After my first article on toxins a friend of mine asked if I would write some articles about food and food products in order to clear up the murky waters of food politics today. I initially balked at the idea, because there is so much material, and I run the risk of sounding alarmist if all I do is bag on industrialized food. However, as I get older I’m finding out that many people just aren’t exposed to some of the facts that I have come across in my travels and research. So in the interest of public education (or just hearing myself talk) I thought that I’d give it a try. Alright then, let’s talk turkey…or Tofurkey to be exact. You know, that yummy white clump of tasteless fake food that hippies and trendy urbanites tend to eat straight out of the bucket (also known as tofu). Now before you fly off of the handle, let’s not pretend for one minute that any working-class farm boy has ever even tried tofu. You will never hear: “Heck, Maw! This is the best Tofurkey pot pie you ever made! Bettern’ Zeke’s Not-Dog casserole last week, ah reckin’. And, Paw, make my soy latte’ a decaf this mornin’. I almost sullied myself ‘fore I got to the back forty yesterday!” See what I’m saying? OK, so let’s just take a look at how soy has become the new miracle food and weather or not it is actually good for us.
Some individuals consume soy-based foods consciously in the form of soy milk, tofu, protein bars, soy cheese, soy nuts and literally hundreds of other products as an alternative to meat and dairy products. Others consume soy-based additives and byproducts unknowingly. If you are not aware that you are consuming a large amount of soy byproducts, all you have to do is wander down any aisle in the grocery store, pick up a random box, and read the label. Somewhere around 60 percent of all of the processed food on the shelves contain soy in one form or another. This begs the question: if it’s in everything, how bad can it be? In fact, soy is one of the top allergens now partially because of its ubiquitous use in food. Labels are starting to have warnings that the product contains soy right next to the FDA label that says soy is good for you. COME ON!
Soy was originally used as a fallow crop in China due to its nitrogen fixing properties. It was known as green manure, and wasn’t consumed by humans until a couple of thousand years ago when a new type of fermentation process was developed. Why wasn’t it consumed by humans until then? Soybeans were considered poisonous due to the laundry list of adverse symptoms that followed their consumption. They shouldn’t be eaten unless they are industrially processed or fermented. Strike one for the old soy team. The new fermentation process made a soybean paste known as miso and a liquid that could be extracted which is commonly referred to as soy sauce. At around the time when A.D. turned to B.C. a crazy Chinese alchemist discovered that he could precipitate something from an intensely heated soybean puree when he loaded it up with magnesium chloride. How bored was this guy? This precipitate became known as tofu, and it still wasn’t regularly consumed except by monks in monasteries. Why monks, you ask? Turns out that soy has phytoestrogens that mimic the human female sex hormone estrogen. The monks ate it to lower their libido. Strike two! Interestingly enough, some Asian women would serve it to their husbands when they suspected them of fooling around. According to a recent Swiss article 100 grams of soy protein contains the estrogen equivalent of one birth control pill. Swung and a miss! Strike three, soy fans. Soy use and consumption pretty much stayed right there until around World War II when the industrial boom and the war forced the mandate that no resources be wasted. So, people began to look for ways to utilize the soy crop that was mostly unused. Scientists were asked to develop cheap meat substitutes and to find clever new ways to hide soy in familiar food products, which later turned into formulating soy-based pharmaceuticals, and developing a resource that could replace petroleum-based plastics and fuels. It's a billion dollar industry.
Speaking of industry, ever wonder how some of these soy foods are made nowadays? Well, first, defatted soybean meal is mixed with a caustic alkaline solution to remove the fiber. Then it is washed in an acid solution to precipitate out the protein. Acid washing in aluminum tanks leaches high levels of aluminum into the final product, and aluminum has been tagged as a contributor to Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, at least one study suggests a relationship between soy consumption and increased dementia in Alzheimer’s patients. The protein curds are then dipped into another alkaline solution and spray-dried at extremely high temperatures. The isolate is then spun into protein fibers using technology borrowed from the textile industry. Next, this is forced though an extruder under conditions of such extreme heat and pressure that the structure of the remaining protein changes. This is essentially the same way injection-molded plastic parts are made. Finally, we’re left with our favorite textured vegetable protein food product. Sounds deeelish! All of this processing removes the yucky beaniness, but it increases the levels of entrained carcinogens such as nitrosamines. Oh, by the way, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology stated in 1979 that the only safe use for soy protein isolates was for sealing cardboard boxes. So, eat up, Hippie.
Soy products contain a litany of potentially harmful compounds such as: protease inhibitors which interfere with protein digestion; phytates which block mineral absorption; lectins and saponins which can caused leaky gut and other gastrointestinal and immune problems; oxalates which may cause problems for people prone to kidney stones; oligosaccharides which give beans their farty goodness and extreme Dutch-oven creation properties; isoflavones and phytoestrogen which are human estrogen mimics; hemagglutanin which is a blood clot promoter; GW Bushanine which makes you lose the ability to speak in public and maintain rational thought, and many others. O.K, I made up the Bushanine. There are literally thousands of scientific research articles related to soy and soy products. As you can guess, many (but not all) of the ones that push soy are funded by soy product manufacturers and distributors.
All soybean producers pay a mandatory assessment of 0.5% to 1% of the net market price of soybeans to the mothership. That’s around $80 million dollars a year that goes to strengthen the position of soybeans in the marketplace and maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets. Partly because of this powerful lobby the FDA recommends 25 grams of soy per day as part of a balanced diet and exercise regime. This is about three times what Asians eat on a daily basis, and, as I mentioned earlier, the bulk of the Asian consumption is through fermented products. The fermentation process knocks out much of the above listed bad stuff, and they usually eat their soy with some other form of protein. 25 grams is about 2 Tbsp of uber-processed soy nonsense. In modern societies, it doesn’t take too long to surpass that mark. If you eat your cereal with soy milk, follow it down with a low-fat soy mochachino, you’re already pushing the boundaries, and that’s before you slug down a Fakin’ Bacon and soy cheese sandwich for lunch and a half pound chunk of grilled tofu for dinner washed down with some SoyDream ice cream. It’s been shown that around two glasses of soy milk per day over the course of one month contain enough phytoestrogen to change the timing of a woman’s menstrual cycle.
It really doesn’t matter to me what adults want to do with their lives. If you want to eat something that tastes gross, gives you gas and is potentially toxic then be my guest. You can eat broken glass for all I care. Just don’t come to my place when you have to drop the deuce. But the dark underbelly of this soy issue is only really uncovered when you take a look at how the industry pushes the product on infants. Soy formula is heralded as panacea for babies that have allergies to milk or are not breast-fed. Fully 25% of all bottle-fed babies in the U.S. consume soy formula on a daily basis. This means that the daily exposure of infants to phytoestrogens is 6 to 11 times higher on a body-weight basis than the dose that has been shown to have hormonal effects in adults. If we are to believe the Swiss article, the estrogen equivalent of this much soy on those infants is approximately equal to five birth control pills per day. The brain and body chemistry of infants are in total flux. These truly are the formative moments in life, and introducing that much of a pseudo-hormone has the potential to have untold influence on development or do permanent damage. The use of soy formula has been linked to everything from early onset of puberty in girls, increased aggressiveness, hyperactivity, ADD, ants-in-the-pants, decreased intelligence and a laundry list of other effects. What’s worse is that poor children are often the ones that are affected the most. State-Aid, WIC, and other programs designed to help poor, young mothers offer soy formula for low or no cost since it is donated by the soy industry in order to increase their market share. These mothers (generally young and non-white) feed the formula to their babies who may enter puberty younger and repeat the cycle. The industry also pushes their product on third-world (again, overwhelmingly non-white) countries where formula use is actually associated with an increase in infant mortality. I won’t go into the seriously fucked up corporate logic of formula manufacturers here. Maybe I’ll leave that for another post. Let’s just say for now that on the surface it’s pretty diabolical.
The reason I chose soy this week wasn’t to propagate a huge conspiracy theory or to force anyone back into their hippie communes. I was actually filling out a medical questionnaire a while back, and one of the questions on it was: “How much soy do you consume on a regular basis?” This was the only food-related question on the whole form besides the obvious inquiries about alcohol intake and allergies. In fact, many hospital and psychiatric admissions forms often ask how much soy you consume. Why do you think that is? To me this screams that the medical industry feels that soy consumption has some kind of impact on health. This is when the flags start going off in my brain. I have many vegetarian friends that don’t think anything about consuming large gobs of fake meat in the seemingly false assumption that they are getting untold benefits from this protein source in their diet. The reality is that the very food that they think is healthful may actually inhibit protein and mineral uptake and cause a host of secondary problems…all because a well-oiled marketing machine may have foisted another one over on the public. Now, do I think that I’m going to get a goiter, pancreatic cancer, and grow a set of man teats that would make William “The Refrigerator” Perry proud if I occasionally get tofu in my Budda’s Delight at the Bangcock Palace? No. But certainly this mass consumption and over exposure to soy is not good for anyone, especially children who cannot control their intake and need all of the help they can get to start off on the right foot. Right now the literature on soy points both directions which in the very least means we should be proceeding with extreme caution. Look at it this way: soy beans have been cultivated for thousands of years, but have only been introduced to the main stream food supply in the last couple of decades. Does that bother anyone else? I think our ancient farming ancestors knew something that we have chosen to ignore.
What can be done? This is something that you will probably hear from me again. Eat everything in moderation. Vary your diet. Read the labels, and try to avoid soy when you can. And don’t feed the stuff to your kids unless you literally have no other options. Probably the best advice that I’ve heard in a long time regarding soy (or food in general) is that if you can’t make it in your kitchen then you probably shouldn’t be eating it. I’ll extend that warning to anything that is made in my kitchen…