Is soy safe?
June 27, 2003 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Is soy safe? As an ardent herbivore, I was pretty shocked to learn that tofu can shrink your brain. In a major ongoing study involving 3,734 elderly Japanese-American men, those who ate the most tofu during midlife had up to 2.4 times the risk of later developing Alzheimer's disease. [...] higher midlife tofu consumption was also associated with low brain weight. (a dissenting opinion)

Could it be that little ole bean, found in over half of the food on supermarket shelves, is bad for you? [more inside]
posted by mcsweetie (37 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I call it the vindication of Woody Allen.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:28 PM on June 27, 2003

{after skimming a few articles} "Seems to mostly center on one man" ... do you mean that only one man leads it, or do you mean that only one man is the target of the criticism?
posted by SpecialK at 2:29 PM on June 27, 2003

I prefer an all-koi diet.
posted by Witty at 2:31 PM on June 27, 2003

neither, just that Dr. Mercola seems to be the most vocal critic of soy.
posted by mcsweetie at 2:33 PM on June 27, 2003

And hell... if soy is bad for me, I might just have to go back to eating these.
[scroll down for "nutrition facts"]
posted by Witty at 2:34 PM on June 27, 2003

*pages soyjoy*
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:35 PM on June 27, 2003

You realize you are expecting me to accept serious scientific information from a site with a pink background and a cross in the left margin.

For what it's worth, I don't think having edamame with your sushi is going to rot your brain. Maybe -- if there really is an issue with soy -- it's the fact that we generally eat it in highly processed forms, such as tofu, protein powders, and soymilk.
posted by ilsa at 2:54 PM on June 27, 2003

well, you can eat soy and increase your chances of alzheimer's disease, and then eat stuff high in vitamin e along with lots of olive oil to reduce your chances of alzheimer's disease.

seems like it comes out pretty even in the end.
posted by chrisroberts at 2:54 PM on June 27, 2003

In health news today, experts say it is best to not eat. More at 11.
posted by pedantic at 2:57 PM on June 27, 2003

Let's just put it this way: Everything is bad for you. This stops your heart, this shrinks your brain, this kills your liver, this chokes your lungs, let's just fucking do it. Let's fucking live or die trying, by god!

Can you tell I'm 3 minutes from a week on vacation?
posted by mikrophon at 3:02 PM on June 27, 2003

Soy is used in the feed pellets that are used in raising farm salmon along with red dye too.
Eat 3-omega oils instead, what the wild salmon do.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:15 PM on June 27, 2003

workin' 6:05 to 3:05, what a way to make a livin'.
posted by wah at 3:23 PM on June 27, 2003

um, just to clarify, I am very much pro-soy!
posted by mcsweetie at 3:28 PM on June 27, 2003

From the Alzheimer's Patient and Caretaker's Guide:
Japan has lower rates than the United States. Japanese men who live in Hawaii experience higher Alzheimer's rates, while stroke levels remain unchanged. In Japan, the ratio of AD to vascular dementia is generally less than 1, whereas in Hawaii it was 1.5. Typical ratios in the United States and Europe are 2 or more.

Greater consumption of fish, and much reduced contamination of food and water with aluminum are two likely factors in this difference. However, the high soybean diet of Japan, while protective of some types of cancers and high in silicon that could control aluminum absorption, has been shown to kill neurons and might account for the higher Alzheimer's rate in Japan compared to India or China. The reason is that soybean contains pseudo estrogens that block the receptors for estrogen. Brain cells require estrogen to be healthy. As a result, an AD caretaker would likely want to avoid the use of soybeans in the diet.
Note that Japan's Alzheimer's rate is still significantly less than that of the United States. If you were choosing between a Japanese diet and a Western diet, you would be much better off with the Japanese diet, despite the potential harmful effects of soy.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:43 PM on June 27, 2003 [1 favorite]

Is soy safe?

Is anything?
posted by Blue Stone at 3:44 PM on June 27, 2003

Oh, and I forgot to mention, soy contains isoflavones, which are generally thought to be brain-protective and reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer's. If that's the case, soy may be largely a wash with respect to brain function.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:46 PM on June 27, 2003

i just think that adm and monsanto are tweeking with the bean to make it as healthy as a snickers bar.
posted by birdherder at 3:56 PM on June 27, 2003

Soy products are generally not recommended for people affected by hypothyroidism, as they can affect (read: suppress) thyroid function. In addition, they contain significant estrogenic properties.

Tangential evidence >

Of course, once we start talking about soybeans, we're back to talking about GMOs as well.
posted by vers at 4:02 PM on June 27, 2003

Phytates found in soy products interfere with zinc absorption... Zinc deficiency can cause a "spacey" feeling that some vegetarians may mistake for the "high" of spiritual enlightenment. (from "Tragedy and Hype")

I was afraid that I had lost the Eight-fold Noble Path; turns out it was just the multivitamins.

I was also shocked to hear that soybeans contain "anti-nutrients". I think the greatest danger would be for these anti-nutrients to combine with nutrients present in other foods, potentially releasing harmful gamma radiation in our stomachs.
posted by eddydamascene at 4:08 PM on June 27, 2003

There is also a connection between soy and thyroid problems, for what it is worth..
posted by valerie at 4:15 PM on June 27, 2003

I heard about this study a while ago, and couldn't help wondering if it was sponsored by the Beef Council of America or something...I don't want to jump to the conclusion that it's wrong (and for the record, I eat much more meat than soy), but this is precisely the kind of result that calls for lots of independent confirmation. Not that that ever stopped the news media from passing up a good headline.
posted by uosuaq at 4:15 PM on June 27, 2003

Just off the top of my head, my guess would be that while Asians consume a large amount of soy, people in Asian countries generally consume more vegetables, more fish, and less red meat. I'm guessing that might be counteracting any negative effects soy has.
posted by gyc at 4:34 PM on June 27, 2003

I am very familiar with Dr. Mercola's website, and I can assure you, he didn't like (unfermented) soy long before he had a book. Also, his site is more like a blog in that he links to a study or article and then comments on it.

The general gist of this business about soy being bad is that it's being highly processed and over-promoted. If you read labels, you'll find "Soy Protein Isolates" in all kinds of stuff, especially if you're a vegetarian. I love a lot of the meat free products out there, but I've had to stricly limit them due to hormonal problems they seem to cause (take the soy problem).

No one seems to think that moderate amounts of fermented soy products are bad for you. These include high-quality soy sauce, Miso, Tempeh and Natto. These do not cause a loss of vital nutrients.

There is also the argument that eating a lot of soy can throw off hormone balances in women because of it's estrogenic properties. (This is also the perceived problem with soy formula in that this would represent a walloping dose for an infant). It seems to exacerbate if not cause hypothyroidism in some women.

Also, Asians don't really eat that much soy -- not anywhere near as much as an American vegetarian, for instance. Tofu is rarely a meat substitute -- it's more of an additive or condiment. When eaten like this (especially if it's fermented), there really aren't negative effects.

Asians may have healthier hearts because they eat a much more ideal balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats, unlike Americans who typically eat much more Omega 6. Also, they eat more vegetables than we do, and they certainly eat a lot less wheat, another commodity row crop that contains phytates (which cause nutrient loss).

Moral of the story? Don't eat processed foods if you can avoid them, don't base your diet around one food, eat as much variety as your conscience and palate allow. No magic involved. :)
posted by astrogirl at 5:18 PM on June 27, 2003 [1 favorite]

From my cold, dead hands.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:27 PM on June 27, 2003

A point-for-point challenge to the aforementioned Fallon/Enig article.
posted by LinusMines at 5:29 PM on June 27, 2003

I'll continue to eat soy over processed, antibiotic pumped, living-in-their-own-filth animals anyday.
posted by gramcracker at 7:52 AM on June 28, 2003

Stop calling us that.
posted by websavvy at 8:02 AM on June 28, 2003

All plants and indeed all living things wage their own versions of chemical warfare.

The nutrititional drawbacks of Soy exist because the soybeans don't want to be eaten!

Then again, wheat's not too crazy about being consumed either.

And potatoes? well, let me tell you about tubers....
posted by troutfishing at 9:41 AM on June 28, 2003 [1 favorite]

I eat soy quite often, and my brain weight's down at least 200cc (over a five year period). Shrinking, shrinking every day. Pretty soon, I'll be a microcephalic idiot except -

It's not the size, it's how you use it!
posted by troutfishing at 9:45 AM on June 28, 2003

Wolfdaddy, you rang?

Well, as I've noted before, I'm not actually all that pro-soy, especially as it's one of our (USA's) key GMO crops. My name derives from my e-mail address (deriving from a book title) combined with a total lack of stopping and saying "now what do I want to be known as to everybody on Metafilter for all time?"

Soy is a pretty complex food. This brain shrinkage thing, though, is pretty old news and has been variously qualified and/or debunked as some people above have linked to. If I had had a blog back when that stuff was breaking a couple years ago I would now be better prepared to address its credibility. At worst, I'd imagine soy's many documented benefits would at least balance out any negative impact.

BUT I would definitely endorse the concept that if you're omitting meat from your diet you shouldn't replace it all with soy, as you'll get an imbalance similar to that of the Standard American Diet with its excess of animal protein. You know, the old soy yogurt for breakfast, soy baloney and soy cheese (with soy mayonaise) sandwich for lunch washed down with soy milk, etc. There's plenty of other good protein-rich stuff that offers a variety of tastes as well as of nutrition. Also, for all its iconic status, tofu is a very highly processed food. If you want the benefits of soy I'd recommend throwing edamame into various dishes. Lots of taste and texture there, both of which tofu so famously lacks. Tofu's invaluable, of course, for faux cream cheese, custard, mousse and so forth, but it's probably best left to that "occasional" status rather than a staple.

And for those who think of the milk-like beverage war as being between cow's milk and soy milk, as long as you're not paranoid about protein, rice milk is a great alternative. It comes fortified with Calcium, D and B12 just like soy milk and has a natural sweetness that doesn't require the added sugar (oh, sorry, "cane juice") of most soy milks. And it's perfect on cereal, where I find soy milk too thick and clammy.

Paraphrasing troutfishing, I'll start worrying about soy's effect on my brain when I start thinking like the average meat-crazy soccer hooligan.
posted by soyjoy at 10:46 PM on June 28, 2003

The problem is you can't fortify foods and call them whole. Adding D and B12 is not the same as eating foods with those naturally. The best nutrition is from whole foods without fortification. Just like you can't replace a good diet with vitamins, you can't replce whole food with fortified foods.
posted by stbalbach at 12:35 PM on June 30, 2003

Soy largely to blame for recent rainforest destruction -- who knew, we were told it was all for pasture land for the evil cattle industry.
posted by stbalbach at 8:13 PM on July 1, 2003

Since most of the soy produced is turned into soybean meal, going almost entirely to feed livestock, yep, it pretty much was. Thanks for highlighting that.
posted by soyjoy at 9:58 PM on July 1, 2003

The problem is you can't fortify foods and call them whole. Adding D and B12 is not the same as eating foods with those naturally.

Another good point, stbalbach. That's one of the reasons I avoid meat and milk.
posted by soyjoy at 10:08 PM on July 1, 2003

I think more people get sick from e.coli on salad bars than they do meat. And you can buy unfortified milk. The problem is not the food, it's what the factories do to the food. Simple answer is eat organic natural meat and milk.

As for soy being used as feed, again, bad process. Cows are designed to eat grass, not soy. So again, the problem is not the cows but the factory process involved. Don't throw the cow out with the bath water.
posted by stbalbach at 7:33 PM on July 2, 2003

I think more people get sick from e.coli on salad bars than they do meat.

Think it all you want, but you're wrong. Every time a non-animal food is found to carry E.coli, it's big news, while animal-food recalls (for E.coli, listeria, salmonella and campylobacter, etc.) are so commonplace they pass without notice - look, another one yesterday! Did you hear about it?

More to the point, any food can carry these deadly diseases, but they all come from one place: Animal feces. With extremely rare exceptions, every case of foodborne illness such as those above can be traced back to food animals. So even people who are "getting sick from e.coli on salad bars" are getting sick from meat, whether they personally consume it or not.

Simple answer is eat organic natural meat and milk.

Easier said than done, since the meat industry is fighting to falsely label meat "organic" which isn't.

And while I agree with you that factory farming significantly exacerbates the potential health problems of meat and milk, that in no way proves that they're otherwise safe. Even the purest milk has natural growth hormones that are excessive for adults' diets, and actual organic meat still packs way more cancer-causing pesticide residue than plant products because of the nature of saturated fat. Compared to the many well-documented problems of animal-based protein, this dithering over the "dangers" of soy is pretty ridiculous.
posted by soyjoy at 8:15 AM on July 3, 2003

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