The Core Diet Blog

The following content was provided by Registered Dietitian, Jaime Windrow.

I’ve never seen a food surrounded by so much controversy as soy. This is even bigger than eggs. If you recall, the same eggs that were once touted as being bad for you are now actually healthy. With soy, on one end of the spectrum, we have claims of this “nutrient-packed” food lowering heart disease. On the other end, we have claims that soy causes cancer. How is it this possible?
In my opinion, the confusion lies in a misunderstanding of two different types of soy: east versus west, so to speak. Simply put, when we speak about soy in broad claims such as the ones above, we are speaking about entirely different foods. There are the whole-food forms that have positive health benefits (east), and then there are the soy by-products (west) that I recommend consuming only in moderation. These foods are completely different, and should not be categorized together at all.
In the United States, people rarely eat soybeans in their whole natural form, whether fresh or dried. When I refer to “soy from the east”, I am speaking of its whole food form such as tempeh. This is the soy that brings about all the benefits you’ve read about. Unfortunately though, in the United States, soy by-products, or “soy from the west,” are giving soybeans a bad reputation. These soy by-products are produced when soybeans are processed with a solvent that removes all of the oil, to create a soy protein concentrate that is further processed to make either textured soy protein (TVP), or soy protein isolate (SPI). These by-products cannot be compared to the real deal. It would be like comparing fresh corn on the cob from your local farmer to high fructose corn syrup.
Soy can only be considered a “health food” when it is consumed in a minimally processed form. Below I will distinguish between these types (or eastern soy) and the by-products (or western soy). This is something everyone should be educated on, as soy consumption is not limited to vegetarians, and most of the soy consumption in this country is not in a minimally processed form. If you ever eat any type of processed foods such as bars, cereals, or breads, you’ve been eating soy. Take a look at the ingredient list of the food products in your kitchen. You’ll probably be surprised how often soy by-products appear in our food chain.
EASTERN SOY (genuine whole foods)*
Fermented from whole soybeans through the addition of the Rhizopus mold, tempeh (above left) is usually mixed with other foods like barley, millet, and flax seeds. It’s not a common food in most American households, but it’s gaining popularity. Look for it in your local grocery store, as well as in health food stores and specialty markets. Tempeh has a nutty taste and a meaty texture and is full of nutrients. Lightlife and Turtle Island brands offer non-genetically modified varieties.
This 100 percent soy, traditional Japanese product is fermented from whole soybeans through the addition of the Bacillus subtilis bacteria strand (above right). Also very uncommon in American households, natto is difficult to track down compared to other soy foods. It’s a bit of an acquired taste for many, due to its sticky consistency and powerful odor. It is a great source of vitamin K, folate, fiber and protein.
Immature soybeans sold in their whole pod are called edamame (above center). They are “immature” because they are harvested when the beans are still green. When shelled, they are referred to as simply soybeans. Harvested at the peak of ripening and then quickly frozen, a ½ cup of shelled beans provides 12 grams of protein, eight grams of fiber and eight amino acids that the body cannot produce. When looking for brands, check out Nature’s Classic’s non-GMO soybeans.
Mature soybeans
These soybeans are harvested when mature and are tan or yellow in color. These pea-sized beans are found dried or canned, as well as sprouted in some natural food stores.
Made by coagulating soymilk with a precipitating agent (in most cases calcium sulfate) and pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks. The best is fresh tofu from japan, but it cannot be frozen.
*The best sources of soy in order of rank: tempeh, natto and edamame, followed by tofu and soy-based dairy products as listed above.
WESTERN SOY (the by-products)
In the United States, soy is a subsidized crop, meaning the government pays a subsidy to the farmers to supplement their income, manage the supply of the crop and influence the selling price. In this case, it makes the production of soybean oil, soy flour, soy protein isolate and any other soybean by-products extremely cheap to make. Another fact is that over 90 percent of the world’s soybeans are genetically modified, which bring about an entirely new issue. Soy by-products are where most of the genetically modified soy is going. This is what all the negative research speaks to, and is not in any way equivalent to whole soy.
Soy Protein Isolate
This is the most common version of soy found in processed foods. It’s added to many food products to make them high in protein, when they naturally are not. You can now walk down a cereal aisle (remember, cereal = grain = mostly carbohydrate and fiber, minimal protein) and see many “high protein” cereals. This is achieved by adding soy protein isolate. (Check out Kashi products.) SPI is the by-product of soybean oil processing. This process requires highly toxic hazardous chemicals (hexane) and extreme temperatures. However, organic soy protein isolate does not use hexane in the process.

Although many confuse this with soy, it is NOT a soy product and I like to mention it because it’s often associated with it. Seitan is high in protein and low in fat/carbohydrates, about 18g Protein in a 3oz serving, and is PURE GLUTEN. If you have any sensitivity to wheat gluten, this is not the product for you. It is also “processed”, but you can make your own. If this is in your regular diet, try to buy from a company that does not add unnecessary processed ingredients such as Uptons Naturals. Otherwise, rinse off the seitan in running water to remove some of the sodium because some are saturated in soy sauce.

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