01 December 2009

Soy and its Discontents

One consequence of having children with severe food allergies is that Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I have had to study the ingredient list of everything we put in front of them. In fact, it was nutritional and allergy issues that first got us thinking about buying a farm nine years ago and taking more control of our food supply.

The Yeoman Farm Children have celiac disease, which rules out all gluten-containing grains, but they also have sensitivities to a wide range of other foods and food additives. Unfortunately, two of these (and all their derivatives) are among the most ubiquitous crops in the USA: corn and soybeans. Due in large part to crop support payments and subsidies, products derived from corn and soy are cheap and widely available to food processors --- and have thus found their way into nearly everything on the supermarket shelf. If you want an unsettling experience, take a stroll down any aisle at the grocery store, and start reading ingredient lists from randomly-selected packaged products. High Fructose Corn Syrup is among the most common sweeteners these days, and soy derivatives are among the most common protein supplements.

The problem is that it isn't always called "soy." For example, even if you buy tuna canned in "spring water," a closer look at the ingredient list will usually reveal "vegetable broth" or some such thing. That's code for "soy." There are exactly two brands of tuna we're aware of that don't have added soy: the Whole Foods 365 store brand, and the Polar brand. (Long time readers will recall an incident from nearly three years ago, when even our half-starved lost dog wouldn't touch the tuna with added soy, but gladly wolfed down some Polar tuna.) For whatever reason, both of these brands are significantly more expensive than those not containing soy; whenever we see one of them on sale, we buy a case and put it in storage.

So...you don't have food allergies. Your kids don't have food allergies. Why should you care about soy finding its way into nearly every processed product on the supermarket shelves? This recent article is among the very best, and most succinct, summaries that MYF and I have found that details (1) the ubiquity of soy, (2) why you should be concerned about its impact on your health --- even if those impacts don't immediately register in your body the way they do with our children's bodies, and (3) why you might want to start eating a less-processed diet.

But soy's glory days may be coming to an end. New research is questioning its health benefits and even pointing out some potential risks. Although definitive evidence may be many years down the road, the American Heart Association has quietly withdrawn its support. And some groups are waging an all-out war, warning that soy can lead to certain kinds of cancers, lowered testosterone levels, and early-onset puberty in girls.

Most of the soy eaten today is also genetically modified, which may pose another set of health risks. The environmental implications of soy production, including massive deforestation, increased use of pesticides and threats to water and soil, are providing more fodder for soy's detractors.

All of this has many people wondering if they should even be eating it at all. And you are most likely eating it. Even if you're not a vegetarian or an avid tofu fan, there is a good chance you're still eating soy. Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, explains that soy is now an ingredient in three-quarters of processed food on the market and just about everything you'd find in a fast food restaurant. It's used as filler in hamburgers, as vegetable oil and an emulsifier. It's in salad dressing, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets.
If there is any hidden blessing from the YFCs food allergies, it's that we've been forced to cook things from scratch and eliminate the processed-to-death additives such as these that can wreck such long term havoc in the human body. Go read the whole article, and follow some of its links and citations, and see if you don't agree.

And if you're ready to get serious about eating better, I can't think of a better place to start than the Weston A. Price Foundation --- and Sally Fallon's book, Nourishing Traditions.


Rachel said...

Soy and corn. While I dearly love a great ear of corn on the cob, slathered with butter, in the summertime, I agree, its overwhelming presence on the table these days is ridiculous, and simply a result of more government 'overmanagement' of our lives.

Soy..do you *really* want to get me started on the oestrogenic affects? That in Asian cultures, soy is typically fermented, and even they do not eat soy products in the same forms, or nearly as much, as we westerners do.

It was not until I started investigating my own health issues, that I realized how much of what we should *not* be eating, is in nearly every food on the market, unless it comes straight from the farm! Even (especially) many animal feeds are made with so much of BOTH corn and soy, it is in them, even if it is not eaten directly by the consumer!

This is one reason (among many) that we got a grinder for the animal feed. We are not at a point where we can raise all our own feed, for all of our animals, unfortunately, but our cattle are grass fed, and our poultry eats laying mash as needed, but are free ranging the rest of the time (right now, they spend their time investigating every nook and cranny of the summer garden gone to seed, lol). We try to limit what of that nastiness we *must* give them. When next we raise pigs, I am going to see if there is someway we cannot get our feed specially mixed, so as to leave out as much of those ingredients as possible...

Of course, I type this after making a big batch of cinnamon rolls. LOL.

LeeAnn said...

I have celiac as well. I have found several food products (Bac-O's comes to mind) that are marked "contains soy" when actually they also contain wheat, as in soy sauce, which most often is made with wheat. I really wish the USDA would get with the program and just add gluten to list list of big 8 allergens already! And Modified Food Starch and Maltodextrin should always have to list what kind--wheat, rice, corn, ??? Drives me bonkers.
I recently got ill from a Starbuck's pumpkin spice latte--turns out the caramel coloring is made with barley malt. They don't/won't provide any allergen information at all so I've pretty much stopped buying anything there.

There are few processed food products that we eat any longer and we are suburbanites, not farmers, but I am finding I have to be more vigilant than I expected to avoid the bad stuff.