Soy can be genetically modified, processed, and fermented. Fermented soy, which consists of tempeh, natto, miso and soy sauce, can be good for you. The other two are not so good. An example of processed soy was concocted early on by Chinese scientists, who discovered that a puree of cooked soybeans could be precipitated with calcium sulfate (plaster of Paris) or magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) to make a smooth pale curd known as tofu.
Apparently, until the latter part of the 20th century, the soybean was considered unfit to eat. Ancient pictographs in China show the soybean not as a food, but as a rotation crop used to fix nitrogen in the soil. It wasn’t until the discovery of the fermentation process during the Chou Dynasty that soy became edible.
The Chinese did not eat unfermented soy products because they knew that soybeans contain natural toxins or anti-nutrients such as phytates and enzyme inhibitors that block the action of trypsin and other protein-digesting enzymes.
These toxic compounds are not deactivated during cooking and can cause gastric distress, reduced protein digestion, and chronic deficiencies in amino acids and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Animal studies show that diets high in trypsin inhibitors cause enlargement and disease of the pancreas, including cancer.
Vegetarians who consume tofu as a substitute for meat and dairy products risk severe protein and mineral deficiencies. Zinc deficiencies are particularly common and can cause impaired functioning of the brain and nervous system as well as blood sugar imbalance and reproductive and immune disorders. Zinc deficiency can cause that “spacey” feeling associated with the “high” some vegetarians may mistake for spiritual enlightenment.
As with many health-related issues, whoever funds the study gets to tell the tale. In November 1999, the Third International Soy Symposium was held in Washington, D.C., and was sponsored by the United Soybean Board, American Soybean Association, Monsanto, Protein Technologies International, Central Soya, Cargil Foods, Personal Products Company, SoyLife, Whitehall-Robins Healthcare and the soybean councils of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota. Presentations by scientists funded by these organizations marked the culmination of a decade of research intended to win FDA approval and consumer acceptance of soy products such as tofu, soy milk, soy cheese, soy sausage, and estrogen-like compounds including isoflavones, genistein and diadzen. Shortly thereafter a processed soy marketing blitz was foisted on the consuming public and now most of us eat and drink this stuff.
We are now well down the road to using processed soy in infant formula as well as for stemming the rising tide of osteoporosis. About 15 percent of infants in the United States, or approximately 750,000 children, consume soy-based formula each year. Genistein, an estrogen-like substance found in infant formulas and menopause remedies, may depress your immune system functions. Research has found that where genistein was injected into mice, levels of immune cells dropped and the thymus gland, where immune cells mature, shrank.
Ingredients such as soy flour, soy oil, lecithin, soy protein isolates and concentrates are found in much of the processed foods that most of us eat everyday. Soy products that may contain genetically engineered soy derivatives are vitamin E, tofu dogs, cereals, veggie burgers and sausages, tamari, soy sauce, chips, ice cream, frozen yogurt, infant formula, sauces, protein powder, margarine, soy cheeses, crackers, breads, cookies, chocolates, candies, fried foods, enriched flours and pastas.
If we continue to consume food that is heavily processed with chemical and food additives, we will need to consider two things: one, that our health care professionals possess extensive knowledge of nutrition science and can advise us wisely on food choices; and two, that as protectors and builders of our own immune systems, we should learn the science of nutrition and take the time to read and interpret ingredient labels. That is, we must begin taking personal responsibility for our health.
A wise nutrition professor once said that eating as close to “just pikt” as possible is the healthiest thing we can do to build and maintain a strong immune system. That goes for raw milk as well. Stay tuned.