Have You Been Conned By A SOYBURBAN MYTH?

Benefit from the lessons of history and international research.

What is the secret ingredient to:

· The nation with the greatest longevity?
· The differing lifespan of people within that nation?
· Steady blood sugar regulation and easy weight management without restrictive, monotonous diets?
· Lowered risk factors for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, sub-fertility, PMS, menopausal problems, breast, prostate and many other cancers?

The answer comes packaged in the form of diverse and adaptable convenience foods with over 2,000 years of safe and venerated use: traditional soy products.

But what about the taste? No one blames the likes of pasta and potatoes for being bland. That very quality lets them successfully showcase a myriad of flavours, colours and textures. The same is true of soy – a playful cook’s best friend.

From their hormone-balancing isoflavones, a specific ratio of amino acids that stimulates metabolic efficiency, key antioxidants to discourage abnormal cell growth, hard to obtain fatty acids critical to routing the inflammatory symptoms of most diseases, to their unusually advantageous proportion of calcium to magnesium essential in the right ratio for healthy sleep, moods, hearts and bones – soy brings an impressive menu of physiological and culinary benefits to our tables.

While superbly advantageous in their own right, soy products also provide an easy substitution for modern – and highly manipulated – dairy products. By minimising our dairy intake we can limit its contribution as: the # 1 dietary source of adverse endocrine disruptors (linked to the growing incidence of subfertility and hormonal problems such as breast and prostate cancer); the # 1 most likely food sensitivity in New Zealand; an inflammatory protein source that respected scientific studies associate with the development of diabetes; and a poorly absorbed calcium content that can encourage osteoporosis.

See the HEALTH STORE page for Maria’s latest book, Recipes For A Long & Delicious Life.

Benefit from practical and proven advice on weight loss, bone density, hormonal and cardiovascular problems and more. All while enjoying dairy- and gluten-free breakfasts, lunches, snacks, mains, sides and gasp-eliciting desserts.


1) Tofu is tasteless.

This is the one closest to the truth. What’s false is misconstruing the blandness as a negative. Imagine if you have never tried the following foods before, which some people have raved about. You then dig into a plate of plain pasta, rice or potatoes. Beige, bland and boring would be the likely evaluation. Then factor in such additional information as potato leaves are deadly poisonous and any green areas on the tuber are toxic and must be discarded. No wonder Brits and Europeans took many decades before accepting such suspect newcomers as potatoes and other 16th century imports. Now these cuisines are hard to imagine without them.

Tofu – although new to the western world – has a venerated Asian history going back one to three thousand years. Its porous blandness means it readily accepts the colours and flavours of the cook’s choosing. It can be sweetened, moistened and turned into a fluffy strawberry mousse, chocolate cheesecake or glamorous piped garnish. Whiz in the blender and create creamy dressings, sauces and toppings for pasta and baked potato. Grate it and it will convince people that it’s cheese. Cube it, spice it or marinate and use with stir-fries, kebabs and soups. Such blandness means versatility and makes it a cook’s obliging helper.

2) The ‘estrogens’ in soy are feminising and will cause our sons and husbands to exchange their rugby boots for high heels.

Would you call out the label ‘wimp’ to longtime soy users such as Genghis Khan and samurai warriors? Phyto- (meaning plant-based) estrogens in soy help prevent the hormone disruptive effects of the real bad guys. These are the excess internally produced estrogens, and the external mimics or xeno- (meaning outside) estrogens. For evidence of gross ‘feminisation’, turn to the work of Professor Sumpter at the UK’s Brunel University. He and scientists elsewhere have exhibited male fish with testes overgrown with eggs, and crocodiles with penises so small they cannot mate. And the cause: chemical residues in waterways from the likes of detergents, plastics, oral contraceptive and HRT residues.

These insidious hormone disruptors are a likely contributor to the growing incidence of subfertility in both men and women. The highest food source of xenoestrogens – which are fat soluble so they get stored in animal and human fat – are dairy products followed by beef. An incontrovertible way of producing your own excess estrogen – whether male or female – is to be obese. Body fat produces estrogen. This hormonal overproduction is linked with a considerable range of problems, including the alarming incidence of prostate and breast cancer.

3) We need milk for calcium and healthy bones.

This is a partial truth. It is similar in logic as deducing that since tables have four legs then everything with four legs is a table. We do need calcium – but not necessarily milk – for healthy bones. Milk is only middling on the scale of calcium containing foods. The top source by far is seaweed. Tofu, parsley, watercress, figs, sesame seeds and paste (tahini), carob, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, savoury yeast flakes, tinned salmon and sardines with bones, all of these rate higher than milk. Even more important than how much calcium we intake, is how efficient our absorption is. Foods high in phosphorous particularly limit the absorption of calcium. What you won’t see in advertisements for milk but will hear acknowledged in dairy industry dietetic conferences, is that dairy products are high in phosphorous. Calcium – along with other equally important nutrient team players – is an important construction tool for bone building. But a far more important role is that of the overall manager of the job: hormones, particularly estrogen. The hormone disruptors in our environment and high-fat animal foods are again complicit.

4) Historically people have always eaten dairy products. Most of those claiming to have milk allergies now are just attention-seeking neurotics.

Human beings are the only species to give milk – and from a different animal – to its young after weaning. Cow’s milk is a specifically tailored hormonal formula designed to advance the rapid growth of calves, not children. As hunter- gatherers (our lengthiest developmental phase) we did not use it. Only some of the agrarian cultures following did, using whole unprocessed milk and then fermenting it into the more digestible forms of yoghurt and cheese. These were used in moderation. Such foods aren’t even kissing cousins of current highly heated, fractionated and tinkered with versions.

Any substance which is used extensively in the food supply – especially in considerably refined derivative forms, often masked within processed foods – becomes a likely source of intolerance. This is due to a cluster of factors involving repetitive intake when coupled with poor nutrient levels, plus strained digestive and immune system resources. Unsurprisingly in New Zealand, with its historical culinary and economic emphasis on cow’s milk and its products, this is the most likely food-based intolerance. According to local, mainstream dietetic textbooks, a statistical likelihood of milk intolerance between 63 and 94% is cited among people with the following background: Maori, Polynesian, Asian and Eastern European. Many allergy specialists say that these categories are too narrow. Why is the health community not broadcasting even the conservative estimates? Consider the sizeable commercial and political interests this would imperil.

5) Scientists and health authorities would be promoting soy foods and cautioning us against dairy products and hormone disruptors if this was warranted.

Today’s scientists approach an issue such as the development of a disease, by viewing ever-smaller parts to the process. Perhaps one gene will be studied or one enzyme which that affects. This is painstaking and usually well-intentioned work. Additionally this type of research rather than something broader in scope is often essential to receiving revenue from grants, patents, commercial interests and the government (itself heavily pressured by powerful industry lobbying groups). Appreciation can be lost for the many pertinent factors there are to the development or prevention of disease; for the complex human being who houses them; for the cultural and historical context in which these all occur; and for a synthesized and ethical meta-analysis. Science is now so specialised that subdivisions within the same field do not communicate their findings. One-upmanship games and competition for sponsorship can create an arena where egos and dollars are the priority rather than genuine discovery for the good of the whole.

Medical doctors and other scientists rely on the findings published in ‘credible’ journals. Yet over 60% of clinical studies – involving human participants – are funded by pharmaceutical companies. Such companies are understandably profit focussed. The only way to pay for the huge costs of trials and research is to achieve a patent for a product. This requires a novel industrial formula. The likes of natural foods, vitamins and herbs are in the public domain and cannot qualify for a patent. There is minimal financial reward therefore in finding a ‘food’ solution to a health problem, so few prestigious and expensive double blind trials are committed to and published. All this means that ‘natural’ gets little attention from scientists.

Here is an instructive example of how health concerns can instead be approached. We can be very thankful for the advent of antibiotics and like medications that can aid us in times of crisis. The true health saviour though of the twentieth century and beyond, virtually doubling our lifespan since its advent has been: hygiene! This sounds far too dull for superhero status. Clean water, sewerage systems, the once unheard of practice of washing hands and equipment before assisting a woman in labour, are practical concerns that have provided a spectacular routing of the infectious diseases which were once our greatest killers.

Science was then a much smaller and less pressured field. When the hows and whys of infection transmission were understood, common sense public measures were suggested. A similar approach can be taken with the current scourges of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Why do these occur far more for some groups, some nations than others? Are there lifestyle changes – as simple as the rituals of cleanliness – that can transform our health and longevity? Yes. They even taste good.

6) Soy is an ‘allergy’ food.

There are few absolutes in the field of nutrition but this is one: no whole food is categorically good or bad for everyone. Yes, some people do have allergies or sensitivities to wheat, citrus, tomato, fish, nuts, or soy (and then often to the entire legume family of pod-bearing peas and beans). They must completely avoid these foods or put them on strict rotation. Some people with intolerances can handle the fermented or sprouted versions of an otherwise troublesome food. In terms of soy, with the help of their health practitioner, those who are intolerant can experiment with the introduction of tempeh, miso, natto and tamari.

What most consumers are unaware of are the many high-tech soy fractions used in most commercial breads and baking, ice cream, sausages, luncheon and other additive-filled foods few shoppers read the labels to. Become a selective, conscious consumer. Each time you shop the food industry takes note and uses this data to adjust its ongoing policies.

7) People with low thyroid function shouldn’t eat soy products.

Soy products, among their many other nutritive qualities, contain compounds called goitrogens. In excess these can inhibit the function of an enzyme – thyroid peroxidase – which helps make thyroid hormones. However many common foods contain these compounds including a classification of vegetables called crucifers (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mustard and turnip). These are sources of a family of goitrogens called isothiocyanates that also have many positive antioxidant qualities. Additional goitrogens come from otherwise unrelated sources as spinach, radish, strawberry, peach, millet and peanuts. Do you hear people saying, “Don’t eat strawberries! They’re bad for your thyroid”?

Cooking helps diminish the goitrogenic nature of these foods. Also the action of goitrogens alone has shown no impact on thyroid health except when function is already low and one additional factor is in play. It is the combination of excess goitrogens plus low iodine levels that is the problem. The imbalance can be addressed by obtaining sufficient iodine from food or supplements. This crucial mineral is low in New Zealand’s volcanic soils. It is one of the two vital ingredients (along with the amino acid tyrosine) for the body’s production of thyroid hormones.

Another mineral that many women and children lack, which is significant to the production pathway from one thyroid hormone to another, is iron. The number one plant food source of iron, as well as the top provider of iodine and calcium is: seaweed. This is another Asian favourite often served with tofu. Notably, in Asian countries where the consumption of soy products is 10 to 100 times greater than in the West, there is no higher incidence of goitre (an enlarged, malfunctioning thyroid gland) unless very high amounts of seaweed are consumed.

8) Soy products contain factors that impede digestion.

Good nutrition is about proportion, relationship, and the cumulative effect of extraordinary levels of teamwork. It is not serviceable logic to take the quality of one component – like the poisonous property of potato leaves for instance – and apply this as the definitive truth about the whole package.

All natural, even organic foods contain a variety of innate toxins and anti-nutritive factors there to protect the plant. This clever design enables a plant to be consumed by a bird or animal, pass out partly digested on the ground and still be able to sprout and grow. This is probably why most traditional cuisines used sprouted, soaked and fermented foods and more cooked food than raw. These processes help diminish the possible digestive problems associated with excess phytates (now known to be beneficial antioxidants in the right amount), protease inhibitors (also key cell damage protectors) and other anti-nutritive factors in all uncooked legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables such as potatoes and many others. Other natural food toxins when at minute levels, such as heavy metals, are even thought to have a health benefit – perhaps as a useful challenge or stimulant – that we currently do not understand. Certainly at high doses, all of these substances can be destructive. In nutrition it is said that substances do not kill but dosages do. It is possible to drink so much water in an hour as to cause kidney failure and death. Does this make water categorically bad for us?

9) All soy is genetically modified.

As of 2004, Food Standards Australia NZ approved 28 genetically modified varieties of wheat, corn, potatoes, canola, sugar beet, cottonseed and soybeans for use in our food supply. Whether whole or as fillers, extenders and fractions these get slipped into a sizeable range of processed foods while staying outside the radar of most shoppers. Thanks to the voice of ‘conscious consumers’ and the similar concerns of ethical businesses, there are GMO (genetically modified organism)-free products available. Read labels. Support companies that maintain high standards from paddock to plate.

10) People eat tofu just to be trendy.

Many people are unconsciously subservient to the pressures and programming of peers, trends or traditions. Numerous, detailed market surveys estimate that only 10% of the public will ponder and comprehensively investigate an issue before making a choice such as a food purchase. This spectrum of the population has been termed the ‘market leaders’.

Although small in number this group acts like a rudder, which despite its size is the steering mechanism for a much larger vessel. Such consumers are the first to read about, evaluate, search for and open-mindedly try a new food long before most people have heard of it. Product placement, pop-star endorsements and nifty packaging alone will not tempt them. The likes of food selection instead involves assessing personal needs, nutrient levels, researched or common sense-based health claims, thorough labeling of constituents, and a variety of ethical and environmental issues as well as those of taste, time and budget.

The behaviours and choices of this small minority are eventually noticed by the next segment of the market. This second strata is known as the ‘fashion followers’. They move with the fleeting but unified response of a school of small fish. They like to be perceived as initiators but are more focused on labels and appearances than well thought through rationales. The media observes their actions as a new trend, useful for stimulating comment, debate and column size. The initial approach of the ‘conservative core’ however, is to dismiss it all without trial. Meanwhile professional and amateur foodies keen for a new thrill and to look up-to-date, give it a go. Gradually the new product reaches a point of general acceptance but with few participants observing the full process to its development. Unconcerned either way, is the remaining market segment, the ‘unmovables’. They remain resistant to any food that was not a part of their early upbringing.

There can be a fascinating variety of motivations, and levels of understanding behind any behaviour or issue. Being willing to pause and carefully consider our choices – including their origins and ramifications – can encourage genuine understanding and appropriate decision making.

Maria Middlestead Reg.Clinical Nutritionist, Auckland Call Today!

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