Soy: Health Marvel or Menace?

As a vegan, I depend quite strongly on the famed soybean. Originally touted as the angel of all foods, a smart choice for any health-savvy person anywhere, this little bean has recently gotten a lot of flack.

Before making the switch from vegetarianism to veganism, I did some research on soy, with the understanding that I’d be depending a lot more on the bean. In short, this is what I found:

  1. Soy cures cancer!
  2. Soy causes cancer!
  3. Soy may cure or cause cancer!

Disgruntled, I did some more research:

  1. Natural hormones in soy good for men and women alike!
  2. Natural hormones in soy cause men’s penises to shrink and women to develop breast cancer!
  3. Natural hormones in soy may or may not cause men to grow breasts and women to have health issues!

At this point I was getting rather frustrated, but I kept pulling forward:

  1. Soybeans will help you live longer like Asian people do!
  2. Soybeans will kill you quickly and Asians don’t even eat soybeans!
  3. Soybeans may help you live past 100 or kill you at 40, and research in inconclusive as to whether Asians really eat that much soy!

Finally, I just threw up my hands, probably made some comment about how everything seems to kill everyone anyways, and decided to make the overnight switch to veganism, using plenty of soy, nonetheless.

I don’t know exactly what is going on with soy, but I can say this: being in Italy has helped me realize just how much I depend upon soy. Doing a speedy overview of my average diet in America, I realized I take in as many as three to four servings A DAY of soy, not even counting foods where soy shows up as a random, sneaky ingredient (as it often does, because it is frequently used as a “filler” in many products). A DAY! I don’t know what the average vegan consumes, but it does seem to me that this number is excessive. It’s funny, because I didn’t even realize just how central soy has become to my meals! Breakfast is cereal (often with soy) with SOYmilk, lunch is perhaps a salad with SOY protein, dinner includes some sort of SOY, and snacks are often rife with SOY yogurt, SOY cheeses, and SOY protein bars. Ack! Not only is my diet unhealthily centered around soy, but I’ve realized that half of the time (if not more), I’m constantly using substitutes for meat, yogurt, cheese, etc.

Because of my dairy-and-meat-centric upbringing, I have consistently sought to continue to include these things in my diet, simply substituting soy for animal protein when needed. Let’s be honest here: a lot of the time I’m just using faux meats, cheeses, and such instead of protein from other sources like ancient grains, nuts, seeds, or legumes.

Why? For one thing, it’s a helluva lot easier. Time to cook a veggie burger? 2 minutes. Time to MAKE a veggie burger at home? More like an hour. Furthermore, I think it’s also a subconscious acceptance thing. With everyone in my family eating meat and dairy and eggs, it’s somewhat comforting to have all these clever mock meats and such to make me feel less isolated and more “part of the group” without having to sacrifice my beliefs.

Does this mean I’m giving up soy for good? Of course not. Arguments against soy are based primarily on the idea that excessive consumption will do you harm.

What I want to do upon my return is revisit my diet, make a few switches here and there (rice to soymilk, etc.) and try to lean more towards a macrobiotic vegan diet (whole beans, nuts, seeds instead of just processed soy). For now I’ll have to wait, but I think it will be quite an adventure!

Below are some articles regarding soy. If you don’t want to read all 3, I totally understand, but I ask you to at least skim the last one by John Robbins (my new hero).

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200604/how-healthy-is-soy

http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/soymessina#should

http://www.foodrevolution.org/what_about_soy.htm

In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you. What have you heard about soy? How much of it do you eat?

Till then!

<3’s

Gabriella

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July 26, 2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.