The last time I spoke on BBC Radio London, one of the men in the studio asked me if soy products were safe, and then laughed: “I don’t want to grow male breasts!”. People ask me if soy is safe for children, does it disrupt the functioning of the thyroid gland, does it negatively contribute to the reduction of the number of forests on the planet, and some even think that soy can cause cancer.
Soy has become a watershed: you are either for it or against it. Is this little bean really a real demon, or maybe soy’s opponents are using scare stories and pseudo-science to serve their own interests? If you take a closer look, it turns out that all the threads of the anti-soy campaign lead to an American organization called WAPF (Weston A Price Foundation).
The foundation’s goal is to reintroduce into the diet animal products that, in their opinion, are a concentrate of nutrients – in particular, we are talking about unpasteurized, “raw” milk and products from it. WAPF claims that saturated animal fats are an essential part of a healthy diet, and that animal fats and high cholesterol have nothing to do with the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer. They argue that vegetarians have a shorter lifespan than meat eaters, and that mankind has consumed large amounts of animal fats throughout history. True, this comes in absolute contradiction with the results of research by the world’s leading health organizations, including the WHO (World Health Organization), ADA (American Dietetic Association) and BMA (British Medical Association).
This American organization bases its doctrine on scientifically dubious research to advance its own ideas, and, unfortunately, has already had a strong impact on many consumers who now see soy as a sort of dietary outcast.
The whole soy business started in New Zealand in the early 90s, when a very successful lawyer, millionaire Richard James, found toxicologist Mike Fitzpatrick and asked him to find out what was killing his beautiful exclusive parrots. Anyway, at that time Fitzpatrick came to the conclusion that the cause of death of parrots was the soybeans that they were fed, and since then he began to very aggressively oppose soybeans as food for people – and this is nonsense, people have been eating soybeans for more than 3000 years. !
I once had a radio show in New Zealand with Mike Fitzpatrick, who is campaigning against soy there. He was so aggressive that he even had to end the transfer ahead of schedule. By the way, Fitzpatrick supports WAFP (more precisely, an honorary member of the board of this organization).
Another supporter of this organization was Stephen Byrnes, who published an article in The Ecologist magazine stating that vegetarianism is an unhealthy lifestyle that harms the environment. He boasted of his diet high in animal fats and good health. True, unfortunately, he died of a stroke when he was 42. There were more than 40 obvious inaccuracies from the point of view of science in this article, including a direct misrepresentation of research results. But so what – after all, the editor of this magazine, Zach Goldsmith, by chance, also happened to be an honorary member of the WAPF board.
Kaaila Daniel, a member of the board of directors of WAPF, even wrote a whole book that “exposes” soy – “The Complete History of Soy.” It looks like this whole organization is spending more time attacking soy than promoting what they think is healthy food (unpasteurized milk, sour cream, cheese, eggs, liver, etc.).
One of the main disadvantages of soy is the content of phytoestrogens (they are also called “plant hormones”), which allegedly can disrupt sexual development and have a negative impact on the ability to bear children. I think that if there was any evidence for this, the UK government would ban the use of soy in baby products, or at least spread warning information.
But no such warnings were issued even after the government received a 440-page study on how soy affects human health. And all because no evidence has been found that soy can harm health. Moreover, the Department of Health Toxicology Committee report acknowledges that no evidence has been found that nations that eat soybeans regularly and in large quantities (such as the Chinese and Japanese) suffer from problems with puberty and declining fertility. But we must remember that China today is the most populous country, with 1,3 billion inhabitants, and this nation has been eating soy for more than 3000 years.
In fact, there is no scientific evidence that soy consumption poses a threat to humans. Much of what WAPF claims is ridiculous, simply not true, or facts based on animal experiments. You need to know that phytoestrogens behave completely differently in the organisms of different types of living beings, so the results of animal experiments are not applicable to humans. In addition, the intestines are a natural barrier to phytoestrogens, so the results of experiments where animals are artificially injected with large doses of phytoestrogens are not relevant. Moreover, in these experiments, animals are usually injected with doses of plant hormones that are many times higher than those that enter the bodies of people who consume soy products.
More and more scientists and doctors recognize that the results of animal experiments cannot be the basis for the formation of public health policy. Kenneth Satchell, professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, states that in mice, rats and monkeys, the absorption of soy isoflavones follows a completely different scenario than in humans, and therefore the only data that can be taken into account are those obtained from metabolic studies in children. More than a quarter of US infants have been fed soy-based meals for many years. And now, when many of them are already 30-40 years old, they feel good. The absence of any reported negative effects of soy consumption may indicate that there are none.
In fact, soybeans contain a wide variety of valuable nutrients and are an excellent source of protein. Evidence suggests that soy proteins lower cholesterol levels and prevent the development of cardiovascular disease. Soy-based products prevent the development of diabetes, hormonal surges during menopause, and certain types of cancer. There is evidence that consumption of soy products in youth and adults reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. What’s more, recent studies show that this beneficial effect of soy extends to women who have already been diagnosed with the condition. Soy foods can also improve bones and mental performance in some people. The number of studies by experts in various fields that confirm the beneficial effects of soy on human health continues to grow.
As another argument, opponents of soy cite the fact that the cultivation of soybeans contributes to the reduction of rainforests in the Amazon. Of course, you have to worry about forests, but soy lovers have nothing to do with it: 80% of the soybeans grown in the world are used to feed animals – so that people can eat meat and dairy products. Both the rainforest and our health would benefit enormously if most people switched from an animal-based diet to a more plant-based diet that included soy.
So the next time you hear stupid stories about how soy is a devastating blow to human health or the environment, ask where is the evidence.