By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Soy foods have become a controversial topic recently. Many people are giving up cow’s milk for various reasons and turning to soy milk as an alternative. Is this really a better option though?

Many of our patients feel better when they stop consuming cow’s milk and foods that are made of cow’s milk. They have less sinus and hay fever problems; their digestion improves, their skin clears up and itchy rashes often disappear. There is quite a bit of controversy over whether dairy products are responsible for a large range of common health problems, and whether they are even a necessary component of a healthy diet.

Dairy products can certainly raise inflammation in the body and predispose a person to allergic or autoimmune conditions. Both the casein and lactose in dairy products are difficult to digest for many people and that may favour the growth of unfriendly microbes in the digestive tract. Whether or not they understand the exact mechanisms of how dairy products may cause harm, it is clear that a lot of people just feel healthier without them, and that’s reason enough to avoid them.

A common question our patients ask is “Can I drink soy milk?” My response is usually “I’d rather you didn’t”. Soy milk and other soy based foods can be just as problematic as dairy products.

The biggest concerns I have with soy products are:

  • Soybeans contain enzyme inhibitors. These are substances that block the ability of your own digestive enzymes from working. They particularly block trypsin and other protein digesting enzymes. Not being able to digest your food properly can leave you feeling bloating and gassy. It may also predispose you to amino acid deficiencies.
  • Soybeans are high in phytic acid. This is a type of fibre that is found in varying degrees in all legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Phytic acid binds with minerals and may prevent you from absorbing them. It particularly binds to calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Deficiencies of these minerals are already quite common. Consuming a lot of soy, grains and legumes in your diet may make these deficiencies worse.
  • Soy is a very common ingredient in numerous processed foods. It is quite easy to eat a lot of soy each day without even trying and that may not be a good idea. Soy is found in some bread, breakfast cereals, protein bars, muesli bars, soy yoghurt, soy cheese, soy sausages, soy burgers and other “not meat” products. Fermented soy products such as miso and natto do offer some health benefits because the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients and reduces the enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid. Fermented soy foods are also a good source of probiotics. Unfortunately most people in Australia aren’t consuming fermented soy foods.
  • If you are taking thyroid hormone medication, please be aware that soy foods may reduce your absorption of your medicine. You need to wait at least an hour after taking thyroid hormones before you eat soy. Some researchers recommend you wait 3 hours.
    Soy contains goitrogens, which are substances that reduce the ability of your thyroid gland to absorb iodine. Iodine is critical for thyroid hormone production and deficiency of iodine can lead to fatigue, sluggishness and weight gain. The average Australian is already iodine deficient. Consuming a lot of soy foods can make this worse.
  • Most of the world’s soy bean crops are genetically modified. Even non GMO crops can easily be contaminated with GMO seeds via the wind, birds and bees. As time goes on it will become harder and harder to find true non GMO soy.
  • Soybeans contain lectins. These are molecules that have a harsh scratchy effect on the intestinal lining. This is particularly problematic for people with leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome is an initiator and driver of allergies and autoimmune disease. Anyone dealing with these types of health problems is best off keeping their lectin intake low.
  • Soy allergies are very common. Soybeans are right up there with wheat, dairy products, eggs, corn and nuts as the most common foods to cause allergy or intolerance problems. A lot of people with cow’s milk allergy also have a soy allergy.

Some people tolerate soy well in small amounts, but it’s probably not a good idea to eat a lot of it.

So what are the alternatives? When it comes to milk, healthier options include:

  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Goat milk
  • Quinoa milk

It is quite easy to make your own nut or seed milk at home. Popular varieties include cashew milk, sunflower seed milk and hazelnut milk. All you need to do is soak the nuts or seeds overnight in water. The next day you can rinse them, place them into a blender with fresh water and blend until smooth and then strain.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email