Natural Healing Using Soybean Foods

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By The Mother Earth Living staff
Soybean foods are a way to eat healthy while providing nutritious natural healing for your body.

Soybean foods are a way to eat healthy while providing nutritious natural healing for your body.

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In the past several years, soy has received
significant and seemingly well-deserved scientific and commercial
attention. It’s a food that offers many health benefits, including
the ability to help prevent osteoporosis, reduce the risk of heart
disease in both men and women, prevent and reduce cancer risk, and
reduce perimenopausal symptoms. Soybeans also contain antioxidant
and anti-cancer properties. Increased mainstream interest in soy
has prompted the development of soy alternatives to many common
foods, including tofu hot dogs, soy cheese, soy milk, soy yogurt,
soy bacon, soy sausage links, and soy burgers. The increased
consumption of soy health-food products is evidenced by the
increase in soy milk sales alone, from $2 million in 1980 to $300
million in 1999.

Soybean Foods and Protective Phytochemicals

The health benefits of soy are primarily attributed to a group
of chemical constituents in soybeans known as isoflavones, which in
turn belong to a class of chemicals known as phytoestrogens, or
plant estrogens. Isoflavones are strikingly similar in structure to
the estrogens produced by the body, and they demonstrate a variety
of hormonal and nonhormonal actions when ingested. Soybeans are
particularly high in these interesting compounds, but
phytoestrogens are also found in most legumes and are widely
distributed in other foods, especially leafy green vegetables. Most
commercial soy foods, made from whole soybeans and isolated or
purified soy proteins, contain appreciable and bioactive quantities
of isoflavones, with the exception of soy oil and soy lecithin,
which do not contain any.

Soybean Foods: Too Many Chemicals for Kids?

There is general consensus that soy-rich diets can be beneficial
to adults, but some members of the scientific community speculate
that too many isoflavones in the diet can have deleterious effects,
particularly on the developing reproductive systems of fetuses and
infants. For more than thirty years, soy formula has been given to
babies with little concern for adverse effects. However, recent
human studies have confirmed that there is a strong correlation
between a diet containing soy products and significant changes in
the reproductive system. This has led to new concerns about the
regular use of soy formula for infants, and perhaps even soy foods
for children.

Several scientific studies demonstrate a strong correlation
between soy and hormonal activity. It’s known that premenopausal
women given a diet high in soy foods experience a lengthening of
the menstrual cycle. This is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact,
a longer menstrual cycle of thirty to thirty-two days is associated
with significantly decreased rates of cancer in Asian women.
However, scientists are uncertain as to the effects of high doses
of isoflavones in babies and children and cite that in other
mammalian species (such as sheep), there have been clearly
demonstrable harmful effects to the reproductive capacity as a
result of grazing on large quantities of isoflavone-rich
plants.

One study from England, the Avon Study, revealed an increased
incidence of hypospadias (an abnormal congenital opening of the
male urethra on the underside of the penis) in human infants born
to vegetarian mothers. The researchers attributed this to a greater
exposure of these babies in utero to higher concentrations of
phytoestrogens. Studies have confirmed that phytoestrogens from soy
can be found in the amniotic fluid after mothers have consumed
isoflavone-rich foods, thus passing transplacentally from mother to
fetus. Infants taking soy-based formulas are receiving isoflavone
quantities five to ten times greater than the amount required to
induce changes in the human menstrual cycle. In older children,
isoflavones are present in large quantities in the majority of soy
foods that they consume. Most studies, however, indicate that the
use of soy formula in infants has not led to hormonal changes in
children, all the way through puberty.

Soy and Food Allergies

Another concern over soy foods for kids is that soy is one of
the most common food allergens. Food allergies play a primary role
in the development of such chronic health problems as atopic
dermatitis and asthma, as well as inflammatory bowel disorders.
Indeed, soy products can be hard to digest at any age, unless they
are fermented prior to eating or are eaten in small quantities as a
part of a varied diet. Nutrition researchers internationally are
now widely suggesting that whenever possible, breast milk and
dairy-based infant formulas are preferable to soy-based formulas.
Most soy allergies are outgrown, but effects of food allergies in
early life can lead to long-term patterns of eczema, asthma, and
bowel troubles.

Soy: A Nutritional Supplement, not Substitute

Many parents recognize that dairy is not always healthy for
children and that it, too, can contribute to the development of
food allergies. Some parents have put their babies and toddlers on
health-food beverage alternatives, often soy milk. This practice
can lead to mild subclinical deficiencies or severe nutritional
deficiencies and failure to thrive, which I have seen in my own
practice and which also led to two cases reported in the medical
literature of babies hospitalized for severe nutritional disorders.
Members of the medical community suspect that this problem is
widely underreported. Soy milk and other nondairy beverages are not
alternatives to proper infant formula and should never be used as
substitutes for these.

Soy milk does not meet the nutritional requirements for many
nutrients for older children, either. For example, one study
reveals that most commercial soy milks that are fortified with
calcium actually provide only 50 percent of the amount claimed on
the package because the form of calcium typically used is not
highly absorbable. This could easily be rectified with increased
calcium added to the diet in the form of other calcium-rich foods
or a calcium supplement. Soy milk and alternative beverages,
however, cannot be relied upon to provide adequate dietary
calcium.

Many children are accustomed to having sweet drinks,
particularly fruit juice, throughout the day, a practice that
frequently leads to undernutrition due to curbed appetite. Many
parents mistakenly assume that soy milk is a healthy alternative to
cow’s milk and juice. Although it can be a healthful beverage on an
occasional basis, as a daily beverage it may pose many of the same
nutritional problems as other sweet drinks—it also reduces the
appetite and may prevent children from eating adequate quantities
of other foods. Furthermore, regular consumption of sweet beverages
by children can lead to decreased immunity and a greater
susceptibility to colds and upper- respiratory
infections—especially ear infections, leading to some of the same
problems as regular consumption of cow’s milk. Soy milk is best
used as an occasional beverage, in cereal, and as part of a
meal.

Soybean Foods and Low Thyroid

There has also been concern raised in the medical literature
that regular consumption of soy foods might inhibit thyroid
function, leading to hypothyroidism. Soy-based infant formula has
been shown to reduce thyroxine levels in infants with congenital
hypothyroidism, requiring supplementation with thyroxine while the
infants are consuming soy infant formula. However, the goitrogenic
qualities of soy foods may depend most on the overall diet rather
than the actual inclusion of soy in the diet. In fact, cruciferous
vegetables (including cabbage, kale, broccoli, and collards) are
much higher in goitrogens than soy. Although the medical literature
does not support the need to avoid the moderate use of soy foods in
healthy children or adults, concern about soy and thyroid disease
has not been entirely laid to rest.

Sensible Soy Solutions

So what are parents to do? Should soy foods be eliminated from
the diet? Are they safe for children to consume regularly?

There’s a lot that’s unknown about soy foods in children’s
diets. At this point, scientists have more questions about it than
answers. But we can look to common sense and traditional usage to
guide our use. The benefits of including soy in the diet, including
reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis,
are evident and appear to be greatest when soy is consumed from
early childhood, as is typical in traditional Asian diets. It seems
clear that there is great benefit in including soy in the diet from
early childhood, but in sensible ways, and as part of an overall
healthy diet. Soy is much more than phytoestrogens and other
chemicals—it’s a traditional food with a long history of use and
can provide many lifelong protective health benefits to us and to
our children. Here are some guidelines for the safe consumption of
soy foods.

• High levels of soy consumption during pregnancy might expose
babies to excessive estrogen levels at a fragile time, and
therefore it may be prudent for pregnant women, especially pregnant
vegetarians, to rely on a wide variety of sources of protein and
consume soy products only in moderation. Avoid high-isoflavone
products such as soy supplement powders, and primarily rely on
traditional sources of soy such as tofu, tempeh, and miso.

• After birth, breastfeeding is best whenever possible. While
isoflavones are present in large quantities in infant soy formula,
none have been found in cow’s milk. The isoflavone content of
breast milk, regardless of whether the mothers consumed large
quantities of soy products, is negligible and insignificant
compared to the amounts in soy formula. If you are unable to
breastfeed, use soy formula as an alternative to dairy formula only
if your baby cannot tolerate dairy. Check with your doctor or
midwife about fortified goat’s milk as an alternative to other
infant supplements. Never use soy milk as a substitute for proper
infant formula or breast milk. Consider waiting until after
children are toddlers to introduce soy milk into the diet to
prevent food allergies and nutritional deficiencies.

• Most commercial soy products are not traditional foods and are
highly processed to achieve their consistency, taste, and
appearance. Use soy foods as dietary staples only in their
traditional forms—tofu, tempeh, miso, and tamari. Traditionally,
soy foods are marinated and well-cooked before being consumed. Soy
milk is found in some traditional Asian fare but is not consumed
regularly—certainly not on a daily basis. Fermented soy foods are
easier to digest, provide the healthy, protective isoflavones
needed for beneficial effects, and are lower in phytates,
substances found in many grains and legumes that, when consumed in
excessive amounts, can interfere with the absorption of minerals.
It is not necessary, however, to completely avoid phytates. Some
phytic acid in the diet helps chelate heavy metals and thus
prevents their accumulation in the body.


Natural Healing Calendar

November

American Herbalists Guild Symposium 2001: From Plants to
Medicines: Honoring Our Relationship to Nature’s Pharmacy. November
9–11 in the Unicoi State Park in Helen, Georgia. The symposium will
include more than forty workshops by herbalists including Lesley
Tierra, Amanda McQuade Crawford, David Winston, Aviva Romm, and
Christopher Hobbs. Separate tracks are available for students and
advanced clinicians, with continuing education available for
nurses, pharmacists, and naturopathic doctors. Contact the AHG,
Canton, GA; www.americanherbalist.com.

December

New Year’s in Peru for 2002. December 27, 2001–January 10, 2002 in
the Amazon rain forest. Experience the rain forest, the sacred Inca
valley, and Machu Picchu with James Duke and Linda Green. Contact
Linda Green, Port Clinton, OH; www.omnigreen.com.


The reference list for this article is extensive. If you would
like a copy, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to “Soy
and Kids,” Herbs for Health, Loveland, Colorado, or e-mail us at HerbsForHealth @ HCPress.com.

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