Since about 1992, the soy industry has been growing at an astounding rate. U.S. retail sales of soy foods alone were $.852 billion in 1992 and are projected at $3.714 billion for 2002. Soy crops occupied an amazing 75 million acres of farmland (out of 250 planted) in 2001.

There is a long ...Since about 1992, the soy industry has been growing at an astounding rate. U.S. retail sales of soy foods alone were $.852 billion in 1992 and are projected at $3.714 billion for 2002. Soy crops occupied an amazing 75 million acres of farmland (out of 250 planted) in 2001.

There is a long list of Americans who turn to soy substitutes on a daily basis: Vegans, dieters and athletes looking for protein, menopausal women looking for an estrogen supplement, mom’s with milk sensitive babies, lactose intolerant or cholesterol-conscious dairy lovers.

Much of the soy food boom started after researchers got FDA approval to make health claims about soy protein. The studies were financed by DUPONT which manufactures soy protein concentrates and isolates under the brand name “Solae”. The health claim allowed on food labels states that: “a daily diet containing 25 grams of soy protein, also low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease”.

What happened next was a 10-year marketing blitz, extolling the virtues of soy! Somewhere along the way, we stopped delineating which kinds of soy products were good for which types of situations and in what type/size serving. We took phrases like “phytoestrogens in soy are good for preventing bone loss” and “soy protein can reduce heart disease” and abbreviated them to just “Soy is good”. And if a little soy is good, a lot is even better!

The number of soy products on the market has expanded to include soy protein substitutes (in the form of soy burgers, tofu, enhanced energy bars and diet shakes) and soy dairy substitutes (soy milk, soy cheese). These foods are all made with soy protein concentrates and isolates (rather than soy in its wholefood form). Often these foods have to be fortified with calcium and other nutrients because in and of themselves, nutrition would otherwise be lacking.

Then there are also soy isoflavone medicines sold as “natural” solutions to hormone replacement. Of course, all soy foods contain a degree of isoflavones. Isoflavones are the phytochemicals that mimic human estrogen. Many menopausal women turn to soy to relieve symptoms of menopause. But it is important to get your soy from the right source. If estrogen supplementation is your goal, many doctors suggest that you use soy foods---not isolated soy isoflavones to achieve this safely and effectively. Try eating dry roasted soy nuts (1/4 cup contains enough isoflavones to be effective against a hot flash).

Why should we be more moderate with our soy intake?
There are clinical studies in progress looking into the dangers of “accidental” soy isoflavone overload. Of particular concern here is that infants and children would be the hardest hit by any ill effects.
“A study published in 1997 in the medical journal The Lancet, showed that infants consuming soy formula had five to 10 times higher levels of isoflavones in their blood serum than women receiving soy supplements who show menstrual cycle disturbances. These levels may cause toxicological effects. "Infants receive higher doses of soy and isoflavones than anybody because it is their only food and they are consuming it all the time." The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, has published guidelines showing that in some cases, soy protein-based formulas "are appropriate for use in infants" when cow's milk cannot be tolerated.” (excerpt from FDA Consumer Magazine, May-June 2002)
There is also research which suggests that soy protein isolates can inhibit protein and mineral absorption. These are not getting the attention of the FDA or the medical community. For the most part, research discrediting the health benefits of soy is grossly under-funded and quite frankly, not popular.
The most important point to make here is that the original research that supported the benefits of soy for heart health, cancer prevention, and reduction of menopausal symptoms was based on the observation that Asian populations (particularly Japanese women) do not suffer from these afflictions compared to Americans.
It was decided that the Asian diet was the most important contributing factor. Japanese women eat miso, seaweeds and green teas----- not soyburgers! But instead of adopting some of the foods in the Japanese diet, we went into our labs and figured out ways of turning soy into “guilt-free” items that resemble the foods we know and love (burgers, ice cream). Many of these foods made with isolates are such new inventions, that we are only recently gathering data as to their long-term effect on the human body.
In summary, Americanized soy foods are under a lot of scrutiny because of the isolates they contain. The only time-tested, safe and effective way to get the benefits of soy is to eat whole soy foods (miso, tempeh, natto, edamame and soynuts). If you choose to use highly processed soy foods, use them in moderation. Check your labels for the best brands and include other sources of calcium, protein and phytoestrogens in your diet. Suggestions: Organic Cow’s Milk, cheese, ice cream.
Goat’s milk and cheeses
Rice Milk
Bean burgers
Protein boosting powdered supplements to add to shakes or smoothies: spirulina and chlorella
Phytoestrogen Options:
Red Clover (tea or extract)
Licorice Root (decoction or extract)
Fennel Seed (in food or tea)
Flaxseed (in food or as a supplement)

Author's Bio: 

Laura Davimes is the Owner of HERBAN AVENUES and a member of WELLNESS FIRST. She is an herbalist, researcher, educator, and an advocate of natural solutions for wellness problems. For more information visit or or call (804) 275-1027.