Containing 18% oil and 38% protein, soybeans are unique in that they are one of only two plant-based superfoods that deliver protein in equal quality to that of animal protein. This, of course, answers why so many vegans can be heavily reliant on soy products.
What is soy?
Soy is a legume or pea, originally grown in pockets of Asia. The natural soybean contains amounts of phytic acid, dietary minerals and B vitamins. It was popularized by it being a staple food in Okinawa, Japan – a place known to have the healthiest population in the world. This population eats plenty of tofu and other products made from the organic soybean.
Is Soy Bad for You?
As a top 8 allergen, this magic bean has copped a barrage of press about being bad for our gut microbiome – the beautiful balance of good and bad bacteria we need to be in tip-top tummy health. It is believed that a high soy diet could lead to swift and negative effects on our microbial health. EEEK! not really what a vegan wants to hear – especially a keto vegan.
Soy also affects the absorption of iron in the body, which you can image is not a good thing as you risk being anaemic. The high amounts of phytic acid – an anti-nutrient – contained in soy also affects the absorption of other minerals, such as calcium and zinc.
It has mostly been placed in the bad bin of plant foods due to research claiming that it might be a contributing factor in the growth of breast cancer cells because of the estrogen-mimicking molecules.
But then again, in another study it is linked to a decreased risk of developing breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men, while also controlling cholesterol and helping women survive menopause.
Goitrogens seem to be the main culprit in the soy police line-up. This plant compound weakens your thyroid, which can lead to you feeling tired, cold, constipated and inexplicable weight gain or loss.
If like us, you want to drive yourself batty trying to research this subject, you’ll come across many conflicting messages.
But here’s our take on what a vegan should do if they’re worried about soy. Armed with a few facts, you can decide for yourself if you will add soy products to your shopping list or ban them.
Storytime! The Origin of Soy
It is believed the soybean is a relative of the wild Glycine Soja, first domesticated in China 6,000-9,000 years ago. Scholarly types suggest it took our early farmers up to 2,000 years to tame the wild bean into what it has become today.
It has been deduced that ancient farm folk bred other ‘farmer-friendly’ traits into the bean such as pest and disease resistance, and male sterility. It’s quite fascinating how much we can alter a plant to suit ourselves.
Environmental Consequence of Soy Production
The mass production of soy is in Brazil and South America, which together produce 64% of the world’s soy supply. Because of the increase in demand, soy plantation owners can make high profits from selling it. The sad news is that to make room for such plantations, rainforests are often destroyed, including unique parts of the Amazon. This has a negative effect on the environment and the wildlife and people in the area – as you can imagine! South America is very extreme in deforestation, they destroy a million hectares of rainforest every 1 to 2 years, leading to the extinction of some rare plants and animals.
The increase of soy consumption has given rise to its demand; dog food manufacturers include it as a protein in dog food (more on its impact on your furry friends later), not to mention vegetarians and wholefood enthusiasts who widely use the product as a meat replacement.
The thing to remember here is, always make sure you are buying your food, everything from soy to vegetables to oil, from companies that care about the world and produce these products in a environmentally-friendly manner as much as possible.
Soy Products that Pack a Punch
There are various soy products which are high in nutrients including, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, protein, and zinc:
Edamame – These soybeans are harvested when the bean is still green and can be consumed as a snack or main vegetable.
Miso – A Japanese rich and salty soy pasta.
Soymilk – Soybeans that are soaked, ground and strained to produce the soymilk.
Soy nuts – Soybeans that are soaked and then baked until brown.
Soy sauce (Tamari, Shoyu and Teriyaki)– A dark sauce liquid obtained from soybeans that have been fermented.
Tempeh – Whole soybean mixed with another grain like rice or millet, are fermented and pressed into a cake or bar with a smoky or nutty flavor.
Textured soy protein – Products made from textured soy flour.
Tofu – A soft, smooth soy product made by curdling fresh, hot soymilk with coagulant.
Vegan Keto Diet with a Soy Allergy
So, you read the above list of soy-licious foods and are ready to start experimenting, but now there is a very dark cloud hovering over your soy dreams. Soy allergies are very common. That’s tough for a vegan – let alone a vegan keto. But there are a few sticky questions around whether it could be GMO soy that is giving grief to your gut.
It is a sad fact that the soy we consume today is widely genetically modified. This can results in many health problems, as GMO kills off probiotics which are the good bacteria that protect your gut and that is a no-no!
GMO Soy Is Everywhere
Oh no, not GMO! The genetically modified soybean is one of the most widely distributed GM plants in the world.
Sad but true, if it comes with a label you gotta look at it closely. Even ‘healthy’ superfoods.
In the US, 87% of soybeans are GMO’s. While manufacturers like to say genetically modified soy is primarily used for livestock feed, GMO soy is hiding in quite a few processed foods that you might not expect. Cereals, peanut butter, vegetable broths and most bread are common GMO soy smugglers.
If you’re digging into veggie stock and miso-marinated tofu tossed through an edamame salad with soy and peanut butter dressing…(if that’s a real thing) you could very well be unknowingly GMO soy-overloading.
If you’ve tried all of the above, and consider yourself an ingredient-busting, label-dissecting ninja who always eats every amazing ingredient in moderation, it sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Perhaps soy isn’t a villain in your story.
Regarding people who suffer a reaction to soy, maybe it is the GMO that is making them sick – not the soy.
But even if you’ve taken an allergy test and it has come up nada for soy, you may still have a mild intolerance. Your body might struggle to efficiently digest some processed soy products, or it may simply feature too heavily in your diet – and, therefore, your belly.
Symptoms of a soy intolerance for vegans
If you’ve been following the vegan keto diet, it’s relatively straightforward to test if it’s our beloved soybean that is causing you gastro grief. Let’s face it, we’re not eating a wide variety of potentially harmful foods – so a good tummy tester is to cut out soy altogether for two weeks, then gradually add it back into your diet – first in its most natural form, and gradually introducing other soy ingredients. Document how you’re feeling and take note of any symptoms.
Farts are funny, but when you find that YOU are all-too-often the culprit that ‘dealt it’ in the elevator, it could’ve been the beans. But never fear, the end is not quite near.
Soy and Skin
Because soy contains the phytoestrogens, or plant constituents similar to the estrogen our bodies produce, it can affect our hormones by altering the levels of estrogen in our bodies. this altered balance of hormones can greatly impact the formation of acne as it may cause your glands to produce oil. But on the other hand, if your liver is fully functional as our primary body detoxifier, it can naturally remove not only the toxins in our bodies but also the excess hormone that may be the cause of acne breakouts.
Is Soy Bad for You When Pregnant?
Moms-to-be should always be mindful of what they eat during pregnancy, for example, you might think soy may be good for your baby’s growth because it is a low-fat source of protein, but that is not necessarily the case. Some experts warn against a high consumption of soy claiming it could harm a developing baby due its phytic acid content. Phytic acid can block the baby’s uptake of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and uranium, but in the same breath, it can also block absorption of essential minerals such as niacin, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. And these are the baking soda of that bun in your oven. Another soy benefit that goes wrong during pregnancy is the legumes ability to lower cholesterol levels for women who aren’t pregnant. But during pregnancy, a woman’s body needs cholesterol to make estrogen, progesterone and vitamin D.
So, expecting mommies, have a chat with your doctor or dietician before eating soy while you’re expecting.
Is Soy Bad for Your Thyroid?
We touched on this briefly earlier in this article; and as with most things really, the jury is still out. While some studies suggest that ongoing consumption of soy may affect the thyroid function by possibly inducing hypothyroidism (low thyroid function), there are no concrete evidence to back this up.
Soy is under a family of foods known as goitrogens foods and supplements that don’t affect the thyroid positively but instead prevent the thyroid hormone production from functioning properly, which results in the thyroid gland being enlarged. Soy may also impact the thyroid by preventing the performance of thyroid hormones throughout the body and weakening the process of thyroid medication absorption in the intestines.
Most people will experience no negative effects when consuming soy, but the fact is, eating too much of anything can be bad for you. If you do encounter thyroid issues, just limit your consumption of foods high in goitrogen. This includes soy, broccoli, kale, etc.
To offset any side effects, you can eat some iodine-rich vegetables < https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/iodine-rich-foods#section10> instead.
PCOS and Soy
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that causes hormonal imbalances and problems with metabolism. Because we know that the soy we consume today is mostly genetically modified, it should definitely be avoided by women who have been diagnosed with PCOS.
If you suffer from PCOS, your estrogen levels are already out of whack; adding soy to the mix will worsen symptoms and can even lead to an increase of male hormones. Yikes!
Soy for Our Furry Friends
Soy has been of benefit to pet food manufacturers because it is inexpensive to obtain and is higher in protein than many other plants used in commercial pet foods. The sad reality is, however, that it’s been proven to be biologically inappropriate for cats and dogs. This of course hasn’t stopped manufacturers from including soy in their products and most of the time, they don’t even disclose on the labels!
But it can’t be that unhealthy to give your four-legged friend some soy milk every now and then, can it? Actually, it’s been liked to pets having bladder stones, blood sugar fluctuations, gas and bloating, thyroid damage and seizures, so should be avoided. It also becomes problematic from an obesity point of view as soy milk contains extra calories.
Soy, it’s up to you really. Our internal ecosystems really are vastly different. There are many variables that can contribute to how well we digest our foods.
There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to nutrition. Today a certain type of food can be good and then another research paper can surface tomorrow stating with the fact that’s the same food is not good for one’s health.
What works for one human might be less than wonderful for the next. Better than striving to be like someone else, work with the quirks of your unique system towards being the healthiest version of you. Only you can achieve the outcome your bod is asking for. The soybean has proven to have multiples characteristics, both positive and negative.
A great health benefit of consuming soy products is on the kidneys, which happen to absorb plant protein way better than animal protein.
If we consumed meat, our kidneys would rev up into hyper filtration mode the same amount of plant protein causes no stress on the kidneys at all.
This then shows that one needs to well informed about what we put in our bodies and also be aware of all of our medical condition by doing annual full health checks because if not, you might find yourself aggravating your health conditions by eating the wrong foods or consuming the wrong quantities of certain foods.
Our earthly vessel talks to us every day, if something’s not right, it’ll let you know.
We all need to make many personalized adjustments to eliminate the culprits and find that dietary sweet spot – then we grow a little older, change a little bit, and need to do it all over again with new tasty recipes (blatant recipe page link plug 😉 click it…go on. Haha!
We also need to think long and hard about what the production of the soybean is doing to our environment. Is it sustainable? Maybe not.