Do you eschew the Thanksgiving turkey? Skip the burgers at a BBQ and go instead for the tofu dogs and veggie burgers? I was a vegetarian for twelve years so I understand what it's like to forage for sustenance during such meat-centric holidays, and every day.

If you are like I was, or have a vegetarian or vegan in your family, you have probably turned to soy as a substitute. Promoted as a super health food, as THE super health food, soy has become a stronghold in many American kitchens.

The promotion of soy as a miracle food is a relatively new phenomenon. The soy industry wants you to think the Japanese have been eating soy in massive quantities for centuries. Soy proponents want you to believe all soy-based foods will protect you from everything from colon; prostate; and breast cancer, to strokes; osteoporosis; and asthma. The truth is, Asian people have been consuming soy in small, FERMENTED varieties, which do have healthful benefits. I'll get to that more later on.

The majority of the soy you have been eating, however, is NOT healthy nor safe:

  1. GMOs: 91% of the soy grown in the U.S. is from genetically modified (GM) plants. GM soy has been linked to an increase in allergies. There is also evidence that GM soy may cause infertility in future generations. The truth is, when it comes to any GM organism (GMO), there is little long-term research into its safety.
  2. Anti-toxins: Just because soy is a plant doesn't make it healthy. Soy contains natural toxins known as anti-nutrients, such as phytates. In small amounts, anti-nutrients wouldn't cause a problem, but the amount of soy consumed by Americans is high, and increasing ever year. Phytates prevent the absorption of certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
  3. Estrogen: This is the most concerning piece to me. Soy contains isoflavones, a type of plant estrogen (phytoestrogen). Phytoestrogen can mimic and sometimes block human estrogen. Soy phytoestrogens are known to disrupt endocrine function, may cause infertility, and may promote breast cancer in women. Listen! Drinking even two glasses of soymilk daily for one month can alter your menstrual cycle. I have helped clients who struggle with intense menstrual cramps, heavy flow, and irregular cycles decrease their soy consumption to aid in the relief of these issues.
  4. Soy infant formula: Almost 20% of American babies are now fed soy infant formula. The estrogen in the soy can irrevocably alter your baby's reproductive health and sexual development.
  5. Other health concerns: According to Dr. Kaayla Daniel, in her groundbreaking book, The Whole Soy Story, soy consumption has been linked to:
    1. Breast cancer
    2. Brain damage
    3. Infant abnormalities
    4. Thyroid disorders
    5. Kidney stones
    6. ... and the list goes on!

Soy is found in the more obvious places, like soy milk, tofu, and edamame. But read labels the next time you're at the supermarket. Incredibly refined forms of soy, such as soy lecithin (an emulsifier: used to keep the particles in a food from separating) and soybean oil, are found in most processed foods, including herbal tea blends and chewing gum (that's surprising, even to me)! So, what can you do to protect your health and the health of your family?

    1. Shop organic: Any organic item, by law, cannot contain GMOs.
    2. Grains and beans: If you're looking to soy as your protein source, consider instead grains and other beans. Quinoa, for example, is a South American, quick-cooking grain with 8 grams of protein per serving!
    3. Alternative milks: If you consume a lot of soy in your Starbucks latte or in your breakfast oatmeal, consider rice, almond, or even hemp milk! See below for an almond milk recipe. If you have no issues with dairy, consider raw dairy as an unprocessed, whole way to add creaminess to beverages, hot cereals, and baked goods.
    4. Read labels: As often as possible, avoid processed foods. This will help you to avoid processed soy fairly easily. Also, be aware of how often you are eating out. Soybean oil is the cooking oil used most often in restaurants today. It is a highly subsidized product (the reason why it is so heavily promoted... it's cheaper and cheaper to grow and makes a lot of money for the soy industry), making it much cheaper than other, healthier oils, such as olive or coconut oil. If you're going to eat out (and therefore consume soybean oil), think about cutting back how often you eat out and try cooking at home more. When you cook at home, nothing in your meal will be a mystery!
    5. Fermented Soy: If it's fermented long enough, the anti-nutrient levels are reduced and the beneficial properties (some do exist!) are available to the digestive system. I recommend eating some fermented food daily, and fermented soy can be an occasional part of that. These foods include:
      1. TempehA fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavor
      2. Miso: A fermented, soybean paste with a salty, buttery texture (think miso soup)
      3. Natto: Fermented soybeans with a sticky texture, and strong, cheese-like flavor
      4. Soy Sauce: Traditionally made by fermenting soybeans, salt, and enzymes. Look for low-sodium versions.

    I recognize that if you're considering a Tofurkey for Thanksgiving or you rely on processed foods, it might be challenging to consider a switch to other vegetarian foods. But I implore you to make the shift and make it soon! Your body will thank you!