Not Soy Fast


Soy: It’s everywhere. It’s eaten in copious amounts by bodybuilders, as a meat substitute by vegans and vegetarians, and unwittingly in a wide variety of processed foods by most people.

We’ve been told that soy is good for us and the fact of lower incidences of cancer and heart disease in Asian populations is cited as proof. The truth is there is no historical precedent for the amount of soy we consume in modern processed foods. Though soy did originate in Asia, it is used sparingly in Asian cuisines and more often in its traditional forms, like miso, tofu, natto, and tempeh.

According to the United Soybean Board’s own website, soy protein (processed soy) serves as a functional ingredient in the following foods and for the following applications:

Baked Goods – used to hold moisture, extend shelf life, improve texture and mouthfeel, and improve manufacturing, handling, and machine ability.

Breakfast Cereals – used to boost protein value and quantity.

Pasta – to boost nutritive value, especially in school lunches.

Beverages and Toppings – to whiten coffee creamers, emulsify, provide texture, and add protein content.

Meat, Poultry and Fish Products – to enhance moisture holding, texture, cohesion, yield, shelf life, and nutrition.

Dairy-Type Products (scary in itself) – soy protein lowers cost, improves nutrition and reduces allergenic response.

Here’s a quote from the Soybean Board website: “Processed and whole meat products can be improved by adding soy protein, which provides the product flexibility and cost stability consumers demand.”

Now, from the list of uses above and this quote, it looks to me like soy protein is a mighty functional food for the food processing industry. How did so many consumers become convinced that soy protein is a functional food for them?


Nearly 60 percent of the foods sold in supermarkets and natural food stores contain soy. Much of this is disguised in cookies, crackers, burgers and other meat products. It’s also a main ingredient in protein bars, meat substitutes, and any number of other foods.

Why is the food industry putting soy in everything?

If we look at how soy protein is made, it might give you some idea.

After soy vegetable oil is made, there is a lot of soybean meal left over. This defatted soybean meal is mixed with an alkaline solution to remove the fiber, and then washed in an acid solution to separate out the protein. The protein curds are then dipped into another alkaline solution and spray-dried at extremely high temperatures. Then it is spun into protein fibers using textile industry technology.

The food industry has figured out a way to utilize a highly processed industrial byproduct by putting it in food to extend shelf life, yield, and nutritional content. And then they’ve funded a lot of studies and spent a lot of advertising dollars to convince us that this substance is good for us.

You’ve seen some of the conflicting research (summarized below). You’ll have to decide for yourself which studies you believe and what dietary decisions are right for you.

Personally, I’m sticking to real food as close to its natural state as possible and avoiding processed foods of all types. And when I eat soy, it will be in small quantities in its traditional forms. Check back on Friday for a recipe using tempeh, a fermented soy product that originated in Indonesia.

Here is a brief summary of the claims made on either side of the bean pod along with some links to help you do your own research. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.

The “Soy is good!” camp: Soy contains isoflavones that prevent cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and more. Soy’s phytochemicals protect against heart disease. Men who drink two servings of soymilk every day are 70% less likely to develop prostate cancer. Soy is a low fat form of protein. Soy lowers bad cholesterol. Soy prevents breast cancer. Soy builds strong bones.

The “Soy is bad!” camp: Soy doesn’t lower cholesterol as much as we first thought. The estrogens in soy can lead to breast cancer. Soy can decrease sperm count and libido. Soy can prevent ovulation. Soy can cause thyroid problems, constipation and other digestive problems. Soy is a common food allergy.

Further reading:


Soybean Board

Woman to Woman

Steady Health

Images: Obesityhelp

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.