Years ago when I lived in Minneapolis, I signed up for the AIDS Ride from the Twin Cities to Chicago. I did the ride during my borderline couch potato days, and wasn't nearly as fit as I am today. I wish I knew then what I know today. Charities and causes aside, the decision to do a 500-mile bike ride on a very heavy steel-framed mountain bike, without even knowing how to change a flat tire, was the worst torture I've ever volunteered to put my body through.

Nonetheless, the experience of the ride - particularly in retrospect - was great. I met a lot of amazing people, camped for one week solid in a number beautiful parks, and had breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared for me everyday. When I signed up for the Ride, I was given the option of choosing vegetarian meals, or meat-based meals. Because I didn't know exactly what was going to be in the meat-based meals (or how they'd be prepared), I opted for the vegetarian meals.

At least one meal everyday, usually dinner, had some meat substitute. Every night after I ate it, I'd go to bed feeling completely unwell. I realize that there were hundreds of other people eating the same thing who may have felt just fine, but it wasn't the case for me. After asking a few questions, I learned that the meat alternatives were all soy-based. I really hadn't made a conscious effort to eat soy before, so I figured that soy was a trigger. I didn't give it much thought, and just avoided it from that point on.

Soy: A Healthy Protein Substitute?

Years later I went back to school for nutrition, and started investigating soy much more. At the time, I was really surprised to read about soy's origin in relation to our food system, money made on soy in the USA, and how much money is put into the PR and advertising behind soy to make it seem more appealing and healthy.

This is my current view on soy.

I do not eat soy. Never. Ever. And, no, I have no allergies.

I have no idea how we became the ONLY culture that eats tofu the way we do. No other place in the world, not even Asia, eats soy milk, soy cheese, soy-based hot dogs, soy burgers, soy turkeys, soy cereals, soy bars, and soy proteins in the same volume.  It makes me cringe when I walk down the produce aisle to see water-logged blocks of tofu stacked up to eye level right next to a half a dozen other convoluted soy products. A lot of people eat soy, believing it's a health food. I completely understand how people might be persuaded to think this. After all, hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent insisting soy is good for us.

I think it's anythingbut healthy. If you're a vegetarian and reading this, I'm not anti-vegetarian in any way. I just don't think soy is good for anyone to eat outside of its fermented forms, like miso.  Here are a few compelling reasons to rethink soy as a health food:


A few reasons to avoid soy

  • Most soy is GMO, or genetically modified. This is a big deal because GMO food is paired with antibiotic resistant marker genes that let scientists know if their GMO food is behaving correctly (is the soy bean big enough? green enough? etc). These little marker genes don't just vanish into thin air. They're potentially be passed onto other plants, animals and people. Bottom line: why aren't antibiotics working as well as they should? Go ask the soybean.
  • If consumed via soy milk or tofu, soy contains high concentrations of isoflavones, which have a profound estrogenic effect on the body. To put this in perspective, the amount of isoflavones in soy milk given to an infant contains the equivalent (hormone) estrogenic amount of 4 to 5 birth control pills.  No adult, much less a baby, needs that much. If there is a history of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, there is good reason to give soy consumption serious thought.
  • Soy can block enzymes that help to regulate thyroid. Just one cup of soy milk a day has been linked to slow thyroid, weight gain, and fatigue.
  • Most soy products are largely junk. Soy chips, soy lattes, soy protein bars, soy wraps and even gigantic chunks of tofu all contain little to no nutritional value, yet we've been brainwashed into thinking they're healthy foods.

If you're a soy person, I'm not trying to persuade or offend you. People are very attached to this particular food because it's in everything. I've done years and years of research on this very topic and feel quite strongly about it. If you're the type of person who shares a bowl of edamame with friends every now and then, you're probably just fine! But if your diet largely consists of soy for protein, consider investigating the effects soy could have on your body.

Soy Alternatives

If you don't eat meat, or can't eat dairy and need an alternative to soy, there are plenty. In fact, more and more blogs and pages are turning up on Pinterest, like this one.

When it comes to protein alternatives in powder form, and whey or egg-based proteins aren't for you, try hemp, pea or rice powders. Personally, I lean toward hemp powders. Rice and pea can be really chalky, but it depends which brand you buy. They're available at most grocery stores, and very easy to find online.

A couple of my favorite non-soy vegetarian protein powders include Orgain or Garden of Life.

If you're looking for real food that's vegetarian, but non-soy, you can try a variety of beans, lentils, seeds. If you can tolerate dairy, cottage cheese and plain yogurt are also great alternatives.

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