A few E-news back we made passing reference to soya and suggested it was not as safe as most would have you believe. We promised a fuller explanation later, so here it is.
Soya products are derived from the soya bean, and include soya milk, tofu, infant milk formula and meat substitutes. It's been an essential protein for vegetarians, and is revered as a miracle food because of its antioxidant qualities. It's been hailed as a preventative of a range of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Its proponents point to countries such as Japan, where they say soya is a staple of the diet, and the low incidence of many cancers there.
But there's another school of thought that claims that soya is one of the greatest threats to health, and all the good news associated with it is based on faulty science, and is propaganda perpetrated by the powerful soya industry.
Soya, they say, contains very high levels of phytoestrogens, also known as isoflavones, which can mimic and block the hormone estrogen, and depress thyroid function. It's something that also worried MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and now replaced by DEFRA, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), which commissioned a report on its health hazards. DEFRA is also concerned that most soya is grown as a GM crop, and is investigating what impact this may have on our health.
Soya also contains other toxic chemicals including phytates, which block the body's ability to absorb minerals, enzyme inhibitors, which hinder protein digestion, and haemagglutinin, which inhibits oxygen supply around the body.
Soya is also not quite the staple of Japan that we're told. A Japanese man on average eats around 8g, or two teaspoons, of tofu a day, whereas in the West, we eat up to 220g, or 8oz, of it every day. It's also simplistic to single out tofu as the preventative when the Japanese diet also includes more fish and vegetables, less fatty meat and less processed foods than a typical Western diet.
Ironically, many turn to soya because they are allergic to milk and other dairy products, but soya is itself a major allergen. Nutritionists reckon that up to half the population in the West may be allergic to soya.
If, despite all of this, you remain wedded to soya, at least consume it in fermented form, found in soy sauce, tempeh and miso, and which counteracts the effects of natural toxins in soya. And be like the Japanese - eat a lot less of it.