If you are not allergic to soy and you stay away from it because you’ve heard a lot of buzz about why eating soy may be hazardous to your health, you may want to read on. Let’s first get one important fact out in the open, so we may begin with a better-informed perspective about soy. It’s a bean!
The ancient five “sacred” grains were millet, rice, wheat, barley and soy. The Chinese knew their lives depended upon these most basic crops for survival, and they appreciated the wonder and connection of all living things on earth that help to sustain us. The first domestication of the soybean has been traced to Northern China in the 11th century.
Soy is a significant source of protein and is filled with nutrients our bodies need in order to thrive. Holly Wilson, MD, tells us about soy when she writes, “The soybean contains all of the essential amino acids, as well as an impressive list of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Micronutrients in rich supply in soy include: calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C and zinc. Fiber and omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are also present in soy. The composition of these nutrients varies among preparations, but is in the highest quantity in whole soy foods such as edamame (whole soy beans), soy milk, tofu and tempeh. Soybeans typically contain 35-40 percent protein, 15-20 percent fat, 30 percent carbohydrates, 10 to 13 percent moisture, and around 5 percent minerals and ash.” (http://www.soyatech.com/soy_health.htm)
Soybeans contain the highest amounts of protein of any grain or legume. They also contain phytochemicals that can prevent many chronic diseases. And still this “buzz” continues to scare us away. Why might that be?
Why are we told over and over again to “step away from the bean?” It should be noted that the same people and industries bashing this beautiful bean, are the same people and industries promoting meat and dairy as the mainstay of our diet. Look around and see how well that’s been working for us.
Edamame are a good source of protein. (Photo: Gannett News Service file photo)
Soy contains natural, non-steroidal compounds called isoflavones (phytoestrogens.) These phytoestrogens are in abundance in other plant foods as well – flaxseed, sesame seed, hummus, garlic and peanuts. Isolflavones, although similar in structure to estrogen, have a totally different effect on the human body and not the negative effect we’ve all been led to believe. Phytoestrogens do not cause breast cancer in women, and although not as good as breast milk, soy formula has been proven safe for infants.
A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2003 found that women with a high intake of soy reduced their risk of breast cancer by 54 percent compared to women with a low intake of soy. The longest living people in the world are the Okinawa Japanese, who average one to two servings of soy each day.
Dr. Michael Greger has studied the effects of soy on breast cancer survivors. He tells us that, “Breast cancer survivors who eat soy foods, for example, have a significantly lower likelihood of cancer recurrence.”
All this being said, there are specifics to be considered about eating soy. Much of today’s soy is genetically modified and must be avoided. Most of the organic soy products are Non-GMO and are labeled on the packages – look for these. As in all foods for all reasons, moderation is best and we can enjoy this amazing bean without overdoing it. Here’s the key: Be mindful to consume whole soy foods such as tofu, soymilk, and edamame, as well as the fermented versions like tempeh, tamari, and miso. Try to limit or avoid soy products made with soy protein isolates, soy protein concentrates, hydrolyzed soy protein, partially hydrogenated soy oil, etc., as these are highly processed and are not meant to replace the healthy whole foods that our bodies need. We don’t need to be isolating the protein and using it as filler for other foods…that is not healthy and is not advised. What is advised is eating whole, non-processed versions of a healthy bean to receive nutrients our bodies need to thrive.
Although amazing culinary delights can be conceived using soy, you don’t have to eat soy to be vegan. You can leave it out if you are allergic or just cannot get past the “buzz.” But if you can…welcome to a vast paradise of food creation that will not only nourish you, but allow you to live according to your values of non-violence, compassion and mercy. You’ll get all the protein you could ever ask for without having to participate in any of the cruelty inherent in breeding, confining, abusing and slaughtering gentle animals for food. To me, that’s not food…it’s violence. I’m going with the bean.
Wishing you good health and the knowledge to light your path to that health. Question things. Delve into the quest for the truth. Then live there. Namaste.
Here’s a seriously amazing and easy recipe for Almond Tofu Ricotta “Cheese” that I love, from “Roberto’s New Vegan Cooking” cookbook by Roberto Martin. I was blown away by how easy and tasty this is. Stuff shells with it, make manicotti or make anything that calls for dairy-based ricotta cheese. I’ve modified the recipe to make it even easier and it works every time.
1 cup whole blanched (skinned) almonds (I boil the almonds and then the skin comes off easily. Discard the almond skins. I put on some good music and the almonds are all skinned by the fourth song!)
1 block firm organic tofu (pressed dry in a press or with paper towels)
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons Himalayan pink salt or kosher salt
Chop the almonds in a food processor until smooth. Add all of the other ingredients and process in the food processor until all blended. It should be the consistency of ricotta, but if it seems a bit dry, add a touch of water.
Give it a taste — it is amazing! Enjoy.