Soy: Friend or Foe?

Soy MIlk Nog

Soy MIlk Nog

By Cat, June 2007 (Original photo by “Will Murray (Willscrlt)” from Wikimedia Commons; see the photographer’s website at

As the 20th century drew to a close, a lot of people became convinced that going vegan/vegetarian was best for health. Belief that animal products including butter and cream caused heart disease played a big role in this change. Reports from the “China Study” encouraged the consumption of soy, citing that Asian people regard soy as a ‘sacred crop.’

Increasing Popularity of Soy

This popularity was aided by the abundant availability of commercial soy products including:

  • TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) which could imitate meat
  • Tofu
  • Soy protein powder
  • Soy milk
  • Soy ‘yogurt’ and ice ‘cream’
  • Margarines/spreads made with soy oil

In other words, highly processed foods made from soy.

On the other hand, fermented soy products popular in Asia were largely ignored in our Western culture. This includes:

  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Tamari
  • Tempeh
  • Fermented or ‘stinky’ tofu

All of which makes me wonder, which is better, unfermented, processed soy products, or the fermented soy products favored by Asians. And why do the Asians consider soy a “sacred crop?”

The Perfect Crop

Traditional Asian peoples consider soy a sacred crop; western cultures take this to mean soy is a sacred food. But this is where the misunderstanding lies. A crop is not the same as a food.

All legumes, including soy, are well known for their ability to improve the health of the soil in which they are grown, by increasing the nitrogen content of the soil. After the legumes are harvested, other crops can be planted in that same soil and derive the benefit of the increased nitrogen content. This is why soy is considered a sacred crop; that sacredness does not necessarily pass on to the food made from the harvested crop.

The ancient Asian peoples noted that their health was affected positively when they consumed sprouted or fermented soy products, but affected negatively when they consumed unfermented soy. Thus their cultures revered the fermented soy from their sacred crop and rejected unfermented soy.

But soy was not a crop grown by the European peoples who came to America in 16th and 17th centuries. When Asians also came to America in the 19th century, they brought their love of fermented soy with them. Unfortunately, these foods did not appeal to the Americans who were already living here. In fact, we mostly ignored soy until the mid 20th century when the emerging Big-Ag companies wanted to make soy a regular crop and needed to create a large market for it. Unfortunately, they didn’t use fermented soy products to do that; instead, they pushed the high-protein and poly-unsaturated fat content of the soy bean. Soy protein products like TVP and protein powder, and soy oil products like margarine and vegetable shortening were born. Soy became a ‘perfect food,’ but not necessarily a sacred one.

Commercial, Processed Soy:  A Big Scam

The soy industry is one of the world’s most wealthy and powerful multi-billion dollar industries.  Our own government and the USDA actively promote and protect its interests.

Soy is one of three major crops grown in America’s heartland:  corn, soy, and wheat.  Does it strike you as odd that the first two are largely controlled by big Ag companies like Monsanto and ADM?  These commercial crops are genetically engineered to be “Roundup Ready” (or similar versions involving other pesticides/herbicides).  They require chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to keep them healthy (but all of these chemicals destroy the soil in which the crops are grown).  And they all need a reliable market to keep the cash flowing.

People with lactose intolerance are switching to soy milk (they would be better off switching to coconut or almond milk).  People new to vegetarianism are lured into the fold by promises of meat-like foods made out of TVP (textured vegetable protein, made from unfermented soy protein isolates). Menopausal women are taking unfermented soy-based supplements to reduce their menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.  And so on and so forth….(1)

Soy is promoted as the perfect miracle food that will feed the world while at the same time prevent and cure all manner of diseases. But, what if all you’ve read about soy is nothing but a multi-million dollar marketing strategy based on scanty facts, half-truths, and all-out lies?  What if unfermented soy, at the levels Americans consume its products, were actually bad for you?

Worst of all, unfermented soy is used in infant formulas, yet it is well documented that unfermented soy is most harmful for infants and children. (see Soy Infant Formula for more on this)

I postulate that processed, GMO soy will not feed the world – it is becoming well known that processed foods (as opposed to whole foods) leads to serious health issues like type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, soy’s ability to improve human health is only true if it is fermented.

Fermented Soy

The good news is that if the soy is fermented, it has many health benefits when used in moderation. This is the main reason why Asian peoples are considered to be in better health than Westernized peoples: fermented soy is the version historically consumed in Asia.

But as these countries westernize, they switch to a westernized diet that includes unfermented, processed soy products, and their health begins to resemble that of Americans. Do we ever learn?


  1. Newest Research On Why You Should Avoid Soy:  Cinderella’s Dark Side, by Sally Fallon & Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.  (
  2. Soy Online:
  3. Weston A. Bad News for the Soy Industry (

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