It’s really easy to fall into the soy trap when you’re eating vegan. There are soy substitutes for everything: meat, milk, ice cream, even cheese! Before you know it, there’s a little bit (or a lot!) of soy in every meal. While small amounts of soy probably aren’t a problem, a diet too rich in soy products is linked to a long list of health concerns. Soy farming is also responsible for deforestation in large areas of the Amazon.
The Health Dangers of Soy
The marketing bandwagon has touted soy as the perfect health food for decades. But could something that sounds so healthful actually be dangerous?
If you take the time to look into the actual science, then the answer is yes. Thousands of studies link soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility -- even cancer and heart disease.
One of the primary reasons it would be wise for you to avoid soy is that more than 90 percent of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified. Since the introduction of genetically engineered foods in 1996, we've had an upsurge in low birth weight babies, infertility, and other problems in the U.S., and animal studies have shown devastating effects from genetically engineered soy including allergies, sterility, birth defects, and offspring death rates up to five times higher than normal.
Soybean crops are also heavily sprayed with chemical herbicides, such glyphosate, which a French team of researchers have found to be carcinogenic.
Soybeans -- even organically grown soybeans -- naturally contain "antinutrients" such as saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, trypsin inhibitors, goitrogens and phytoestrogens. Traditional fermentation destroys these antinutrients, which allows your body to enjoy soy's nutritional benefits. However, most Westerners do not consume fermented soy, but rather unfermented soy, mostly in the form of soymilk, tofu, TVP, and soy infant formula.
Unfermented soy has the following 10 adverse affects on your body:
1. High Phytic Acid (Phytates): Reduces assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking, but only with long fermentation. High-phytate diets have caused growth problems in children.
2. Trypsin inhibitors: Interferes with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. In test animals, trypsin inhibitors in soy caused stunted growth.
3. Goitrogens: Potent agents that block your synthesis of thyroid hormones and can cause hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked with autoimmune thyroid disease. Goitrogens interfere with iodine metabolism.
4. Phytoestrogens/Isoflavones: Plant compounds resembling human estrogen can block your normal estrogen and disrupt endocrine function, cause infertility, and increase your risk for breast cancer.
5. Hemagglutinin: A clot-promoting substance that causes your red blood cells to clump, making them unable to properly absorb and distribute oxygen to your tissues.
6. Synthetic Vitamin D: Soy foods increase your body's vitamin D requirement, which is why companies add synthetic vitamin D2 to soymilk (a toxic form of vitamin D).
7. Vitamin B12: Soy contains a compound resembling vitamin B12 that cannot be used by your body, so soy foods can actually contribute to B12 deficiency, especially among vegans.
8. Protein Denaturing: Fragile proteins are denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein (TVP). Chemical processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines.
9. MSG: Free glutamic acid, or MSG, is a potent neurotoxin. MSG is formed during soy food processing, plus additional MSG is often added to mask soy's unpleasant taste.
10. Aluminum and Manganese: Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum, which is toxic to your nervous system and kidneys, and manganese, which wreaks havoc on your baby's immature metabolic system.
Soy's antinutrients are quite potent. Drinking just two glasses of soymilk daily provides enough of these compounds to alter a woman's menstrual cycle. But if you feed soy to your infant or child, these effects are magnified a thousand-fold. Infants fed soy formula may have up to 20,000 times more estrogen circulating through their bodies as those fed other formulas. You should NEVER feed your infant a soy-based formula!
In fact, infants fed soy formula take in an estimated five birth control pills' worth of estrogen every day.
As dangerous as unfermented soy is, fermented soy from organic soybeans is a different story altogether and can be a beneficial part of your diet. Fermented soy is a great source of vitamin K2, and K2 (combined with vitamin D) is essential in preventing osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and various types of cancer. Note that tofu is NOT on this list and is among the soy foods I do not recommend.
Traditionally fermented soy products include:
Soy sauce (as long as it's fermented in the traditional way, and not all are)
Contrary to what you may have heard, Asians do not consume large amounts of soy. They use small amounts as a condiment (about two teaspoons daily), but not as a primary protein source. And the type of soy they consume is traditionally fermented soy.
To know more about that take a look to the book: Education of Cancer Healing Vol. V - Explorers Di Peter Havas -Excerpts taken from The Health Dangers Of Soy By Dr. Joseph Mercola
Luckily, vegans don’t have to rely on soy as a dietary staple! There are lots of delicious, soy-free options to fill your plate. I decided to give up the soy for other foods, such as hemp, chia, nuts, seeds, leafy green, other legumes just to see what would happen. So what’s a girl to do when she wants a neutral vegan protein base for recipes but eschews soy because of the potential health risks?
Thankfully the good people of Burma have the answer: chickpea tofu. I’m pretty darn excited to share this recipe with you today.
Use this in place of regular tofu in your favorite vegan or vegatarian recipe, or wait it out for a couple days for a recipe for a punchy Burmese tofu salad that’s packed with plenty of fresh herbs and a kicky garlic, ginger and sesame dressing. It’s worth the wait, I promise.
3 cups / 350g chickpea flour (or besan, a yellow split pea + chickpea flour combo)
15 cups / 3 ½ liters water
½ Tbsp. coconut oil or 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 ½ tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 Tbsp. ground turmeric (optional)
1 tsp. garlic powder (optional)
1 tsp. ginger powder (optional)
1 tsp. dryed parsley (optional)
1. In a very large stockpot (make sure that is has capacity to hold over 20 cups / 4 ½ liters), combine the chickpea flour and water. Place somewhere to sit where it will not be disturbed. Let sit overnight, for about 24 hours.
2. After 24 hours, without moving the pot, carefully remove the water from the top of the mixture with a ladle, and discard.... (For God sake don't throw the water away... it's a wonderful stock base).
3. In a medium stockpot, melt the oil over medium heat.
Carefully pour in the remaining liquid, without disturbing the bottom too much (what you’ll be left with is a thick chickpea sludge, which will be used as the thickening agent). Add the salt, and turmeric if using, and whisk well to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for 20-30 minutes, until the mixture begins to simmer and thicken.
Give the chickpea mixture a stir to ensure that the mixture hasn't separated. While stirring the water with a wooden spoon, slowly and carefully pour the chickpea flour mixture into the pot.
Lower the heat to medium-low, stirring continuously, until the mixture has thickened and is nice and glossy, about five minutes. Pour immediately into the prepared baking dish(es) and put them in the oven for a while if the compost hasn't thickened completly.
5. Line a 7×10” (18x25cm) baking tray with a clean cotton tea towel or cheesecloth (something you don’t mind being stained with turmeric!). This is important because the fabric will help absorb excess liquid. Pour the thickened chickpea mixture into the tray and smooth out the top. Fold the edges of the cloth over the top and let sit at room temperature until the evening, when it is ready to eat (about 8 hours). Let cool to room temperature and then set in the fridge for at least one hour. The longer it sits, the more water will drain out of the tofu and the firmer it will get.
6. To remove tofu from the pan, place a cutting board on top and flip over, pull cloth away. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to five days.
For the salad, cut the tofu into cubes and fry with coconut oil or any other oil until crispy on all sides and toss together with the salad ingredients. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and serve. (Note: tofu will yield much more than you need for a couple of salads, so try it in a stew, stir fry, soup, etc.) For the salad: Mixed greens of your choice Pumpkin Seeds Grated carrot & beet Thinly sliced red onion Sesame seeds for garnish + any other of your favourite veggies/seeds
For the dressing: 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil 1 clove grated/finely chopped garlic 1/8 cup extravirgin olive oil 3 tbsp lemon juice *makes enough for two large salads