Soy Milk and Estrogen

Oct 25, 2010

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Hi Steph – I like your blog and I love checking out your vids – cool website.

I’m seriously considering making my own soy milk like you suggest. Is it true what some people say that men shouldn’t drink soy milk because of estrogen issues etc? Do you know?

I bought some almond milk this weekend that I am going to try to see if I like it.

Reading some of your blog has got me even more interested in taking a closer look at the food I eat. I’ve always done a good job of checking certain things but I’m starting to take an even closer look now. I was shocked this weekend when I checked out the wheat bread I eat regularly and realized that it has high fructose corn syrup in it! In bread! WTF?

Anyhow – thanks for keeping the blog going

Matt
Denver, CO

Hi Matt,
Thanks for writing! Yes, seeing corn syrup in things like bread, salsa and soup really makes my head spin around. This is why I make almost all of my food from normal, basic ingredients. It is truly bizarre and maddening, in my opinion. I mean, why do they need to add sweet things, of any type, to food that isn’t even meant to be sweet? There is entirely too much sugar in modern food culture, in my opinion, in every form. And I truly don’t understand it.

I think it’s great you’re checking out soy milk and almond milk. Almond milk is also delicious, and can be made with a soymilk maker. I’ve been warned to use organic almonds, just like it’s better to use organic soy beans, when making it yourself. I guess the great thing about making your own is that you know exactly what’s going into it, and you can experiment with different combinations of beans or nuts. And no throwing away those cartons anymore! So I really think you can’t go wrong with getting a soymilk maker and starting to go for it…

I have heard various comments and debates about soy. People seem to like to spend millions of dollars on scientific studies to discover such astonishing revelations as “fast food makes you fat and gives you heart disease.” And then debate them and make more scientific studies. My honest feeling is that this soy debate falls into the same category.

I can’t help but believe that food safety and healthfulness is for the most part a matter of simple common sense. For example, soy has been eaten in Asia since around 2000 BC. American culture has been in existence for just over 200 years. Soy, as it is greatly used here and now, is often farmed with chemicals and processed into odd shapes and colors to resemble all sorts of dubious food items (for example, hot dogs). And then people eat these processed things and subsequently make the shocking discovery that there are health consequences (more scientific studies!). Personally, my feeling is that eating normal, simplistic soy products, farmed without toxic chemicals, like Asians have been doing since 2000 BC, is probably just fine. That’s just my opinion. I eat organic tofu several times a week, and make my own soy milk with organic soybeans, brown rice and almonds, which I put in my tea every morning. I don’t eat processed soy “food items” for the most part.

Like I said, this is my own opinion, and what is working for me. Here are some links to get you started, if you’re curious to look into more technical research and debates on the topic:

soya issues

effects of soy

soy forum discussion

neurotoxins in non organic soy

An excerpt from the “Behind the Bean” study by the Cornucopia Institute:

Part II: Unmasking the “Natural” Soy Industry
isolating nutrients: soy Protein

“Food companies routinely place the needs of stockholders over considerations of public health, and the purpose of the soy ‘heart healthy’ claim was to increase market share.”
– Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition at New York University and author of Food Politics

As best-selling author and New York Times magazine contributor Michael Pollan points out in his latest book, In Defense of Food, we should trust foods that are “real” and whole. When a food is part of a traditional diet throughout human history, chances are that it can be a safe and healthy part of a balanced and varied diet. He suggests that new, inventive, novel, genetically engineered, and highly processed foods be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. He refers to them as “food-like substances.”

Scientists agree; Dr. William Helferich, who studies the effects of soy on cancer, found in one study that isolated soy ingredients stimulated the growth of tumors. He notes, however, that some studies have shown that more wholesome soy foods such as soy flour did not have this effect.63 Such scientific studies support the idea that wholesome foods, minimally processed, are preferable to highly processed foods including isolated ingredients.

Soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, and miso have been part of the diet in Asian countries for centuries. William Shurtleff, co-author of The Book of Tofu and director of the SoyInfo Center, points out that Okinawa, Japan, has the highest consumption of tofu in that country, and its people have the longest life-span compared to other regions. Soy foods such as tofu and soymilk from many companies that are rated highly in our scorecard are only minimally processed—soaked, heated, ground, strained, curdled, and pressed—and are not processed more than other traditional foods such as cheese and yogurt produced from cow’s milk.

The Soy Info Center, which promotes soy foods as a healthy, environmentally friendly, and humane alternative to meat products, has a database of approximately 1,000 scientific, peer-reviewed, published studies showing health benefits of eating soy foods.

However, not all researchers and advocacy groups agree about the benefits of soy in the human diet. The Weston A. Price Foundation’s (WAPF) president, Sally Fallon, objects to the widespread promotion of soy foods as a miracle health food. WAPF’s web site lists scientific studies indicating that soy consumption, especially excessive consumption of isolated soy ingredients, may be harmful to one’s health. Fallon says, “The propaganda that has created the soy sales miracle is all the more remarkable because only a few centuries ago the soybean was considered unfit to eat—even in Asia.”64

Today, many Americans are familiar with the health benefits of soy foods through the FDA-approved “heart healthy” claim on food packages containing soy protein ingredients. It is important for American consumers to understand that this health claim is a direct product of corporate boardrooms searching for ways to sell more soy products—and to turn the soy “waste” by-products of soybean oil extraction into profits. In 1999, the FDA approved a health claim for soy foods: “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.”65

This health claim was first proposed in 1998 not by doctors or public interest groups, but by Protein Technologies International, a company that stood to profit tremendously if it could convince the American public to buy more soy protein (Protein Technologies International is now known as Solae). The key to selling more soy protein was convincing the American public that soy protein was a desirable product, and a health claim would go a long way to establish this reputation. Health claims on foods have long been recognized as an effective marketing tool. Even on the FDA web site, the value of health claims to corporate profits is acknowledged: Brian Sansoni, senior manager for public policy at the Grocery Manufacturers of America is quoted as saying that “[a health claim] brings attention to products; there are newspaper and TV stories and information on the Internet.” So what better way to convince the American public to spend money on soy protein than to widely spread the message that it could reduce heart disease? With corporate funding, scientists published articles making this connection. In a cloud of controversy and doubt in the scientific community, the FDA allowed the health claim in 1999, opening the door to a new world of opportunity and profits for soy processors.

In her book Food Politics, which explores the influences of the food industry on nutrition policy, New York University Professor of Nutrition Marion Nestle explains that “under the various laws and court decisions governing FDA’s actions in this area, the agency must approve claims backed up by well-conducted studies, no matter how out of context they may be or how quickly contradicted by further research.”66

When the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reviewed the scientific evidence related to soy protein and cardiovascular health in 2005, it found few credible studies to support the heart health claim. Based on its review of more than 50 scientific studies, the committee found that soy consumption had “no effect on HDL cholesterol levels,” “neither isoflavone or soy protein dose was associated with net effect on triglycerides,” and “soy consumption does not appear to af- fect blood pressure level.”67

The American Heart Association (AHA) has also strongly recommended that the heart healthy claim be removed. The AHA initially supported the heart healthy claim for soy protein, but after their expert committee reviewed the scientific research, the organization rescinded its support. In February 2008, the president of the AHA wrote to the FDA that the organization “strongly recommends that FDA revoke the soy protein and CHD health claim.” He stated, “There are no evident benefits of soy protein consumption on HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, lipoprotein(a), or blood pressure. Thus, the direct cardiovascular health benefit of soy protein or isoflavone supplements is minimal at best.”68

Many of the studies showing benefits to eating highly processed soy foods, as well as the health claim on these highly processed foods, are funded either by corporations or soybean grower associations.69 These foods contain novel and highly processed isolated nutrients, and organic consumers looking for wholesome nutrition should be skeptical of “heart healthy” claims found on these food packages.

Whole foods, minimally processed, are preferable. Soy foods such as tofu, and especially fermented soy foods such as miso and tempeh, have long been part of traditional Asian diets and are viewed by many as a much more wholesome and healthful choice than foods with soy protein isolates or concentrates.

  • Paul Doran

    What about Hemp Milk?

  • Denise King

    I totally agree with your comment about sugar, Steph. There is so much sugar, both hidden and not, in most people’s diets. I have tried to cut back on all the dessert type and beverage sugar in my diet. It has been a year now and I have seen a big difference. I like this lecture http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM&feature=player_embedded that compares the way our bodies process sugar to how we process alcohol. Thinking about how eating a cupcake compares with taking a shot of whiskey has made me think twice before “binge desserting.”

  • cybele

    i miss you! stay strong, be safe! xoxo

  • http://www.organicclimber.com Caleb

    Wow, i’ve never heard of a soymilk maker before. I’ll have to look into that for making almond milk. Is it any easier to use than grinding, soaking and then straining through a milk bag? That is the only way I would see it being worth it.

  • Steph Davis

    the soy milk maker is WAAAAY easier :)