So what is wrong with soy? First of all, the problem comes from the non-fermented soy that can be found everywhere from fresh green soybeans and soymilk to veggie burgers and tofu. Non-fermented soybeans are full of phytic acid, which has been linked in numerous studies to blocking the absorption of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc. It has also been cited as a cause of widespread mineral deficiencies in third-world countries where soy and grain consumption are high. Soy is a major allergen, and even mild reactions to its consumption have been linked to insomnia, infections, chronic fatigue, digestion problems, and many other symptoms.
The healthier Asian world's consumption of soy has always been the example for why the Western world should go soy crazy, but, ironically, in Asia, soy was considered inedible for hundreds of years, not really being introduced as food until the launch of fermentation processes. The Chinese wouldn't touch unfermented soy because they believed the bean was loaded with natural toxins-enzyme inhibitors that block enzymes essential for protein digestion. There was also evidence soy was full of growth inhibitors and related to thyroid impairment. The more healthful alternative, fermented soy, is far harder to come by. Fermentation neutralizes the natural toxins. Nama shoyu (known as kfoyu in Japan) is unpasteurized fermented soy sauce, with its live enzymes intact. It's a great flavor component and ingredient that does not deliver any of the toxicity of unfermented or otherwise processed soy products.
Soy protein isolate, a common ingredient in much of today's packaged food, is considered a technical innovation. Previously a waste product, defatted soy chips can be transformed via technology into something acceptably consumable, even palatable once the sweeteners, emulsifiers, chemically produced nutrients, flavorings, and preservatives are added. Soy protein isolate is a cheap way for companies to pump protein into any product and then market it as an energy food. The production of soy protein isolate requires acid washes, aluminum tanks, alkaline baths, MSG injections, and spray-drying-it's a chemically fueled nightmare. Then, take this whole process a step further to add some high-temperature, high-pressure extrusion processing, and what do you get? Texturized vegetable protein (TVP), a very popular meat substitute for many vegans and vegetarians.
People are obsessed with finding protein-filled meat substitutions, as if we should ail be freaked out about getting enough protein! Nutrient-crippled soy derivatives are going to do very little to give you digestible, healthful amino acids (building blocks of proteins). Yet, both soy protein isolates and texturized vegetable protein are found everywhere, from school lunches, fast foods, products marketed to the diet and health conscious, animal feed, and domestic pet food. Soymilk, tofu, and other soy products have become a large and unnatural part of many Americans' diets, but the scariest use of soy may be soy baby formula, which contains alarmingly high levels of estrogen.
When you see a fortified cereal, fortified soymilk, or fortified anything telling you how nutritious and vitamin rich it is, you may be getting duped. Soy products, even those labeled "organic," are often filled with chemically produced, non-bio-available vitamins and minerals from places like Cargill, a division of Dow Chemical. When you see a fortified food, ask yourself: Why does it have to be fortified? If the food doesn't come with the nutrients my body needs to be healthy, why eat it?