Misleading health information and why you should avoid soya...
I first wrote an article about soya in 2007 as a guide for my clients who had added soya products into their diets for ‘health’ reasons. Over 11 years later I still find myself regularly having a conversation about this foodstuff and products made with it. Back in the ‘noughties’ and earlier, soya milk was often recommended for adults and children suffering from eczema or for babies and young children who were lactose intolerant. Today there are many other alternative foods they can eat that do not come with the health risks associated with consuming soya.
I’ve updated my original document below and to this day I still encourage clients to ditch the soya. It is still ubiquitous in processed foods and animal feeds so avoiding it altogether can be tricky but awareness allows us to make better choices and the less processed foods we have the less ‘hidden’ soya we will consume generally. Soya milk, yoghurt, ice cream and vegan/vegetarian meal replacement products should be avoided at all costs for both health and environmental reasons.
How did we get into this mess?
Cotton seed oil (a by-product of the cotton industry) had been the main edible oil in the USA up until this point but a disease in mono-cropped cotton together with unprecedented demand during the war from the Allies who required oil as food and for the manufacture of explosives, stimulated the need for alternative oil production and research into how soya oil could be used to fulfil this requirement continued apace.
It wasn’t until the 1940s however that the soya industry learned how to deactivate the enzyme inhibitor in soya protein meal sufficiently for animals to tolerate it, and for technology taken from the Nazis at the end of WWII to be used to produce soya oil without its characteristic foul smell and flavour. During the reconstruction of Europe in the 1950s the Americans promoted soya by heavily subsidising US surpluses for export thus ensuring its dominance in European animal feeds. These subsidies continue to this day.
During the 1980s the soya industry started waging its own war against tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil fuelled by publicity over the health risks associated with eating saturated fats (a myth that has been largely debunked). Amidst a huge publicity drive it heralded soya oil as a health-promoting food and soon nearly all fast food restaurants in the US had switched from tropical oils to hydrogenated soya bean oil. Hydrogenated oils have since been found to be one of the major culprits in increasing rates of cardiovascular disease and the beginnings of the obesity crisis. Times move on and rapeseed oil (another very questionable product) is now replacing or being used with soya oil in many processed foods.
Throughout the 1990s buoyed up by its success in promoting its products, the soya industry bought up land and began planting soya throughout Latin America where land was cheap and labour costs were minimal. Much environmental damage and social upheaval has ensued over the years from this practice. The global soya market is largely dominated by a handful of American trading companies, which control a large proportion of European soya bean crushing and animal feed manufacturing. Additionally, they dominate the US market and account for well over 50% of Brazilian soya exports. To keep pace with demand, virgin rainforest in Brazil is being illegally felled to make room for further production and the US is exporting soya back to China (its home) as newly urbanised Chinese switch to an industrialised western diet.
Soya oil is high in omega 6 and its use has driven the post-war explosion in the snack food market. Its widespread use in so many processed foodstuffs is one of the reasons that our omega 3 / omega 6 balance (the essential fatty acids that help keep us in good health) is in disarray.
The Discovery of the Truth About Soya
In 1991 Dr. Mike Fitzpatrick a consultant toxicologist was asked to investigate soya by a rare bird enthusiast who thought it was killing his parrots. The bird expert had begun giving his chicks soya feed marketed in the US as a new miracle food, despite the fact that parrots do not eat soya in the wild. The results were catastrophic with many birds dying and others becoming infertile, reaching early puberty or aging prematurely. Fitzpatrick quickly discovered that soya contained toxins and plant oestrogens powerful enough to disrupt womens’ menstrual cycles and to damage the thyroid gland.
Lobbying by the bird enthusiast (a retired lawyer) eventually forced governments to investigate and in 2002 the results were published in the UK. Research concluded that in general, the health benefits claimed for soya were not supported by clear evidence and that there could be risks from high levels of consumption amongst certain age groups. In particular, Fitzpatrick’s research into soya’s oestrogenic effects led him to calculate that babies fed exclusively on soya formula could receive the oestrogenic effect (based on body weight) of 5 birth control pills a day. It has been known since the 1980s that plant oestrogens (phyto-oestrogens) can produce biological effects in humans. In soya protein the most common of these are a group of compounds called isoflavones.
American strains of soya, because they are bred to be more pest resistant, contain significantly higher levels of isoflavones than those planted in China and Japan. Couple this with modern factory production methods which do not reduce the levels in the way that traditional fermentation processes do and we are left with a product which is promoted as a health food but has the potential to do far more harm than good.