By Carie Connell

Popularly celebrated as a miracle dairy substitute, soy has attained tremendous popularity in America among the most health-conscious. Many households welcome soy products as a less fatty protein that is promised to protect their hearts and strengthen bones. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s endorsement of soy in 1999 has since led to a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to conceal the actual health considerations of soy in the forms in which it is marketed to the American public. Unfortunately, the perception of soy as a healthy, eco-friendly alternative to milk is largely the result of successful marketing and widespread acceptance by health-conscious Americans.

Long lauded for their soy consumption, Asian countries are portrayed as healthy for using soy in great quantities. However, important cultural distinctions have been lost in the advertising. Not only do Asian societies eat soy in small amounts, but they use a solely whole bean form of soy. Americans, however, separate the soybean into oil and protein – the high pressure, high temperature processing rob soy of any nutritional benefit it does have, and more dangerously leave toxic and potentially cancer-causing residues behind. The proper fermentation process reduces harmful substances in soy. Products such as miso, natto, tempeh, and soy sauce are among those that are safe to eat. In contrast, soy in its unfermented form presents many significant health concerns. Unfermented and improperly processed soy products such as soy milk, cheese, ice cream, and burgers supply your body with only the most harmful substances.

22726633_mEven if you are cautious about consuming soy milk and other soy products, your soy intake might still be high enough to pose health concerns. Soy byproducts, such as lecithin and soybean oil, are used as additives in many foods. After approval by the Food and Drug Administration, soy has entered many areas of the food industry and is now quite pervasive. Buying whole foods and preparing your own food can ensure that you remain in control of what enters your body. Monitoring soy consumption also means being aware of the aliases by which soy products are known. Terms such as “textured plant protein” and “soy protein isolate” can belie unfermented soy ingredients. Diet foods, prepared cafeteria food, and fast food products are often heavily laced with these detrimental byproducts. Once considered a waste product, food industry experts have devised a way to turn defatted, high protein soy chips into a lucrative food additive. Loaded with preservatives and produced as soy protein isolate, this nutrient-stripped substance is harmful on its own, yet the extensive processing it undergoes adds further dangerous additives that ultimately accumulate in your body.

Stroke, birth defects, heart disease, and infertility are among the serious risks of improper soy consumption. Soy increases your body’s need for vitamin D and makes absorption of other vitamins very difficult. Non-fermented soy also contains enzyme inhibitors that prevent proper digestion of proteins. High-soy diets threaten the healthy function of the endocrine system and particularly inhibit the thyroid gland. Phytoestrogens found in soy debilitate thyroid function and can lead to thyroid cancer. Women are at a greater risk for thyroid-related problems as their thyroid levels differ from those of men. Phytoestrogens imitate and often block the natural hormone estrogen, posing significant dangers for women, especially those who are hoping to conceive. Similarly, proper fermentation greatly reduces the harmful isoflavones that interfere with natural estrogen cycles. However, soy in its most marketable form contains high levels of these isoflavones that can adversely affect fertility.

In addition to interfering with estrogen, soy has also been found to make it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg. Genistein, a compound found in soy, can severely impair sperm’s mobility even in very small quantities. Studies have shown that avoiding soy during a woman’s most fertile time of the month greatly helped with successful conception. Genistein has also been linked to stunted development of ovaries, irregular menstrual cycles, and other fertility-related concerns in women, making it particularly alarming for those wanting to become pregnant. Beyond pregnancy, soy has been shown to have highly negative effects on babies and young children. Infants who consumer soy-based formulas are at greater risk for developing autoimmune thyroid disease. The high levels of phytic acid found in soy significantly detract from the body’s ability to absorb calcium and other important minerals. Ultimately these phytic acid levels hinder growth and development for kids’ bodies.