M2A! November Week1: The Soy Controversy Continues

soyfield1Image courtesy of elgarydaly

I consider both my wife and I to be healthy eaters.  Sure, we have a sweet tooth on occasion, but for the most part we stick to whole grains, fresh veggies and lean meats.  But one thing that has been a solid staple in our diet for many years has been soy products.  From tofu to veggie burgers, Liz and I consume fairly large quantities of soy on a regular basis.  But now we are rethinking the WHOLE THING!

Is soy as healthy as people say it is?

A few weeks ago we were at my mom’s wedding reception when we found ourselves talking ‘diet’ with a family friend.  When we were asked what kinds of foods we ate, one of my replies was a proud, “Anything with soy”.  I had always heard it was the uber healthy, fix-all food and it was easy to turn into a great meal.  So of course we ate plenty of it and felt great about our ‘healthy habit’.

But the second I mentioned soy, I was quickly informed that this ‘healthy food’ was not as good for us as many had previously thought.  I was blown away.  Normally I may have ignored the comment as just a myth, but I trusted the source and decided to do some research and find out the truth.

After googling the phrase, “Is soy good for you?” I was immediately immersed in article after article of the great lie that somehow soy products are ‘God’s gift’ to health nuts.  The only places that seemed to speak all positive about this plant were sites that had stake in the sale of soy.  This is not to say that I couldn’t easily dig up independent websites that are purely fans of tofu, but I was already sold on the fact that soy may not always be the right food for you diet.

Some of the information shared on these sites were:

  • “Infants exclusively fed soy-based formula have 13,000 to 22,000 times more estrogen compounds in their blood than babies fed milk-based formula, the estrogenic equivalent of at least five birth control pills per day. Premature development of girls has been linked to the use of soy formula, as has the underdevelopment of males. Infant soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease.”
  • “Soybeans also reportedly contain an anti-nutrient called “phytic acid”, which all beans do. However, soybeans have higher levels of phytic acid than any other legume. Phytic acid may block the absorption of certain minerals, including magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. Epidemiological studies have shown that people in 3rd World Countries who have high consumption of grains and soy also commonly have deficiencies in these minerals. It must also be noted that this may be of particular concern with regard to babies who are using soy-based infant formulas.”
  • “The Chinese did not eat unfermented soybeans as they did other legumes such as lentils because the soybean contains large quantities of natural toxins or “antinutrients”. First among them are potent enzyme inhibitors that block the action of trypsin and other enzymes needed for protein digestion.

These are just a few of the many ‘red flags’ raised by numerous sites on the Internet.  Much of this information can be found in an article called, “Newest Research On Why You Should Avoid Soy“.

From what I came to understand after reading many different articles with many different opinions is this:

Unfermented soy products contain substances that act like estrogen in the human body.  This can cause many issues, different for both male and female.  The general consensus seems to be that young, developing children are at the highest risk of these negative effects.  From what I could tell, an adult human can eat low amounts of soy products without much need for concern.  But the fact that soy is in SO MUCH of what we eat, a higher intake may be occurring than we realize.

Should you stop eating soy?

The answer I can give you is this: I have NO idea.

I’m still ingesting all of this ‘new to me’ information and trying to figure out my new plan of attack.  But the fact is, if even SOME of this were true, cutting back on soy might not be a bad idea.

Either way, if you are a constant consumer of this versatile vine-seed, you should take a look for yourself.  Do some research and make sure you are really ingesting the best for you body.  And if you are already informed in this area of question, please share you thoughts and understanding with us.  I’d love to hear some more perspectives/opinions on the subject so we can be sure to provide our families with a healthy diet.


  1. says

    This is very interesting.

    I myself eat soy even though I’m not vegetarian. Every morning I eat cereal and use soy milk (though not much). And often I stir fry some tofu… But not more than 1 and a half servings. So on any given day I don’t think I eat more than 2 or 2.5 servings of soy.

    You know, my health guru encourages the consumption of soy and as a result I think its fine. Yes, I know, that’s not exactly a very thorough method to reach this conclusion.


    But anyways, my health guru is Dr. Andrew Weil. You may want to check out his website and do some research to see what his opinion is – just to add to everything else you’ve uncovered.

    Bamboo Forest´s last blog post..The Polls Are Open: Cast Your Vote for P.I. President

  2. says

    This is actually very old news and you’ll find that the references in the article that you linked are also, largely, quite old. In the past few years, many studies have shown a link between lower heart disease and cancer rates and higher intakes of soy, especially at a younger age. It’s controversial, however, because studies imply that phyto-oestrogens may stimulate the growth of existing hormone-dependent cancers. In other words, it’s still inconclusive and we’re not quite sure what it’s doing or why.

    My personal theory, and I’m no doctor (or vegan), is that it has more to do with what else you eat when you’re not eating soy. Vegans, who oftentimes eat a lot more soy than your average Joe, show both lower levels of oestrogen and cell growth hormones. Women who eat high amounts of animal proteins (incl. eggs) have higher oestrogen levels AND higher levels of growth hormone that cancer cells need, for example, and adding soy to that, for example, may not be a great idea.

  3. says

    @Bamboo Forest: For someone who certainly insn’t a health guru, I can appreciate that you trust someone who is. I certainly don’t know how much of this is true (both the good and the bad) so I would certainly trust a ‘pro’ over a few articles.

    @Miguel: “What do you mean by soy is so much of what we eat?”

    What I meant by that statement was the fact that even when we don’t think we’re eating soy, there’s a good chance we are. When I started looking through the ingredients of the food in our house, I was amazed to find the words ‘Contains Soy’ on so many labels. And I’m not just talking about Tofu here.

    I certainly don’t know what you eat and you may not be eating any kind of soy, but these days, we’re finding soy in much more than we used to.

    But like I said, this may not even be a bad thing. Just some questions of concern and curiosity.

    @Emma: “…it’s still inconclusive and we’re not quite sure what it’s doing or why. ”

    I completely here what you’re saying, Emma. I’m certainly no expert and figured some of the information may be a little less than ‘up-to-date info’, but I think it’s the fact that it is all so inconclusive that concerns me. So I’m not trying to push the idea that soy is bad, but raise the question as to whether it’s as great as we’ve been told it is. And since my wife is pregnant with our first child, I found myself really unsettled when I read article after article that says soy is bad for infants.

    So I really appreciate you input on the subject. It’s very helpful.

    @Vincent: I know, I’m confused as well. But it makes for a great discussion! :-) Eric.

  4. Sara says

    I made a huge diet change some time ago, which involved increasing soy. And my symptoms for endometriosis, which had previously been kept under control, went through the roof. Why? Because soy acts as a phyto-estrogen, and was affecting the balance of hormones in my body — negatively.

    Though soy has been encouraged for menopausal women for this very reason, there is evidence that soy leaches calcium for women’s bones, leaving them open for osteoporosis. I would have loved to believe that soy was good for me; my body taught me different.

  5. says

    I’m never sure what to think. Every food seems to be controversial. There’s still tons of disagreement about whether meat is essential or terrible for you. You’d think we would have figured that one out by now.

    I don’t know how we’re supposed to know what the truth is. I guess I’ll continue eating soy, but in moderation.

    Hunter Nuttall´s last blog post..Why We’re Broke and How To Fix It

  6. says

    @Sean and Matt: I’m certainly on the ‘balanced diet’ band wagon. I agree that one of the best ways of avoiding some of the unforeseen health health risks is to just keep all in moderation. So I hear you guys loud and clear.

    @Daniel: “Is that considered an okay diet with soy in it?”

    This is a question that I’m still pondering.

    @Sara: I’m sorry to hear about this. My wife has similar ‘hormonal issues’ that are greatly affected by her diet and lifestyle so I can empathize with your situation (at least from a second hand point of view.)

    Your situation doesn’t seem to be an isolated experience as I have read about many other such situations. I hope you found your way back to a better balance.

    @Hunter: “Every food seems to be controversial.”

    Ain’t that the truth! I still consume small servings of soy at the moment, so it’s moderation for the time being. We’ll see what new info comes up in the future.

  7. says

    The soy controversy is so confusing. I myself in an effort to go more vegetarian started substituting meat for soy products. I realized when I was getting two periods a month that I should cut back on my soy intake. The estrogen effect is definitely there if you consume too much. Instead of substituting soy for everything I started using veggies as meat in burgers and what not. Too much of any thing is bad for you. I still consume soy milk with my cereal and eat an occasional tofu dish, but it’s definitely not a huge part of my intake anymore. Key is moderation.

    Amber´s last blog post..Make Face Time

  8. says

    Hi Eric,

    This issue has come up many times on Zen Habits and I’ve researched it thoroughly. I think you’ll find that most of the articles that mention the high estrogen levels and other problems with soy cite mostly the same sources. These sources are usually the Weston A Price Foundation and a couple others. They are hugely unscientific studies that have not been independently verified or published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

    In other words, there is no solid evidence at all that backs these findings about soy.

    The Weston A. Price Foundation has done a great job in spreading these myths, but they just have no scientific foundation.

    One problem is that they confuse different types of estrogen — one is the kind the body produces, which can cause health problems if too much of it is produced. But soy contains a different kind of weaker estrogen that has no negative effects on the body — it’s plant estrogen (phytoestrogens). In fact, phytoestrogens have been found to be very beneficial to our health.

    Leo´s last blog post..The 7 Keys to Turning Bad Habits Into Good Habits

  9. says

    I cannot say if it is true or not either. But one thing is for sure: search enought (specially using Google) and you will find foundations for demonstrating almost everything, as well as the opposite.

    My father-in-law is a 40+ experienced doctor, and when asked if something is good or bad, he always says: “Just listen to your body”.

    Jero Sanchez´s last blog post..Reduce el estrés innecesario en tu vida

  10. Sara says

    Jero said: “Just listen to your body”.

    Amen to that.

    That’s why I limit my soy intake, and also why I don’t tell others what to do in regards to soy — we are all different, and while a phytoestrogen may affect one person adversely, it might not another.

    This is true of so many things we deal with nutritionally. I have personal reasons for avoiding NutraSweet, for instance, and while I don’t recommend it to others I certainly don’t turn up my nose at those who drink diet soda. We all have to do what we deem best for our bodies.

  11. says

    @Amber: Like I said to Sara, you’re not the first person to mention hormonal issues when it comes to a high soy intake diet. I enjoy soy in my diet, but as you mentioned, moderation may be the better way to go.

    @Leo: Thanks for sharing that useful information. Like I mentioned in the post, the idea that soy is nothing but a ‘super healthy food’ is all new to me. From what you’re saying, it sounds like the adverse affects are being touted as widespread, but that the scientific info to back up the data just isn’t there. I’ll have to do some more digging, but you’ve given me some great things to keep in mind.

    @Jero: Great input, Jero! Listening to your body is most certainly the best way to treat it right.

    @Sara: Well said, Sara! Eric.

  12. says

    Interesting article and comments here Eric.

    I have heard the information about soy-based formulas and infants before. To be honest, thought, I haven’t given the topic too much thought. One son is breastfeeding and the other drinks organic cow milk. And as for my wife and I – we do eat some soy-based products but not enough that I would be worried about our health.

    Good luck on finding out the truth!

    PS – I wouldn’t be surprised if what Leo says is correct. There’s always someone with an agenda to push….

    Peter | The Change Blog´s last blog post..The 4 Worst Energy Zappers in Your Life

  13. says

    I learned several years ago that for the sake of my health, I cannot eat soy,”moderation” or not. For me, it the estrogen factor and the fact I tend to be hypothyroid. I also have to stay away from other foods, certain herbs, certain personal care products that can raise my estrogen levels and lower my thyroid function. Its a sacrifice I take to stay healthy and away from pharmaceuticals.

    Carla´s last blog post..Cautious or paranoid? Finding balance with green living

  14. says

    @Peter: Thanks for sharing your insight, Peter.

    “PS – I wouldn’t be surprised if what Leo says is correct. There’s always someone with an agenda to push….”

    I hear what you’re saying and it certainly may be the case. But I also wonder about the agendas of the soy companies. If anyone has something to gain with an agenda, it would be them. Just speculation, though. I certainly have no personal experience/insight to back that up.

    @Barbara: Moderation, moderation, moderation. I agree that it’s the name of the game when it comes to good health. Thanks for you input.

    @Carla: I think your story is one that is told by many. It sounds like, women especially, can have particular ‘issues’ that make them susceptible to negative effects from soy products. But as you pointed out, in many of these cases, it’s not just soy that has adverse effects.

    Great addition to the conversation. Thanks for sharing! Eric.

  15. says

    Interesting subject Eric!
    I’m a vegetarian and I eat soy products on a regular basis, especially tofu becuase it can be a great addition to a lot of dishes. And I like to drink soy milk too sometimes.

    I think it’s definitely important to keep things balanced, eat healthy and varied. Actually I am more concerned about genetically modified soy, as we don’t know what that will do to our bodies. That’s only one of the reasons why I always prefer to buy organic products.

    Hugo´s last blog post..Software Review: VoodooPad

  16. says

    Eric, I share your concern. Although I am vegetarian, I do not rely on soy products very much because after I did my research on it (I am an educator of holistic nutrition) the news was not pretty.

    For your consideration here is an article I wrote that takes a look at soy from exactly that conflicting stance and leads to a conclusion where our health is not benefiting from soy anywhere close to what people think.

    Here it is for more info:

    Evita´s last blog post..November is National Health Food Month

  17. says

    @Hugo: “Actually I am more concerned about genetically modified soy, as we don’t know what that will do to our bodies.”

    That’s one of the things mentioned in some of the articles I read. I think you’re right to avoid it for now.

    @Evita: Thanks for sharing your findings. I’ll have to give it a look. As much as there seems to be many saying this ‘scare’ is without merit, I keep hearing from many who have had their own issues. Definitely worth being cautious, at least for me.

    @Jeremy: I drank soy on a regular basis a while back, but have since stopped. Not because of these question, but just because I got out of the habit. I guess I’ll hold off until I find out more about it. Eric.

  18. rebekah says

    soy is the only thing that raises my estrogen levels naturally. when i stopped consuming soy products last year because i read a lot of bad things, my hormones went out of whack..hair started falling, ACNE all of the sudden, weight gain, and i thought it was because all the years i had consumed all that soy, but finally after a year of suffering and misdiagnosing myself with hypothyroidism, i got my hormones checked and my estrogen levels were LOWER THAN A MENOPAUSAL WOMAN, and i am only 25. so the gyno wanted to put me on birth control but i decided to skip synethic hormones and try going back on soy product and i swear to god, within a week, my energy was back, my acne cleared up and i just cant wait to be me again!!
    so every body is different, do your checkups, see what you need, what you lack and make the changes! you can heal yourself!

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