Soy: The Enigma Bean
By Wayne Caparas, January 1998
Chinese Secret, huh?
Most baby boomers and gen-X'ers were introduced to the modest soybean by a disinterested lunch room lady sporting a hair net and a cynical grin. Remember how she slapped that strange tasting mystery meat on your tray as if it were just another day? Sure, it kind of looked like a hamburger, but she couldn’t fool me. And the way she continued to mock me in my nightmares, it’s understandable why I’ve held an express prejudice against soy ever since. Then came the day some “granola” tried to trick me into eating that odd white, far eastern, fatty “block-o-food” called To-fu. Even the name was troubling. It sounded a little bit too much like Toe-jam to me, and back then I didn’t want to find out if the parallels continued. Once I learned how cheap this soy stuff was, it all started to make sense. Just another way to save a buck at the expense of my palate. So much for first impressions.
While serious research is certainly still needed before we even scratch the surface on what’s really going on with this sudden giant of a bean, despite the fact many Asians thrive on a soy rich diet, very few nutritionists are stepping up to fill in the blanks. Even though 50% of the world’s soy crop is grown in America, even though it is an unbelievably inexpensive source of quality protein, and even though there are hundreds of delicious soy foods now available, westerner’s just don’t seem to get it. We extract it’s Vitamin E rich oils, we feed its meat to our prize livestock, we use the by-products in a myriad of environmentally friendly industrial applications, and we ship the rest of it to Asia for huge profits. It’s America’s second largest cash crop, just behind corn and just ahead of wheat--we just don’t like to eat this one. Meanwhile, people in Eastern Asian countries have treasured soy as a dietary staple for thousands of years; thereby gaining greater health and beauty by way of tradition. And thanks to the good old “bread basket to the world” they now get it shipped half-way around the world at a discount. Asians think we’re crazy, and we westerners are quite proud that we can afford real meat and potatoes. Let them eat soy . . . Right?
Garbage in . .
It has long been agreed that one’s staple diet is the most significant determining factor in disease and longevity. While American health statistics grow more alarming every decade, the Japanese--thanks in part to their high soy intake--rarely die of heart disease and their risk of dying from breast cancer or prostate cancer is ten to twenty times lower than ours. Knowing this, one can easily see why the Japanese outlive westerners by as much as eight to ten years. The people of Japan have the longest life expectancy of any nationality in the world. Their average resident eats roughly 3 ounces of soy (about 80 grams) every day in a wide variety of products. Conversely, the average westerner is hardly gets 5 grams of soy per day--and most of these are accidentally consumed through trace soy oils or proteins used to boost the nutritional value of “Americanized” fast food products. Oh what a price we pay for the right to eat ourselves to an early death. All that said it should be safe to assume 3 ounces of soy per day is a good bet, but let’s be reminded that little research has been done in the west (a bean for the Japanese is not necessarily the same bean for a Westerner), so until we know more, I suggest you’re safe within that 3 ounce limit. Too much of anything… right? But as we proceed, let’s suspend the unknown and work with what we do know.
Numerous research studies have shown that genetics do not in themselves protect the Japanese from cancer or heart disease--Native Japanese adults who eat a typical American diet tend to die like Americans. While Americans such as the Christian group known as Seventh Day Adventists who enjoy soy rich diets also outlive mainstream Americans by 8 to 10 years. It’s important to note however, that the traditional Japanese diet (as well as the Seventh Day Adventists’ diet) includes a lot more than soy products and is famous for its nutritious cuisine. Eastern Asian diets in general are rich in fish and a variety of low-fat, high fiber plant foods loaded with phytochemicals--the recently discovered plant compounds that are believed to protect against disease. You already know what most westerners eat.
It’s exciting to know that the world’s leading research nutritionists are now rallying to incite a new war against disease and premature death. Instead of invasive procedures or pharmaceuticals to counter-attack illness, these doctors and scientists are promoting phytochemicals as preventative measures. And in an arsenal of all natural weapons, their “A-Bomb” is the curious little soybean. Most would agree that the miraculous cures to the deadliest diseases will one day be found in naturally occurring plant compounds, yet the medical community, special interests, and the U.S. government doesn’t seem to share our enthusiasm. Ever wonder why? All time best selling nutritional author, Dr. Earl Mindell, has a theory.
The Killing Fields
Born in Canada, Dr. Earl Mindell began his pioneering career some 35 years ago as a pharmacist. With first hand experience, Mindell immediately realized that pharmaceutical companies were more concerned with profits than prevention. Meanwhile, the American Cattleman Association and the American Dairy Association had become far too powerful in Washington, and these three corporate juggernauts were capitalizing on a high stakes game of feed the people ($), fatten the people ($), treat the people with drugs ($), then watch the people die an expensive death in a corporate hospital ($). All the players were getting rich, while North Americans were losing their lives to dread diseases at an ever increasing rate. In our discussion, Mindell said “if you look back at history, after the 2nd World War when we had a surplus of beef and dairy, the lobbies became very strong in Washington . . . they have since brain washed the American Public into thinking that you have to eat beef and dairy products. 55 years later we are the most over weight nation in the world. 9 out of 10 of us will die from heart disease or cancer--which by the way were virtually unknown at the turn of the century--but we have become so used to them that we consider them to be natural. It’s unnatural to have a heart attack, and it’s unnatural to have cancer” at least this was true before industrialized farming introduced the widespread use of antibiotics, pesticides, steroids, and other chemicals to our dinner plates. Mindell has spent the last 30-something years of his life--much of it in Japan--researching the phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals common to the traditional Asian diet. Still strong, healthy, and looking much younger than his age, Mindell, whose research has generated 30 books including Food for Medicine, the Herb Bible, and the “all time best selling” Vitamin Bible (9 million copies in 30 languages), works today in Southern California with deeper conviction than ever. Dr. Mindell is still a licensed Pharmacist, but he now spends most of his time applying his Ph.D. in Nutrition and his distinction as a Master Herbalist in researching and developing the powerful nutritional compounds in plants. Loaded with more unbiased laboratory findings and factual scientific support than it took to put a man on the moon, Mindell is now leading the charge against the system with an ultimate goal to “close half the hospitals in America”. “What I want to do with my life is try to help people focus on wellness, not illness,” says Mindell. He and his many impassioned colleagues believe that--once the word gets out--the amazing phytochemical compounds in soy and other plant foods will once and for all open westerner’s eyes--before we too are lead to the slaughter.
The Enigmatic Little
This “ancient Chinese secret” is no longer a mystery. You will be hard pressed to find a food with a better balance of complete protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and quality fats. More specifically, soybeans are loaded with greater disease fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants, and whole food nutrients than any plant or animal known to man. Several of these are readily available only in soy foods. Mindell pointed to a handful of the potential “miracles” found in soy.
Isoflavones Also referred to as phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), these compounds only found in soy are believed to prevent hormone dependent cancers. Those who enjoy a soy rich diet may reduce their risk of Breast Cancer by 80%. Also due to the phytoestrogenic effect, it is widely believed that soy foods can eliminate or greatly reduce hot flashes for menopausal women. These symptoms are so rare among Japanese women that they don’t even have a word for “hot flashes”.
Genistein Drawing a great deal of attention from the National Cancer Institute, this isoflavone (found only in soy) is believed to stop the spread of some forms of cancer and may even prevent heart disease, as it is believed to inhibit arterial plaque build up and the formation of blood clots..
Protease Inhibitors According to research scientist Ann R. Kennedy, Ph.D., these compounds are “universal anticarcinogens” that block the action of cancer-causing enzymes.
Phytic Acids These powerful antioxidants have been shown to inhibit the growth and number of tumors in lab animals.
Saponins Also found in ginseng, chickpeas, and sunflower seeds, these compounds have killed colon cancer cells in lab animals.
Daidzen This isoflavone has been shown (along with Genistein) to keep bones from breaking down. A soy rich diet could reduce the risk of hip fractures by 50%.
Complete Plant Protein Soy protein is so much easier on the kidneys than animal protein that it is believed to slow down or prevent kidney damage and disease. The protein is so high in quality that the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has reported “...except for premature infants, soy protein can serve as a sole protein source in the human body.” It is also believed that about 25 grams of soy protein per day will reduce serum cholesterol levels by 20% in the first month alone.
Other super-nutrients Also abundantly found in soy are critical Omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, most B vitamins, vitamin E, and other powerful antioxidants. Are you getting enough of these in your current diet? Just a handful of soy every day may cover you.
For those of us who are ecologically minded (I hope you’re one), we can find it especially satisfying to know that soy is also the rage among industries developing environmentally friendly products; everything from soy ink to soy plastics--which by the way may one day be ground up and recycled as animal feed! You may find it interesting to note that on the same acre of land, you can either graze cattle enough to feed one person for seventy-seven days, or you can grow enough soybeans to feed the same person for two and a half years. The once lowly soybean may actually be God’s humble little gift to a sick and malnourished world. Feel stronger, look younger, and live longer--eat more soy.
Dr. Mindell believes that every man, woman, and child should eat three to four ounces of soy foods per day as part of a balanced high fiber, low animal fat diet. If by chance you have not become familiar with the huge variety of delicious soy foods now available, simply visit your local health food store or Asian grocer and you will be amazed. Even mainstream grocers carry low fat tofu products and low fat soy milk. Among my favorite soy foods are “Edamame” (Edda-mommy), the tender young soybeans served steamed or boiled, in or out of their fuzzy pods. I have yet to meet a single adult or child who doesn’t fall in love with these crisp little beans. When I’m craving a crunchy snack, I jam on the roasted soy nuts. Like any other nut they are higher in fat, but at least its a good fat. Then there is the amazing “low to no fat” TSP or texturized soy protein. Being the “ground beef” of soy foods, I challenge you to tell the difference in any tomato based recipe--and don’t worry--this product is a delicious world away from the soybean burgers of days gone by. I also enjoy the nutty, meaty, fermented cakes called tempeh, especially when grilled in heavy barbecue sauce. Tempeh is particularly nutritious as its high vitamin B12 content is unique among soy foods. As for soy protein, since soy protein isolates have been stripped of most phytochemicals, I don’t count these grams as whole soy. If for some reason you want the benefits without having to add soy foods to your diet, there are a few supplemental products that contain the powerful soy isoflavones. One of these is OsteoSoy by FreeLife, which of course has no fat content.
Soy Brain Trust
With more than 12,000 soy products now available, I can’t possibly touch on them all. But no fear! If you would like to know more about soy foods including dozens of delicious soy recipes, I highly recommend Earl Mindell’s Soy Miracle, a Simon & Schuster Publication. Also, the United Soybean Board will send you free print materials, posters, and research updates while answering as many questions as their switchboard can handle. Just call 1-800-TALK SOY. They will also help you locate products that aren’t available in your community. Got soy?
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