Soy – Friend or Foe?

It seems that many folks are concerned about soy foods. Tofu, soy milk, miso, etc. all contain soybean and these foods are being debated among those concerned about nutrition (which should be everyone).

Two Point Test

I’m going to summarize up front by saying that my two point philosophy of food is (1) moderation and balance are key and (2) heavy processing of any food is to be avoided. This means that traditional soy foods like soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and miso are totally fine. Mechanically and chemically produced derivatives of soy, such as soy protein isolates found in many snack bars and other foods, violate both points in my two-point philosophy because they are heavily processed and they make it easy to overconsume soy.

But, that’s my opinion. Let’s think about consulting other sources about soy…but which sources should we refer to?

Flash and Dash vs. Conservative Science

Hucksters and special interests may sound interesting and smart, and they may have smashingly good titles for books and web articles, but when it comes to health issues I like to reference sources with high credibility. I prefer sources that seek to inform readers with repeatable and accepted evidence, rather than enamor them with the writer’s ability to “fight the system.” Don’t get me wrong, “the system” is messed up, but I tend to trust sources that take a more clinical approach and have more at stake when they report on scientific findings.

Who Has More at Stake? The Icon or the Iconoclast?

What do I mean a source has “more at stake?” Let’s look at cancer.org, an icon of the fight against cancer. The name of the organization is the American Cancer Society. This is an organization incredibly invested in ending cancer. They take in a lot of money from donations, so their reporting better be sound. They cannot afford to be slack in how they approach this serious topic. Their success is based on doing the work of ending cancer in a methodical and effective way.

Now let’s look at another health source, Mercola.com. Dr. Joseph Mercola is a medical doctor who is a brand in and of himself. His product is the image of “Dr. Mercola, Health Guru” and he sells it well. The image of Dr. Mercola is that of a tough, alternative, and iconoclastic wellness champion. His brand is enhanced by attacking the icons – no one wants to read a website that says “we agree with the American Cancer Society, keep up the good work!” Therefore everything he promotes is designed to convince you that the other sources are corrupt and only he can be trusted. This is how he makes money.

If Dr. Mercola reports something inaccurately, he will be completely fine as long as he does it in a scary way that enhances his “fight the system” image. The mainstream media does not question Mercola or call him on any lies or misinformation. They only use him as a source when they want to rake up some muck for a TV interview. On the other hand, if the American Cancer Society reports something inaccurately, their credibility as THE cancer authority is seriously shaken. News outlets will be ALL over their backside if they pass on bad information. Therefore, the American Cancer Society has much more at stake when they make any nutrition-related claim. Make sense?

By the way, I’m not saying that the system is working great or that Dr. Mercola only reports inaccuracies, but I am suggesting that everyone review a wide array of reputable sources before making any decision about health, especially extreme decisions/prohibitions (e.g., “I will NEVER eat X again in any amount” or “I will eat TONS of Y every day”).

My Sources

Sources I like are mayoclinic.com, and cancer.org. I have also been impressed with health guru Andrew Weil. Even though Weil is a media “personality,” his articles always have a balanced tone and reference scientific research. When Dr. Weil doesn’t know something, he lets the reader know that more research is needed in a certain area. This is a trait to look for in a source. Other writers take a more inflammatory tack. Dr. Mercola, for example, likes to use words and phrases such as “danger” and “dirty little secret,” in his writing. This is not the hallmark of a balanced source.

Summary

What I’ve read about soy from reputable sources leads me to conclude that normal human consumption of minimally processed soy foods like tofu, soy milk, miso, tempeh, etc. are just fine. None of the reputable sources discourage readers from any of these products at all. They pass my two-point test: they are minimally processed and you can eat them in moderation. Soy isolates and concentrated soy pills do not.

More Reading

(1) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/soy/NS_patient-soy/DSECTION=evidence
(2) http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/dietandnutrition/soybean
(3) http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA401156/How-Safe-is-Soy.html

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