Is soy healthy?
When discussing my new vegan lifestyle with my nutritionist, he said to totally avoid soy/products. Apparently, the results of processing soy are the culprits (i.e. tofu), possibly causing cancer and/or hormonal (estrogen) problems?
I don't know that I understood all he said, but thought I should ask you about it. I have been eating a lot of beans to provide my protein, but will it be enough, and exactly how much protein should I be concerned about getting, anyway?
- You have touched upon a topic that is the cause of much debate. I can only share my personal thoughts and opinions, along with a healthy dose of personal experience.
When I went veg back in 1994, I was pretty clueless about how to create ANYTHING (veg or not!) in the kitchen. My diet was focused on lots of vegetables, fruits and pasta. Pretty much the same foods over and over again. And it actually worked beautifully for me. I lost about 20 pounds almost overnight ("working out" was NOT in my vocabulary, but hubby Jeff and I did a ton of walking which likely contributed to my weight loss). I looked great and felt fabulous and energetic.
Then I discovered soy. Now, I thought tofu was sort of strange, so I didn't make it a lot. But when I did it was usually mixed up with veggies, or cooked into a quiche -- MAYBE once every two weeks.
But by 1998, I began to notice all the soy-based faux meats and cheeses in our natural foods store. I latched onto these products as though my life depended on it! They were just SO GOOD and really satisfied our tastebuds.
It wasn't unusual for me to have a glass of soymilk with breakfast (usually on cereal), a vegetarian ham sandwich with soy cheese for lunch, a tofu pot pie for dinner, and soy pudding for dessert. Ack!
Fast forward to 2005, when for the first time I realized that I had slowly but surely been gaining weight in my belly, butt and underneath my upper arms. It had happened so slowly, that I honestly hadn't even noticed. And in looking back at journals, I was able to see how much MORE I was able to accomplish in a day, comparatively speaking. My complexion, hair, and nails had become more dull and sad looking. My eyes just weren't as bright. I was depressed more often -- and I'm normally one of those sickeningly happy people (!). Something was definitely wrong.
And that's when I came across information about soy. As I said, this is a topic of fierce debate, so I'd like to state again that this is my personal experience, combined with my studies...
What I learned is that the soy topic is not black and white. Some soy foods are okay to eat, and some are not.
As a general rule, soy contains anti-nutrients and is a very difficult food to digest, overall.
But fermented soy such as tempeh
contains beneficial bacteria and is actually easier to digest.
I think the confusion comes in because "soy" covers such a b-r-o-a-d range of products, from soy cheeses and faux meats to edamames to tofu to tempeh to miso and more! Make no doubt about it, soy is big business, and just as with any natural foods they can be made to be unhealthy. (Contrary to popular belief, the manufacturers of some of these soy foods MAY NOT have your best interests at heart).
Also, soybeans contain a large amount of plant estrogens. This is why soy is recommended to women who are going through menopause because the estrogen mimics their own depleting estrogen. So soy can be helpful in this instance.
But when we ingest soy products on a regular basis, we might create what's known as "estrogen dominance". I was surprised to discover that estrogen dominance can cause weight gain in the belly, butt, and underneath the upper arms in women (who are usually the ones most affected by estrogen dominance) -- the very areas I was having the most challenges. And to expand on this thought, these enlarged fatty tissues produce MORE estrogen which induce even more fat gain! Oy!
After removing soy meats, soy cheeses and other processed soy foods
from my diet, for the most part and on a regular basis, I began to notice positive changes in myself. It certainly didn't happened overnight, but it DID happen. My weight slowly but surely returned to a normal and healthy weight for my height, and as a result my skin looks healthy and clear, my hair is thicker and shinier, my nails are stronger, my happiness and exuberance for life has returned.
Keep in mind, also, that these processed soy foods usually contain a lot of sodium. And eating too much can cause your body to retain water which can also lead to weight gain.
Of course, I do occasionally indulge in, say, a veggie pepperoni and soy cheese pizza, but nowadays processed soy is a treat instead of a main protein source.
Please note that some soy can be good for you. Tempeh and miso, which is fermented soy, is a regular part of my diet. Tofu is less regular, but I usually combine it with vegetables to ensure balance.
So here's my recommendation: Experiment on yourself. Remove ALL soy products from your diet for a period of 1 month, including the fermented stuff like tempeh. See if you notice a difference in yourself.
Keep a journal so you can keep track of your weight, measurements, emotions, etc. Then slowly but surely, and one at a time, add in first the fermented stuff and then the processed soy and see how you feel after the addition of each one. What feels good to you, may not feel good to me, and vice versa.
And have no fears. We really don't need these soy products to survive. There are MANY OTHER sources of protein, including beans, nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butters, veggies, grains and fruits -- basically everything else!
For a more detailed discussion about vegan protein, please visit the page on my site dedicated to this topic: Vegan Protein
Hope this very long explanation has helped in some small way. :O)