Soy is Not a Health Food:
6 Things to Know About Soy’s Big Downside

Soy Products

Soy, I have a big problem with you. You’re making people sick and old before their time. You may tell everyone you’re a health food, but I think we both know what the real story is, and it’s not pretty. This has got to stop. Right now. That’s why I’m reminding everyone – from those who buy your hype to those who barely know you’re lurking everywhere – that it’s time to show you the door. Just don’t let it hit you on the way out!

Here’s my topline on soy’s downside:

Soy is everywhere, but why?

Think of it this way: if it’s a processed food, there’s probably soy in it. Why? Because soy, in its many forms, is a food manufacturers dream. For them, soy is a cheap and abundant “miracle” ingredient.  When processed into packaged and canned goods, soy is a versatile and virtually tasteless filler. It can improve texture; add creaminess, thickness and bulk to processed foods without adding a lot of cost, calories or extra fat to the mix. However, the troubling bit is that what’s great for the manufacturer is not healthy for your body.

But Doc, will the stuff kill me?

While soy may not kill you outright, soy’s ability to undermine health is significant, and as a Wellness Practitioner I always advise my patients to remove it from their diets. Why? Because soy plays a role in the development of a number of debilitating conditions, which can morph into far larger problems down the line. For starters, soy disrupts thyroid and endocrine function. It interferes with leptin sensitivity, which can set you up for metabolic syndrome. Soy screws with your sex hormones by throwing off the estrogen and testosterone balance. It also helps block your body’s ability to access key minerals like iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium. If that weren’t enough, soy is a potentially lethal allergen to a segment of the population and an inflammation-triggering irritant to millions of people who may not even be aware that they’re sensitive to it. In short, it’s just not what most of us would call a “health” food.

Soy is ugly on the inside, and from the ground up

Another massive problem I have with soy is what’s been done to it before it lands on your plate. First up, it’s estimated that well over 95% of all soy is genetically modified. It’s also known to be one of the most pesticide-drenched crops on the market. (Um, no thanks.) So why willingly invite those toxic monsters into your personal eco-system? I say keep ‘em outside the castle walls.

Don’t be fooled – your “health” food is junk

Those soy-based food “alternatives” which often stand in for things like meat and dairy products are for the most part, garbage, even if they are being sold under the good-for-you banner at your local health food store. Drop meat-mimicking textured vegetable or soy protein patties; faux dairy favorites like soy milk, cheese, ice cream; snack-time soy chips, cookies, “energy bars,” as well as tofu from your shopping list. Why? Because they all suffer from the same fundamental problem: genetically modified organisms and pesticides. My advice? You have two options. Either skip the substitutes altogether and eat smaller amounts of the organic, grass-fed originals, or eat only certified organic, soy products (preferably fermented versions like miso, natto and tempeh) with the Non-GMO Project seal – and do so sparingly, no more than twice a week.

Soy you later, dude

If you wish to avoid soy, the most expedient way is to eliminate processed foods completely. Easier said than done, I know, but that is the reality. If you’re more the slowly-taper-off type, start reading labels very, very closely—because soy really does turn up in the most unexpected places (i.e., canned tuna; cereal; chocolate; baby formula). Adding to the challenge it that the presence of soy is often hidden behind a veil of tough-to-decipher names. Among the most easy to spot: diglyceride, glycine max, hydrolyzed soy protein, monoglyceride, MSG, soy lecithin, soy concentrate, soy isolate, soy protein and vegetable oil, vitamin E. For a more extensive list of 101 names (!) for soy, check out Dairy and Soy Free Mama’s amazingly detailed list.

Soy does a number on the environment

On a personal level, soy makes me sad – and angry too! Factory-farmed soy crops are amazingly destructive to just about everything they come in contact with, stripping the soil of nutrients, sickening the livestock who are fed it, inflaming the bodies of the people who eat it, and polluting the bodies of those who till the land. Who wants to contribute to that man-made mess? Instead, consider becoming part of the solution by supporting my health warrior comrades at JustLabelIt.org  and the nongmoproject.com, to learn see how you can help insure the safety of our food supply.

If you do choose to include soy in your diet, aim to eat only organic fermented soy products (such as tempeh, miso and natto), and make sure that you take a good multi-mineral supplementIt is important to remember that you should not rely on soy for your protein, but to think of it as a small portion of a balanced diet.

For those of you interested in learning more about the dark side of Soy, I recommend this book, The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food

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  • Dr. Lenny Rosenblum

    Is lecithin from soy really a problem? There shouldn’t be any proteins, are the safe alternative lecithin sources?

  • Aileen

    What about organic tofu?

  • Daniela Lobeira Brittingham

    What about when it is cooked at restaurant in japanese clay pot at the time you order?

  • Jenny C

    because raising animals does nothing bad for the environment. this article is ridiculous.

  • I used to teach vegetarian cooking classes at a non-profit organization. Almost everyone I knew there eventually developed low thyroid from relying too much on soy for protein. Almost all processed soy products (burgers and the like) contain MSG a known excitotoxin (destroys brain cells). Stick with traditionally fermented soy products used as condiments like tamari and miso.

  • Linda Memm

    You cannot say that it was a the soy. I developed a thyroid condition and I never consumed soy. It was the result of an iodine deficiency.
    I still do not consume much soy, but I think this article is devoid of any proof. Is it the soy, or is the GMO that is the problem?
    Just making a statement, does not make it so.

  • Linda Memm

    From my research, I have found that soy lecithin is used commonly as an emulsifier, like in chocolate, and in such trace amounts that it would not have much effect on our health. I have also read about health benefits of lecithin. So who knows? I just wish we had real definitive evidence when people write these kinds of blogs, instead of just one person’s opinion. This is how urban legends are born.

  • Bill

    The people of Okinawa, Japan, eat more soy than any other people on earth and are also the healthiest and longest lived. I’ve eaten soy a lot since I became a vegetarian in 1974 and have had no problems with it. My libido has always been strong, I have two children and lots of body hair, all of which give the lie to all that trash talk about feminizing hormones.

    Saying that some people are “allergic” to soy or and that “factory farmed” and “genetically modified” soy dominate the US market and that it’s a common filler for junk processed foods is no argument against soy itself. Bad production practices and eating habits are far more likely causes of allergies than soy itself.

    I buy organic soy and continue to enjoy it almost daily after over 40 years. This article is a mishmash of hype and misleading information. If soy can be grown organically — as some people seem able to do — then by all means enjoy one of the most nutritious and versatile foods you can eat.

  • Bill

    Linda: Read my post above. Do not fear soy; buy organic.

  • Bill

    It’s perfectly fine. All organic soy is safe and healthy.

  • Anonymous

    The soy that the Japanese eat is mostly fermented in the form of soy sauce and natto. Fermenting soy breaks down many of the detrimental elements of unfermented soy. This article is spot on.

  • I have been eating & drinking healthy soy for 33 years and I am healthier than most!! Here is another respectable Doctor’s take on soy: http://goleanngreen.blogspot.com/2011/06/letter-from-dr-jamie-science-of-soy.html

  • soy

    soy does not strip the ground of nutrients any more than any other crop. in fact, because of its symbiotic relationship with rhizobium bacteria, it returns nitrogen to the soil, allowing farmers to be able to reduce the amount they use when fertilizing for the food they grow to feed an increasing population.

  • Bill

    I lived in Japan for 25 years until the summer of 2011, after the earthquake. I was married to a Japanese woman and we had 2 daughters. We lived in a small mountain community and I worked in a big city. My life was entirely in the community.

    Early every morning a truck from a nearby tofu merchant selling tofu made fresh that day drove slowly down our street playing a familiar little tune and stopped. Aproned housewives ran out with bowls in hand to buy tofu. The truck would move down the road another block and stop again. If my wife or I missed it we’d just go to the shop to buy our tofu. There were always people there buying tofu and “okara”, a byproduct of tofu making that is not fermented.

    Yes, we ate miso and soy sauce and natto, but tofu is a regular part of the Japanese diet. What’s more, fermenting does nothing to change genetic modification of soy, nor to break down the chemicals it may have been grown with. It breaks down amino acid chains and makes protein more accessible and it adds beneficial enzymes. This article is completely without merit.

  • Bill

    I want to be very clear about this issue. Soy is a healthy and nutritious addition to any diet. It is disingenuous to attack soy citing the atrocious genetic modification, factory farming, and other bad food policies and practices in the United States. In my own opinion, no GM, factory farmed foods and no processed and packaged junk food is fit for consumption. Soy is not a problem.

    I lived in Japan for 25 years until the summer of 2011, after the earthquake. I was married to a Japanese woman and we had 2 daughters. We lived in a small mountain community and I worked in a big city. Our lives were entirely in the community.

    Early every morning a truck from a nearby tofu merchant selling tofu made fresh that day drove slowly down our street playing a familiar little tune and stopped. Aproned housewives ran out with bowls in hand to buy tofu. The truck would move down the road another block and stop again. If my wife or I missed it we’d just go to the shop to buy our tofu. There were always people there buying tofu and “okara”, a byproduct of tofu making that is not fermented.

    Yes, we ate miso and soy sauce and natto, but tofu is a regular part of the Japanese diet and has been an important part of mine for over 40 years. What’s more, fermenting does nothing to change genetic modification of soy, and little to break down the chemicals it may have been grown with. It breaks down amino acid chains making protein more accessible and it adds beneficial enzymes.

    This is not to say that the soy our tofu was made from was either GM or heavily doused in chemicals. On the contrary, I think these are primarily American problems. The Japanese are far too concerned about the clean taste of their tofu to tolerate such nonsense, and small merchants can’t afford to have their reputations tarnished by producing it. This article is entirely without merit.

  • Anonymous

    You are wrong. Fermentation does break down the phytoestrogens and goitrogens in soy. Goitrogens compete with the thyroid hormone for iodine which your thyroid needs. You are ignoring the ample scientific evidence on the danger of soy. You are however correct when you state that fermentation does not change the GMO nature of soy.
    Your experience with soy is not a scientific study and can’t be used to make statements on whether soy is safe or not.

  • Michael Appugliese

    Haha… sounds like the classic milk debate…

  • Laerrus

    Of course fermentation doesn’t alter GMO crops… That isn’t what he was saying…

    Fermentation makes REAL soy safe to eat.

    Japan uses just as many pesticides as anyone else.

  • Laerrus

    If done properly raising animals is beneficial to the environment, only a modern idiot human would figure out a way to raise animals that would cause damage, given how many animals nature raises without a bad effect on the environment…

  • Laerrus

    You can’t say that because Monsanto has been caught mixing GMO soy in with ‘organic’ soy.

  • Laerrus

    No, you cannot say that she cannot say that soy was the problem, in her case it very well most likely was soy, in your case it wasn’t, your argument is literally retarded.

  • Laerrus

    If I eat soy I cannot get to sleep at night because my body feels like bugs are crawling through it; if I eat too much my stomach area and around my neck gets this weird shit growing on the skin; after consuming products with soy my temperament gets thrown off and I become a cranky ass hole like I am now.

    I’ve seen the fields that grow soy, the GMO variety particularly, and it leaves the soil looking like the land scape one sees in African famine photographs, hard, dry and cracked all over…

  • Riverdivine

    More untruths, sponsored by the Weston Price Foundation. Simply: buy organic, and stay away from soy isolates. Soybeans are an estrogen- MODULATING vegetable; in other words, it balances excess or deficiency in hormones, in only the way that Nature can do. Check out a balanced, evidence-based, article. http://www.johnrobbins.info/what-about-soy/

  • Soyfoods Association

    Dr. Lipman, it is disappointing you have not provided any references to your claims. These accusations are largely disproved by years of scientific, clinical studies — as well as ingredient lists in the case of GMOs on products such as dairy substitutes. It’s true that most soy grown in the US is genetically engineered — up to 93% according to USDA crop data — but the majority of that goes to biofuel, animal feed and soy oil. The soy grown for those uses is a different variety of soybean than soy grown for soyfoods. Soyfoods such as tofu, soymilk, tempeh and edamame are almost exclusively GMO free. If you seek non-GMO soyfoods, chose soyfoods labeled “certified organic” or “made from non-GMO soybeans”.

  • Christie

    I’m so confused….so what is a vegetarian family of 6 to eat for protein on a daily (every meal) basis?? All but 1 eats eggs; but every meal!? Help!

  • Anonymous

    For vegetarian protein, in addition to eggs and dairy (e.g. raw milk cheeses), include legumes and beans, with quinoa or millet in your diet.

  • AJ

    Hi, bit alarmed by this article. Literally minutes ago ordered Vit K2 supplements (derived from natto) which is meant to be crucial in helping the body process Vit D (by Dr Lipman’s correct reckoning there’s a major international epidemic in Vit D deficiency). Just had my levels tested and am deficient.

    These supplements will mean I’m ingesting soy on a daily basis. Recently having finished chemo for ovarian cancer, am now concerned may I shouldn’t take them.

    Any comment Dr Lipman? xx

  • Tara Hill-Perry

    Just call the company to find out if the soy is GMO free.
    Michael’s Naturopathic Programs is the brand I use which is GMO free soy natto 90mcg. Most health food stores carry it.

  • Liz

    Bill is right in terms of consumption. I don’t know where this myth came from that the Japanese and Chinese eat more fermented soy than unfermented. I’ve lived in Asia, and if anything, fermented soy, is used as condiments, while unfermented soy is consumed widely.

    I’m assuming this myth came from the West. This isn’t scientific, but who are you going to trust? Health advice from one of the sickest, fattest country of the world, or actual real I see it with my eyes slender Japanese tofu-munching people living for decades.

  • Natalie

    I also am disappointed in the lack of scientific references in this article. Dr. Joel Furhman, who warns againsst many other foods, provides a summary of scientific evidence on health benefits of minimally processed soy: http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/debunking-anti-soy-myth.aspx
    http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/breast_cancer_survivors-soy_good_alcohol_harmful.aspx

  • Bill

    Natto is great! This guy is a quack, but even he’s got nothing against fermented soy, such as natto. However, in the USA you’ve got to worry that over 90% of soy is GMO, so I’d go organic, if possible. Or buy an imported Japanese brand to be free of American GMOs and the worrying stuff the Chinese let into their foods.

  • SB

    Are all of your products now soy free?

  • Jessica L Becker

    I have developed an (diagnosed) allergy to soy. I can only guess it is due to the over consumption here in the US. I can hardly eat at any fast food venue, due to the sneakiest of places it is found in their products. It is added to everything we eat to lower the costs for Corp America. Too much of anything can be a bad thing.

  • Erin

    I’m finding out too late about this garbage. Have estrogen driven cancer. Doctor told me to stay far away from it. Everyone gets on this protein kick and adds it to everything . Try finding anything without it. It is a challenge.