Soya and Health
A Look at Soya from a Wholefood Perspective
There is a lot of controversy about soya and it's effects on human health. Articles that you read may have a certain bias depending on what "camp" they come from. We come from the wholefood camp and it is from this perspective that we take an in depth look at the soya bean.
Refined Soya Products
It may come as a surprise to many to learn that soya milk and tofu are not wholefoods - they both involve a long refining process. The same is true for TVP (a soya based product) and soya flour. As such, it is advisable to avoid consuming large amounts of these products on a regular basis. Refined soya also contains phytic acid; excessive intake can contribute to mineral deficiencies. Occasional consumption of good quality, organic, refined soya products should cause no problems to those with robust digestive systems who are not sensitive to soya.
Health Benefits of Tofu
Tofu is beneficial for those with heat signs - feeling hot, red face, red eyes, high blood pressure, constipation and great thirst. For cooler persons, the cooling properties of tofu may be balanced by combining it with ginger, which is a warming spice. Note: Commercially made tofu may be fermented using chemical ingredients, alum or vinegar and are not recommended. Choose tofu that is fermented with nigari or lemon juice. Make an effort to change the water daily and wash before use as toxic constituents migrate out of the tofu and into the soaking water.
Hidden Refined Soya and Genetically Modified Soya
It is very important to note that refined soya is a hidden ingredient in many refined and pre-packaged foods available on the wider market. It is used to "pad out" such foods - generally people are not even aware that they are eating it. All the above precautionary measures apply, particularly so as this hidden soya is not organic and therefore may be genetically modified. There is also substance called soya protein isolate - a product that is so highly processed it can barely be termed a food substance - which should definitely be avoided at all costs. Genetically modified soya should be avoided wherever possible from a health, environmental and ethical point of view. For more information on this issue see the Genetically Modified Foods page.
Wholefood Soya Products
The most beneficial wholefood soya products that are available are fermented products such as miso - which contains valuable digestive enzymes, tamari and shoyu (types of soya sauce) and tempeh (a protein rich wholefood alternative to tofu). All traditionally fermented soya products are very safe as the fermentation process produces substances that counterbalance all potentially toxic constituents. Whole soya beans are also beneficial, although they must be thoroughly cooked in order to destroy toxic parts of the bean, which inhibit a digestive enzyme called trypsin. A Chinese saying says that the beans should be boiled twice for the length of time it takes to burn an incense stick. Fermented products are less cooling than refined soya, yet miso, tamari and shoyu are very salty and should be eaten in moderate amounts. That said, they are highly beneficial foods and may form a regular part of the diet.
Soya and Women
Soya is viewed from a Chinese perspective as a damp and cool food. Thus it balances out conditions that are hot and dry. Some of the symptoms of the menopause may be described as hot and dry and it comes as no surprise that soya products (particularly the refined ones) are extremely efficient at alleviating symptoms such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. From a more scientific viewpoint, soya contains substances called phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens dock at oestrogen receptor sites and thus mimic the effects of real oestrogen. Women suffering from symptoms associated with the menopause may find that adding extra soya to their diet is helpful, yet caution should be exercised. You may use refined soya on a regular basis, unless it is contra-indicated for your individual constitution - see People Who Should Avoid Soya. It is best to only use small amounts of refined soya. As little as seven grams a day can prevent symptoms. A fermented soya supplement is available called Soyagen, which offers a convenient way of taking wholefood soya. For those women who would like to avoid or cannot tolerate soya, ground linseeds, red clover tea and sage tea, all help to reduce symptoms. There are many other herbs that can help to bring the hormones back into balance. Please note that it is best to see a herbalist if you decide to take hormonal herbs on a long term basis.
Soya and Infants
The Haelan Centre has never sold soya based infant formulas because they tend to have too much sugar in them and also we do not believe that soya is an ideal alternative to breast milk. Looking at it logically, it seems wrong to choose such a phytoestrogen rich food for the sole source of nutrition for an infant. Recent research has shown that soya fed babies have a two-fold risk of developing thyroid abnormalities. The best alternative to breast milk for babies is goat's milk formula. We carry a goat's milk formula called Nanny, which is suitable from birth onwards. It is the most similar animal milk in nutritional composition to human milk and is suitable for most babies who have problems digesting cows milk. Ask your doctor about alternatives to soya milk formula in the unlikely event that your baby is unable to tolerate cow or goat's milk.
People Who Should Avoid Soya Products
People with thyroid disorders, digestive problems (loose stools, bloating or irritable bowel) or signs of dampness (excess mucus; tumours; cysts; parasites; yeast sensitivity) should definitely avoid refined soya or only consume it in small amounts on a very occasional basis. Even these people are highly likely to be able to tolerate small amounts of the more beneficial wholefood soya products.