods list, mainly due to the fact that big food manufacturers are using it to bulk out their processed foods. Soya derived ingredients can be found in all manner of foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, sauces and many more.

Soya in and of itself is not a “bad” thing. There are many considerations regarding its use, but more so regarding its source. My advice would be to only eat organic soya products, and where possible fermented versions of this food. Soya milk is best avoided or taken in small doses and certainly not daily. It shouldn’t be given to young children on a regular basis as it may interfere with their natural hormonal development. There are many other “milks” to try such as oat, almond and rice, or make your own nut and seed milks. Avoid processed foods and enjoy natural soya in moderation. Increase your intake of other fermented foods such as kefir and live, natural yogurt to supply your body with the beneficial bacteria needed for the active isoflavone conversion or supplement regularly with a good probiotic.

Article by Jo Rowkins dipNT MBANT, nutritionist, founder of awakening health & executive health adviser at The Spa Resorts.

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