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Friday, August 15, 2014

Take Off that Halo: Why the Anti-Soy Brigade Drive me Nuts

Is there no joy in soy?
“Why are you recommending soy-based products when you told me before to stop eating tofu pad Thai?” my client asked – okay, more like demanded, sure she’d caught me in the heels of an egregious contradiction. She smugly pointed to a supplement label that said in fine print: “Contains ingredients derived from soy (phytosomes)."

Especially for vegans and vegetarians adverse to whey and too stuck in their narrow-minded agenda to try other plant-based proteins, soy reigns supreme. I watch fitness folks scarf down soy-based protein bars, powders, and disgusting-looking soy Frankenfoods, all the while believing they’re being healthy.

Then I get the opposite spectrum like this uber-paranoid client. I explained to her phytosomes are a type of phospholipid or fat that help your body better absorb nutrients in this product. Even the most soy-sensitive individuals can tolerate phytosomes because soy protein - not fat – creates most allergies and sensitivities.

My reasoning fell on deaf ears. My client remained convinced soy was
the devil, and any manufacturer who sold soy-derived products – even reputable ones, like the one I use and recommend – were part of that devilish scheme.

You know who ticks me off – really gets my blood boiling – more than soy-loving vegans who scarf down soy hot dogs, soy ice cream, and sugar-laden soymilk all while proclaiming how healthy they are?

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I dislike them too. But you know who really irks me?
Holier-than-thou, hair-splitting anti-soy snobs like this client, that’s who.

The Anti-Soy Brigade Gains Momentum
Before you’re thinking I’ve gone vegan and embraced Tofurkey, let me be clear. I don’t like soy. Not one bit. I don’t see any reason you ever “need” to eat it, and for people with sensitivities, soy can create real problems. For too long, this dominant cash crop has unfairly earned a health halo.

Manufacturers love soy because it’s a cheap protein source that sounds healthy. If you don’t believe me, take a trip to your local Whole Foods or health food store and count how many foods contain soy. Most are processed and filled with sugar and preservatives, yet for some reason soy suddenly makes them healthier.

Ask someone to explain why they dislike soy and pull up a chair; they’ll tick off a dozen reasons.

I won’t, but consider about 40% of the soybean is fat. Because it remains a heavily subsidized cash crop and to speed production, soybeans are heavily sprayed with pesticides, which that fat absorbs.

“Perhaps to top the condemnation of soy as food for humans or animals is the frightening fact that over 90 percent of soy is now genetically modified,” writes Dr. Kaayla Daniel on the anti-soy group Weston A Price’s website. 

Daniel put anti-soy on the map with The Whole Soy Story. Among her book’s damning claims include that soy is an endocrine disruptor responsible for gynecomastia (man boobs) in men and estrogen dominance in women.

Now, I like Daniel, and I think she’s pretty dang smart. But her assertions supply ammunition for militant, super-fringe anti-soy folks like my client who cherry-pick their research.

Other experts have also jumped into the anti-soy fray, including Dr. Joseph Mercola, who hyperbolically entitled one article “Doctor Warns: Eat Soy and You’ll Look 5 Years Older.”

Are you scared yet?

Mercola, like Kaayla and so many others, wax poetic about soy’s numerous problems. I could fill a book about them. (Oh, wait: Daniel already did.) Or you could do a quick Google search.

Regardless, you get the very dismal point: Soy is very, very bad.
Or is it?

The Biggest Loser
Before I attempt a rational balance about soy, I need to sound off about one particular soy source that runs rampant in the fitness community.

Read the ingredients label on your favorite protein bar and you’ll probably discover soy protein isolate.

"Soy protein isolate is a dry powder food ingredient that has been separated or isolated from the other components of the soybean, making it 90 to 95 percent protein and nearly carbohydrate and fat-free,” says The Soyfoods Association of America fact sheet

First of all, yuck. Second, it’s mostly protein, with little of soy fat’s potential toxicity. What's the hoopla about? Well, plenty, if you read folks like Mercola.

“Bodybuilders beware: because many weight gainer powders, bars, and shakes contain this dangerous ingredient and it can cause troubling side effects such as diminished libido and erectile dysfunction -- and this is just the start,” writes Mercola, who goes on to describe this popular protein’s numerous problems

Deep breath, guys. You’re not going to lose it in the sack if you recently ate a little soy isolate protein.

At the same time, I’m not encouraging you to eat it. Soy protein isolate is a very cheap and cheaply produced protein, which makes it a favorite with chain-store fitness-supplement manufacturers. Again, take a trip to your big-box sports-nutrition store if you don’t believe me.

I also believe constant exposure to this ubiquitous protein – rather than the protein itself – creates these problems. Especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’re eating a lot of soy throughout your day. Even if you eat meat, if you’re constantly reaching for protein bars and meal-replacement bars, you’re probably getting a fair amount of soy protein isolate. (Click here for Jinifit-approved, soy-free protein bars.)

I also think other ingredients exacerbate these problems. Even Daniel acknowledges among the garbage in these bars, shakes, and other processed foods, soy is the least of its problems.

“Add in wheat gluten, milk protein isolate, high fructose corn syrup, fiber and a host of artificial colorings, flavorings and texturizers,” she writes, “and it’s clear soy protein isolate, textured vegetable protein, and other soy ingredients are not even the worst ingredients.” 

Reconsidering the Anti-Soy Outlook
Like a bratty but bullied kid, I want to defend soy’s potential merits even if I dislike it, simply because so many experts badmouth this popular food.

Just like the anti-soy folks cherry-pick research, so too do vegans, vegetarians, and even a few meat eaters find enough studies to support eating soy.

Then I meet the occasional person, like my vocally anti-soy client, who militantly scouts out soy in every food, supplement, and drink she partakes in. And she lets everyone within her vicinity know that she’s very, very anti-soy. Ask her about soy’s evils and prepare yourself for an hour-long sermon.

What about us folks in the middle? Some people simply become more aware of their soy intake and its potential problems, and then attempt to minimize or eliminate it.

Lately, I’ve read some intelligent critics who challenge the anti-soy brigade. While not entirely pro-soy, they’ve debunked some popular soy myths and questioned whether we’re unfairly ostracizing this food.

“Soy does not contain estrogen, a rumor I hear from my patients about once a week,” writes Dr. Whimsy Anderson. “Estrogen is a hormone found in animals and does not occur in plants.  Instead, soybeans contain substances that have come to be called ‘phytoestrogens,’ because these substances mimic some of the actions of estrogen.  However, they are not estrogen and do not function like estrogen in the body.”

That’s refreshing to know after hearing alarmists claim you’ll grow man boobs or struggle with estrogen dominance (increasing your cancer risk, among other problems) if the occasional soy slips into your diet. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but the anti-soy folks can become pretty alarming.

Anderson also argues that contrary to popular belief, soy does not disrupt your thyroid, since cooking soy destroys goitrogens. She goes on, and I encourage you to check out this blog to better understand why soy isn’t entirely evil.

In the end, I’ve found few people who can rationally debate soy without bias. My friend Dr. Jonny Bowden often becomes my voice of reason in these debates, and once again he provides a civil, levelheaded conclusion about soy.

“The pro-soy PR effort has been so strong that most people will accept that anything with soy in it is a health food,” he writes in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. “Let me be clear: In a world of French fries, fast food, trans fats, and high-fructose corn syrup, I hardly think a few servings of soy protein is the worst thing in the world. We have bigger battles to fight in the food arena.”

Finding a Middle Ground in the Soy Debate
Let’s be clear. If you have an allergy or intolerance, ditching soy becomes absolutely necessary. In her book The Virgin Diet, my friend JJ Virgin discusses eliminating soy and six other highly reactive foods for three weeks and then challenging them. For some people, soy is a permanent no-go.

Yet most folks do okay with the occasional tofu or other soy dish. I would never recommend making soy your primary protein source. Even if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you’ve got too many other options.

Soy encompasses such a broad term. Eating a soy hot dog is a far different animal (sorry, couldn’t resist) than eating an organic, non-GMO tofu stirfry. If you eat soy, you want the absolute cleanest sources of this food. Quality becomes key, so always opt for non-GMO and organic even if demanding it makes you sound like a diva.

Let’s relegate any soy-containing processed food – that would include all bars, shakes, and junk foods containing soy protein isolate – in the avoid category. You simply have too many smarter options out there to ever eat soy.

That said, fermented soy foods like tempeh and miso are among the healthiest foods on the planet, providing gut-enhancing probiotics. Unless you’re just extremely soy sensitive, eat these foods regularly.

Finally, don’t be alarmed to find soy among your professional-quality supplements. Like I mentioned before, they are typically non-GMO and encompass the fat component of soy, which does not create problems. Among them you’ll find:
  • Soy lecithin, which works as an emulsifier and helps stabilize products.
  • Soy-derived phytosome, a phospholipid that helps increase its nutrient absorption.
  • Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a popular brain-health supplement usually derived from soy.
Soy isn’t my favorite food, nor would I relegate it to the level of trans fat or high-fructose corn syrup. I’m somewhere in the “proceed with caution” category. Choose the right kinds, eat it occasionally, and worry about more important things in your life.

What side of the soy debate do you fall on? Has your position changed as you better understand how this popular food affects your body? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at© 2014 Jinifit, Inc.

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