You may have heard the story already; you should avoid soybeans like the plague. Or, maybe you have heard the counter argument; soybeans are the miracle food! …Or chances are you have heard both of these tales and you are utterly confused. There is some nutritionally sound research supporting both of these claims. This document, however, is in favor of the first of these options, bias revealed. Not just from a nutrient perspective, as many nutritionist and like minded individuals seem to dwell on, but also from a larger, global food system perspective.
Soybeans are full of protein and supply all of the essential amino acids, even if not as high amounts as the amounts in animal sources. Not many plants can claim this. For many people this places soybeans on a pedestal and they become a stable in their diets, especially for those who stray away from animal products. There are other plant protein combinations that together will give you a complete protein source, but who wants to worry about that when there are soybeans, and in abundance! Yes, soybeans are everywhere. It is all too easy to slip them into your daily eating pattern. Even if you don’t want them they are present in as many, if not more, foods than high fructose corn syrup, and just as hidden.
Soybeans, although full of protein and many micronutrients (like many other legumes), have much higher percentages of what are now being known as “anti-nutrients” than other plants. In most plants these anti-nutrients are removed or greatly diminished in the cooking process; however with soybeans cooking does not significantly remove the anti-nutrients making them potentially dangerous to our health if consumed regularly.
Protease inhibitors found in soybeans and their products mean that the high level of protein found in these beans will not be able to be fully digested and therefore unusable to the body. In addition the protein lectins in soybeans can damage cell membranes by interacting with carbohydrates found there. These proteins are not as easily destroyed by digestion and when consumed in high amounts may have detrimental effects on the gastrointestinal lining.
Isoflavones are well known phytochemicals, which have positive benefits helping fight off chronic disease. However, in soybeans these isoflavones are goitrogens have been shown to mess with thyroid hormone function by interfering with iodine production. Your thyroid hormone plays an important role in regulating your metabolism and body temperature as well as growth and reproduction. Low levels of this hormone are all too common in the US, with close to 5% of individuals diagnosed with hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone) and on medication for the condition and many more thought to have effectively low levels.
Phytic acid is also found in much higher concentration in soybeans than other legumes. Phytic acid binds to calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium in foods, therefore decreasing the body’s ability to absorb these nutrients from the soybean. Other natural toxins including saponins, soyatoxin and oxalates have similar effects, decreasing potential utilization of the nutrients so abundant in the miracle soybean plant as well as destroying the lining of your gut.
Hemaglutinins are clot promoting compounds. When soy products are consumed at high levels, these compounds can cause red blood cells to clump, which means a decrease in oxygen transport, resulting in similar symptoms as anemia, like fatigue and mental confusion.
The only way to be rid of these harmful compounds in the soybean is through fermentation, as is a major practice in Asian countries where soybeans are consumed at a high rate. Indeed, the soybean products that are traditionally consumed on these Asian diets have for centuries been fermented. The list of fermented soybean food and products is small, with the most popular being soy sauce, tempeh, and miso. Whole soybeans (edamame), soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu, and other such soy products are not fermented and therefore still contain high levels of these anti- nutrients after processing.
Here is the kicker. In 2007, 216 million tons of soybeans were produced worldwide, with the US producing the largest amount of this total at 33%. Soybeans are the second largest crop produced in the US, second to corn, and 93% of these crops are genetically modified (GM). This means that they are owned by seed companies who have changed their DNA by inserting various gene material from other sources. The top dealers of all GM crops include Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta. Soybean crops in the US owned by Monsanto are resistant to Monsanto owned herbicides. Soybeans are also the third most subsidized agricultural commodity in the US, meaning farmers are paid to grow them. Disregarding the potential monopolization and manipulation of the food system that these points entail, these practices make soybeans cheap, which mean soybeans become easy fillers into A LOT of foods; as soybean oil, soy protein, and soy lecithins. These fillers are found on every super market shelf and convenience store in foods ranging from soups and crackers, chocolate, non-dairy creamer, and frozen chicken dinners. They are also used as feed for animals and in supplements. According to GMO compass, “It is estimated that soy plays at least a small part in 20,000 to 30,000 products that are on the market today, whether directly as an ingredient or indirectly as feed or a nutrient source.”(1) The byproducts of this so-called super food are everywhere. So not only are we consuming these anti-nutrient rich beans voluntarily, thinking we are nourishing our bodies, we are involuntarily consuming higher amounts than we know when we choose processed products laden with its derivatives.
Due to the cheap nature of soybean oil and the high demand and use of oils in processed products, new research is being performed to convert soybean oil from its natural easily oxidized state (as it is mostly polyunsaturated and therefore prone to rancidity) to a more heat stable oil that can be added to products cheaply and yield a longer-shelf life. When this occurs, the essential fatty acids are the ones decreased, in turn decreasing the positive fat profile originally produced in the soybean. One such soybean seed has been developed through genetic modification by DuPont and was put on the market in 2010. There are no laws in the US for labeling where soybean products are coming from, conventional and GMO are all treated the same. They are not separated at any point in growing, harvesting, shipping, storing or processing of soybeans in the food system.
Research on the affects of GMO soybeans on health has shown that the majority of soybeans contain glycophate, an ingredient in Roundup (a Monsanto product) used to block plant growth, which when consumed can destroy gut flora, meaning poor digestion and issues with the gastrointestinal system. Further studies have shown infertility in rats after three generations of consuming high GM soybean diets. Another sour point, genetically modified soybean crops are highly allergenic, as the genes added to them are from an array of unknown donors as well as bacteria and pesticide residue.
Overall, regular consumption of soybeans means potential negative health effects, from actual nutrient content as well as from the manipulation of this crop by large seed companies. My recommendation; avoid all forms of soybeans like the plague.
(1)GMO Compass http://www.gmo-compass.org
(2)USDA ERS http://www.ers.usda.gov
(3) National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service http://www.endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/hypothyroidism/
(4) Institute for Responsible technology http://www.responsibletechnology.org/health-risks
(6) Paul, katherine, Cummins, Ronnie. GMO and the Corporate Patenting of Living Organisms:Monsanto’s Patents on Life. March 2013. http://gmoinside.org/news/gmo-and-the-corporate-patenting-of-living-organisms-monsantos-patents-on-life/
(7) American Nutrition Association: The Whole Soy Truth. http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/whole-soy-story
(8) Fallon, Sally, Enig, Mary. Newest Research on Why You Should Avoid Soy. April 2000. http://www.mercola.com/article/soy/avoid_soy3.htm