I consistently run into people these days who are truly scared and unwilling to eat tofu! This concerns me as it’s an excellent protein source and Asian countries that consume tofu and other soy products have low rates of breast cancer in particular. Further, I worked for 3 years at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii in Natural Products and Cancer Biology with a specialist who investigates soy isoflavones. While I was there, I did numerous literature reviews and attended talks on this topic, the vast majority of which suggest that soy is health supportive. (I also have about 5 publications on which I’m a co-author that you can search for in the PubMed database. I have no vested interest in posting this. I’m not getting paid by anyone!)
From the macrobiotic point of view, I would definitely say that quality and quantity are important. The basic premises of macrobiotics include focusing your diet on ingredients that are local, organic, seasonal, and having plenty of variety.
What type of soy might you be eating, and how much of it? If you’re consuming isolated soy protein, burgers, TVP, sausages, mock chicken or other mock meats, soy cream cheese, soy sour cream, soy yogurt, and other items like that, although they are vegan, they are not whole foods so are best limited or avoided. Processed foods are not health supportive. If you look at the ingredients in those particular food items, you’re going to most likely see a variety of other items that are hard to pronounce. In addition, if they’re not organic, they are pretty much almost guaranteed to be genetically modified.
In contrast, we need to look at how traditional cultures have consumed soy. In this category I would include traditionally made and organic shoyu (soy sauce), tempeh, natto, miso, and tofu.
Here’s a great article that was published in the Dec 2011 Vegetarian Times on p24 that goes through some of the current research on this issue.
For inspiration, here’s a photo of the oven-baked tofu I just made:
Ask the Doc
Soy Takes the Heat
By Neal D. Barnard, MD
Q: I’ve heard that soy has estrogens in it. Is that good or bad?
A: Soybeans contain compounds known as isoflavones, whose chemical structure is similar to human estrogens; these similarities cause speculation that soy products might have hormonal effectsfeminizing men or increasing cancer risk in women, for example. Such concerns have been put to the test. The results show no negative effects from soy on men’s hormonal function; soy does not interfere at all with testosterone or sperm production.
As for cancer risk, several research teams have tracked the dietary habits of people who’ve developed cancer and those who’ve remained cancer-free; compiling the results of these studies in 2008, researchers at the University of Southern California found that women who ate a daily serving of soy products had about a 30 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer, compared with women who consumed very little soy. (A serving is approximately 1 cup of soymilk, 1/2 cup of tofu, or a similar amount of other soy products.) So a modest amount of soy eaten regularly may actually reduce the risk that breast cancer will occur.
Moderate intake may also boost survival in women who’ve been treated for breast cancer. The Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study followed 5,042 breast cancer survivors for four years. Those who ate two daily servings of soy were about 30 percent less likely to have a cancer recurrence or cancer death, compared with those who avoided soy.
Q: Does soy cause thyroid problems?
A: Not according to the evidence. But if you’re hypothyroid, meaning your thyroid gland acts sluggish, be aware that soy products can reduce the absorption of thyroid supplements. If you take these medicines, your health care provider can check if your dose needs to be adjusted.
Q: How can I tell if I am allergic to soy?
A: Like other allergies, a reaction to soy can manifest with hives, flushing, itching, runny nose, or wheezing that occurs shortly after exposure. An allergy can also cause local symptoms, such as swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, and digestive upset, including abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some people can tolerate modest amounts of soy, and react only when they get too much. In rare cases an allergy can be life-threatening, a condition called anaphylaxis.
Most children with soy allergy outgrow it. But the opposite can occur too. A person can develop an allergy to a food that caused no problem previously.
Doctors can easily check for a soy allergy with skin testing and specialized blood tests. But if you think you might be allergic to soy, you can simply avoid it for a few weeks and notice if your symptoms improve. If so, you can challenge yourself with it later on and see if your symptoms return. Do not try this if your allergy symptoms are severe.
Q: Can I be getting too much soy?
A: Not so far as we know, but there’s some benefit in favoring minimally processed soy products; edamame and tempeh are tops, followed by soymilk and tofu. Producing meat substitutes often means extracting and concentrating soy protein, so you’??re getting further away from the bean that nature intended.