To read this newsletter in an easy-to-read pdf form, click here to download the newsletter The Food Chain and Soy Thank you.
“Why use the poor chicken as a machine to produce meat when you can use a machine to produce ‘meat’ that seems like chicken.”…Mark Bittman, “A Chicken without Guilt,” 2012
I am a big fan of Mark Bittman and love his minimalist style of cooking. Just a few wholesome, fresh ingredients cooked to perfection and you have a splendid meal. What could be easier and more delicious?
Because Mark Bittman has been a proponent of “real” food, his recent New York Times article, “A Chicken without Guilt” advocating soy-enhanced chicken took me by surprise. Soy chicken loses sight of nature’s delicately constructed web that we call the “food chain” and soy’s natural role as a soil enhancer within it. Traditionally, soy has never been a staple food crop because it can undermine health. Instead, soy was planted in rotation to fix nitrogen into the soil, a “green manure” to be plowed under to support and nourish the growth of traditional food stuffs like rice, millet, barley, and wheat.
But in our modern culture, soy in its many industrially-processed forms such as soy oil, soy protein isolate and soy lecithin has crept into most packaged, proceeded foods and fast foods, as well as into snack foods like chips, dips, crackers, cookies, cakes, muffins, other baked goods, and energy bars. Soy is also added to TV dinners and frozen entrees, and it is a hidden ingredient in fast foods. We consume veggie patties, burgers, chicken nuggets, French fries, vegetable oils and salad dressings without thinking that we are consuming soy. Sadly, soy also enters school cafeterias as filler in hamburger patties, lasagna, and spaghetti sauce. Soy’s high-protein/low-fat profile helps schools meet the current Federal low-fat (30%) guideline.
Soy’s popularity is the result of the marketing muscle of seed companies like Monsanto, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland and of large food conglomerates like Kraft, General Mills, and Heinz. Food companies like to use soy in prepared foods because it is cheap and has a long shelf life. To win consumer acceptance, food companies have billed soy as a low-fat, high-protein, low-cholesterol “health” food.
What is not generally understood is that soy can undermine health, particularly when consumed regularly. Soy was never a mainstay of any food culture. For some centuries, soy has been used in the Far East, but as a condiment and in fermented forms like miso and tempeh. By experience, the Chinese knew to be wary of soy. They recognized that soy required long, slow fermentation to neutralize its phytic acid, a mineral blocker,and render it digestible.1 Rather than soy, which accounts for only a fraction of total calories, pork has been the Chinese dietary mainstay, as well as meat broths to which a bit of tofu is often added. The Chinese have long understood the dangers of soy and that these dangers are cumulative.
For Mark Bittman to popularize soy chicken would add yet another layer of soy to our soy-laden supply of convenience foods; lead us further down the road of soy acceptance; and compound its inherent risks. Profit-driven food companies fail to tell us that soy is an anti-nutrient and that soy can create mineral deficiencies that are linked to neurological, fertility, digestive, and other health problems. Beyond soy’s inherent issues, industrially-processed soy protein isolate (SPI) that is added to entrees and infant formula is denatured through high heat and chemical (hexane) extraction, and carries with it toxins and carcinogens from processing. To make SPI into palatable “chicken,” “ham,” or “beef” the food industry adds flavor-enhancing additives like MSG, which are excitotoxins/neurotoxins linked to neurological problems.
When foods need factory-generated high-heat, high-pressure, and chemical solvents for processing—like soy, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and refined vegetable oils—we would be wise to avoid them.
This newsletter makes the case for “real,” humanely raised animals and animal products to supplement plant-based proteins, not soy chicken that breeds its own dangers to our health. We need the complete, easy-to-assimilate proteins (and fats) of animals and we need animal manure for soil enrichment. What we do not need is more soy entering our already soy-saturated food supply to undermine our health and the fledgling, sustainable animal husbandry efforts that are beginning to take root across the nation.
Honoring Nature’s Food Chain, Honoring the Herbivore
Sun… Producers (Plants)… Consumers (Herbivores)…Omnivores (People)…Decomposers (Bacteria, etc.)
Nature’s food web is delicately balanced. The sun is the energy source that enables green plants, through photosynthesis, to make food in the form of glucose/calories and expel oxygen, a waste product from photosynthesis, to sustain animal life. Predator becomes prey: Green plants are kept in check by herbivores, which are checked by carnivores; as omnivores, we keep all others in check (but ourselves). Overpopulation threatens every link of the chain, just as any dislocation in the chain threatens all in the hierarchy.
Advocates of soy substitutes in place of chickens2 and other grazers (herbivores like deer, sheep, goats, cattle) seem to forget the valuable role played by herbivores in the food chain. For sustainability, we depend on ruminant animals to eat grass—to digest its cellulose that we cannot—and then return nutrients to the soil through their waste products. Ruminants, with their multi-chambered stomachs, neutral stomach environment, and perpetual cud chewing and swallowing provide the perfect environment for bacterial fermentation to degrade the cellulose in green plants. In the ruminant’s stomach, bacteria feed on cellulose and hemicellulose—the carbohydrate polymers of the plant cell walls (these are not digestible by most animals)–and the ruminant then feeds on the fermentation by-products and the bacteria themselves.3 This is yet another example of the food chain’s miraculous web of host and parasite; predator and prey.
With age, more animal foods? My own experience suggests that as we get older, we need to gradually shift the balance of what we eat from raw toward more cooked foods. With age, digestive fires flicker and digestive enzymes wane. Cooking is a form of pre-digestion. Cooking does some of the work of digestion by breaking down foods so that they are easier to manage. 4 Animals also pre-digest food for us. They eat plant foods that we cannot digest; foods that might otherwise go to waste. From grass, herbivores create animal proteins that are complete and easy to assimilate, as well as fats with a favorable omega-3/omega-6 profile.5
It is also my experience that animal products aid digestion in yet another positive way: Animal foods like meat, poultry, and eggs are low-fiber, contractive6 foods that help to “anchor” expansive fruits, vegetables, and other high-fiber foods. A diet of beans, legumes, grains, vegetables and fruits can provide too much fiber. Animal products act as “ballast” to balance plant-based foods, especially vegetables and fruits [just as proteins do for alcohol (sobriety) and sugars (to curb metabolic stress)]. Animal proteins, when used in moderation alongside a plant-food diet, including plant-based proteins from beans and grains, support health without overly taxing the environment.
No matter your age, herbivores are increible walking protein factories that create pre-digested, easy to assimilate proteins and minerals, while enriching the soil through their waste products. Moreover, when animals eat plants and we eat animals, the ruminant is the one that contends7 with phytates, lectins, oxalates, and saponins, which are the natural toxins and anti-nutrients that plants manufacture to defend themselves against insects and predators. We escape these toxins and nutrient-blockers that are found in soy and other plant foods when we eat proteins via animal products.
A note about vegetarian diets: Vegetarian diets tend to work best for younger adults armed with a powerhouse of digestive enzymes and more “digestive fire.” They can also work for those willing and able to devote time and attention in the kitchen to careful soaking and adequate cooking of beans and grains and meal planning to assure complete proteins. Soybeans and other beans/ legumes lack the amino acid methionine. Grains lack lysine. So, unlike animal products that provide the complete complement of balanced, easy-to-assimilate essential amino acids, neither beans nor grains is a complete protein when eaten in isolation. Careful soaking and cooking can disarm many anti-nutrients found in beans and grains, and when combined, they make a complete protein, but one that is inferior to animal products. Vegetarian protein lacks heme iron found in red meat, as well as tryptophan, the amino acid building block of serotonin, that helps regulate appetite, sleep, and mental well-being. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products are rich sources of tryptophan. Vegetarians may also miss out on healthy animal fats, both from fish (omega-3s) and land animals (omega-3s, -6s, saturated fats and cholesterol), which the body requires for proper cellular function, mineral absorption, neurological processing, synthesizing hormones, and satiety—feeling satisfied after a meal.
A “real” chicken without guilt—One that is pastured and locally slaughtered. We honor the food chain when we treat our meat animals with respect, allowing them to range freely and forage upon what they were designed to consume—in the case of chickens, grass and bugs in addition to grains. Pasturing chickens and other grazing animals is both efficient and cost-effective and what nature intends. We also honor animals and their place in the food chain when we provide local slaughter, humanely with respect and a sense of gratitude. Taking life in this way is part of the life and death, checks and balances, natural cycle of the universe.
Awareness can return us to a better path. Thankfully, the many fledgling animal husbandry efforts sprouting up around the country, undertaken by young, entrepreneurial farmers, signal that awareness IS growing. The important role that we can play in forging a healthier, more sustainable world is to demand good food, both plant and animal. When we pay a bit more for sustainably-raised food we may avoid the longer-term costs associated with illness, lost productivity, and the medical costs of chronic disease. (The medical costs of a person with diabetes, for example, is $13,000 a year.)
When we demand good food by supporting local farmers and paying a bit more for sustainably-raised food, wholesome food usually appears. Statistics from the USDA database are an encouraging indication of how our dollars can bring change: By numbers (not acreage) about 90% of all farms in this country are still owned by individuals, where the average annual cash agricultural receipts totals no more than $10,000. This suggests that a broad network of farmers exist that are not highly capitalized and locked into a specific type of farming. It would seem that these “thousand points of light” could rather quickly respond to consumer demand for more local, sustainably-raised foods.
The Martha’s Vineyard model. Martha’s Vineyard is a vivid example of how demand for good food can encourage supply. Island Grown Initiative is a volunteer, non-profit group that supports local agriculture (and portable slaughter). It strives to increase both the supply and demand for locally grown food. Island Grown Schools is a farm-to-school program that connects students to local farms and farmers; brings agriculture and growing experiences (through student raised-bed gardens) to all schools; and avoids soy denatured fillers by serving student-raised and locally grown foods in school cafeterias. See: http://www.islandgrown.org; https://mail.google.com/mail/?tab=wm#inbox/1369226b2b9c952b;
The Hidden Dangers of Soy8
“Soy is the phenomenon of the times, [marketed as] the ‘healthy alternative’ to meat, the ‘non-allergenic’ dairy, the ‘low-cost’ protein that will feed the millions, the infant formula that is ‘better than breast milk,’ and the ‘wonder food’ for the New Age.” …Sally Fallon
“Soy contains many anti-nutrients, including trypsin inhibitors, lectins, saponins, phytates, all naturally occurring growth-depressing factors.” …. Kaayla Daniel
“Second generation soy products [proteins, flavorings, and emulsifiers added to prepared foods] are manufactured using high-heat and pressure, chemical solvents, acids and alkalis, extruders and other harsh tools that are very likely to contain or produce toxic or carcinogenic residues, yet these are billed as ‘health foods.’ These treatments result in lower amino acid bioavailability and poorer protein quality.” …Kaayla Daniel
Soy has come from nowhere in the short space of the last 50 years to creep, in its many fractured forms, into most packaged, processed and fast foods, as well as into foods served in school cafeterias. The commercial food industry loves soy because it is cheap and extends a product’s shelf life. Soy oil led to soy’s first use as a cash crop, with soy flour, soy grits, soy nuts, and soy nut butter among the early products that were produced commercially. More recently, highly denatured, second generation soy derivatives—soy proteins, hydrolyzed soy protein, and lecithin—have been invented from the industrial residues left over after extracting soy oil. Today, the two major products that propel industry profits are soy oil and soy protein derivatives, both of which are liberally added to packed, processed foods.
Soy oil. Most supermarket vegetable oils such as Wesson are 100% soy oil, while some are blends of soy with corn and/or other cheap, denatured oils. Liquid soy oil is refined at high-temperatures, deodorized, and lightly hydrogenated. Most soy oils are more fully hydrogenated and sold as margarines and shortenings. Soy accounts for 80% of all vegetable oils; 90% of oils used in commercial salad dressings and margarines; and 75% of all salad and cooking oils combined.9
Denatured soy proteins. Soy protein derivatives include textured soy protein, soy protein isolate, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Soy extenders like soy protein concentrates and isolates hold meat patties together; soak up moisture and fats to prevent shrinkage; and boost protein while lowering fat content.
Textured soy protein (TSP) is used as filler in meat products to extend shelf life and prevent meat from shrinking during cooking. To mimic beef, pork, and chicken, the food industry often adds the neurotoxins glutamate, aspartate, and/or MSG to TSP—toxins on top of the glutamate TSP contains as a result of processing.
Soy protein isolate (SPI), which is low in fat and 90% protein, is added to a host of packaged foods, including energy bars, ‘health’ shakes, meat patties, hot dogs, and cafeteria foods. Food companies love to use SPI to boost protein and lower the fat content of foods, especially when supplying schools and other institutions where they must meet low-fat guidelines.
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) is usually derived from soy. It is used by the food industry as a flavoring agent, and contains the neurotoxins glutamate and aspartate.
Soy’s “Success” Story. How did soy, a crop traditionally used in rotation to fix nitrogen in the soil rather than as a foodstuff, infiltrate the processed food industry? In part it is the story of the Soy Growers Association (founded in 1920) and the seed conglomerates Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and Cargill who teamed up decades ago to aggressively market soy. Soy was given a boost during World War II as a substitute source of protein when meat was scare, but it was only in the 1960s with the growth of packaged, processed, and fast foods that soy really found its calling.
In the early postwar years, food companies turned to “first-generation” soy products, using soy oil and soy flour in a host of products, from salad and cooking oils to margarine and baked goods. Food companies were attracted to soy oil because it was cheap and had a long shelf life (there was nothing left to go rancid). The allure of soy flour to commercial bakeries was not only price, but also its high-protein, low-cholesterol profile and its ability to keep items moist so that they seem fresh longer.
In more recent times, the soy industry has introduced “second generation” products—protein derivatives like TSP and SPI (mentioned above); artificial food flavorings like hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), an excitotoxin; and lecithin emulsifiers. High heat, oxidizing agents (like hydrogen peroxide), solvents (hexane), and alkalis and acids are used to produce these products from the residual waste left over after extracting soy oil. Processing often leaves behind in these second generation products toxic and carcinogenic residues…nitrosamines, lysinoalanines, heterocyclic amines, chloropropanols, fuanones, hexane, and neurotoxins.10
Of the several soy protein derivatives, a major concern is SPI, because it is pervasive and undetected. It is silently added to many processed foods and the major component of soy infant formula. SPI consumption has increased ten-fold since 1979. As a filler to processed foods, SPI increases the need for the fat soluble vitamins E, K, D and B12 as well as for calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc. SPI is created by spinning soy protein into fibers using a process borrowed from the textile industry. These fibers are hard to digest, irritate the digestive tract, and create flatulence. 11
A Dozen Problems Presented by Soy:
- Soy is not a health food and is not a reliable, balanced source of sustainable protein. While soy does contain all essential amino acids, it lacks adequate levels of methionine. Soy protein analogs are not well absorbed and can increase the amount of B12 needed by the body.
- Soy contains protease inhibitors that interfere with digestive enzymes like trypsin and protease, putting an extra burden on the pancreas. The result can be digestive problems and inefficient protein digestion and assimilation. Trypsin inhibitors also interfere with normal growth.
- Soy’s oligosaccharides interfere with digestion and can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and gas.
- Soy contains high levels of phytates which block the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc. Soybeans have more phytates than other beans. Unlike other plant foods, the phytates in soy are especially difficult to diffuse, even after soaking and cooking for hours and hours. Soy is best fermented over a long period of time, and even then it is wise to use it only sparingly.
- Soy is among the top seven allergens—after peanuts, treenuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, fish, and wheat.12 As much as 80% of all soy sold in this country is genetically modified. Consuming genetically-modified foods can contribute to allergies.
- Soy contains goitrogens, which interfere with the natural creation of thyroid hormones. Unlike other goitrogenic foods like broccoli and Brussels sprouts where goitrogens are disarmed by cooking, the goitrogens in soy are isoflavones that are neutralized only by solvent extraction.
- Soy’s phytoestrogens inhibit the thyroid and may cause hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer.
- Soy infant formula, which accounts for 25% of the U.S. market,13 is associated with thyroid disease.14
- Soy’s phytoestrogens interfere with endocrine function and can affect fertility of both men and women. Phytoestrogens can also foster breast cancer in women.
- Soy contains high levels of manganese, which is linked to ADD and ADHD.15
- Soy is bad for bones. It depletes the body of vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium, all key nutrients for strong bones. Soy is also low in fat, and fat is needed for the body to absorb minerals.
- Soy interferes with normal growth, a result of many of the factors enumerated above.
Additional Problems Presented by Commercially- Manufactured Soy By-Products:
- Soybean oil embodies all the problems of other refined vegetable oils like corn, safflower, and canola. These oils are processed at high temperatures, deodorized, and stripped of all nutrition for a long shelf life. Like other vegetable oils, soy oil is inflammatory and is often hydrogenated to serve cooking and baking needs. As a denatured, inflammatory oil, it is linked to chronic disease.
- Soy protein concentrates and isolates (SPI and TSP) that are used as fillers contain glutamate, aspartate and/or MSG, neurotoxins that are formed during processing. More flavor- enhancing MSG is often added to make TSP and SPI palatable.
- Soy proteins are fragile. SPI and TSP lose much of their protein quality from high-heat and chemical extrusion.
- SPI, which is 90% protein, low in fat, and comes with a long shelf life means that food companies love to add it to a vast array of prepared foods and fast foods. But for the consumer, SPI increases the need for fat-soluble vitamins E, D, and K, as well as vitamin B12, while it also interferes with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper. Toxins (lysinoalanine) and carcinogens (nitrosmines) from processing are also among concerns about SPI.
- Soy is naturally high in aluminum, but processing greatly increases the aluminum content of manufactured soy byproducts. SPI, which is used in infant formula, contains 100 times the amount of aluminum found in breast milk. High levels of aluminum can harm the nervous system and the kidneys.16
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) is usually derived from soy, not other plant foods that are lower in protein. Used by the food industry as a flavoring agent, it contains the neurotoxins glutamate and aspartate.
- Through hexane extraction, lecithin is derived from soy residues that contain solvents and pesticide residues. Lecithin is a preservative and is added as an emulsifier to many prepared foods to control texture and prevent fats and water from separating.
When we think of soy, we often think of vegetarians. We may also think of the many Americans who now enjoy the popular snack, edamame. But, when it comes to soy, we rarely think of the group that is perhaps at greatest risk, the “meat-and-potatoes” people—those who would never dream of eating soy.
When soy creeps silently into everyday foods, particularly with creative analogs that, with the help of taste-enhancing neurotoxins like MSG, fool us into eating soy chicken, it is time to stop, think, and recognize the value of home cooking. Time spent shopping for wholesome food and cooking in the kitchen is (unless you have a reliable outside resource for healthy prepared foods) the only way to know what we are eating and where our food comes from. Spending time in these ways can make all the difference to our health, the health of our families, and the health of our planet.
Copyright 2012 Pathways4Health.org
A model to prevent soy from entering school cafeterias :
Ali Berlow, How to Build a Humane Mobile Slaughterhouse for Poultry (soon to be released)
Kaayla T. Daniel, The Whole Soy Story
Gail Elbek, “Why Babies Should Not Be Fed Soy”
Mary Enig, “The Soy Controversy”
Sally Fallon, “The Promotion of Soy”
Sally Fallon, “The Tragedy of Soy Infant Formula”
Mike Fitzpatrick, “Soy Isoflavones: Panacea or Poison?”
John MacArthur, “Soy and the Brain”
Roderick Mackie “Mutualistic Fermentative Digestion in the Gastrointestinal Tract: Diversity &
Evolution.” Integrative and Comparative Biology 42,# 2, 2002, 319-26 http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/42/2/319,
Ilse Oeschlager-Deamarest, “Soy: The Quiet Conquest”
Aimee Raupp, “Avoid Soy for You and Your Baby”
Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.
Weston A. Price Foundation: More than 60 articles, available online, dealing with selected topics related to soy. http://westonaprice.org/soy-alert
Copyright 2012 Pathways4Health.org
- Phytic acid chelates calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc to prevent their absorption; It also inhibits digestive enzymes: pepsin for protein digestion in the stomach, trypsin in the small intestine; and amylase to convert carbohydrates into simple sugars. [↩]
- Chicken is an omnivore because it forages not only on grasses but also insects and worms. [↩]
- Roderick Mackie “Mutualistic Fermentative Digestion in the Gastrointestinal Tract: Diversity & Evolution.” Integrative and Comparative Biology 42,# 2, 2002, 319-26 http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/42/2/319/ [↩]
- For a fascinating discussion, see Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. [↩]
- http://pathways4health.org/2011/01/10/the-ideal-omega-3-6-balance-in-grass-fed-animal-products/ [↩]
- http://pathways4health.org/2010/03/02/%E2%97%84-expansive-yin-and-contractive-yang-foods-%E2%96%BA/ [↩]
- Bacteria in a ruminant’s stomach produce great amounts of phytase so cows, sheep, and goats easily deal with phytic acid. See Ramiel Nagel, “Living with Phytic Acid.” [↩]
- Kaayla Daniel’s 450-page, thoroughly-researched and documented The Whole Soy Story is a definitive work on soy. It delves into the many sides and scientific risks of soy and is an important counterbalance to the present-day aggressive marketing of soy as a health food. Much of what I highlight here is based upon Daniels’ research. Quotes are from pp. 1; 121; and 156, respectively. [↩]
- Daniel, pp. 97-100. [↩]
- Weston A. Price Foundation, Soy Alert. [↩]
- Daniel, pp. 92-94. [↩]
- Daniel, 271. [↩]
- Daniel, 150. [↩]
- WAPF [↩]
- Daniel, 253 [↩]
- WAPF [↩]