Is Soy Safe?

Because I am a vegan, although I do feed my children salmon, chicken and the like, one of our big staples has been tofu. With all the recent hype in the media, I came across this article written by a dear friend and collegue, Gena Hemshaw, who writes an incredible blog that you must check out! Anyway, here is just a tidbit of what she says about soy. I guess I will have to throw out all the tofu burgers!

excerpt from Gena Hamshaw’s blog Choosing Raw

Is soy safe?
This is a complicated question. There is tremendous debate in the various health communities about the safety of soy. Both soy enthusiasts and detractors wield various studies and research, and neither group is entirely mistaken: the research is conflicting, and confusing. In order to pick it apart, it’s important for us all to remember that, when we discuss soy’s potential harm, we’re essentially discussing what soy can or can’t do when eaten very habitually or even excessively. Many doctors and experts point out that Asian populations have been eating soy for ages without the apparent health problems that some of us are now attributing to it; this is true, mostly because those same Asian populations do not eat soy in as heavily processed forms as most Americans do, nor as frequently.

Because in spite of its reputation as a “health” food (compounded by the popular stereotype of all vegans and vegetarians as tofu fanatics) soy is a huge part of the SAD (Standard American Diet). It’s in nearly all processed food (as soy isolate or as lechithin), which means it slips into items you’d never immediately associate with it, from baby formula to bread. Even if you hate tofu and won’t touch tempeh, you may be getting soy in places you don’t think you are. It’s important to remember, then, that Americans tend to unconsciously consume soy more often than the Asian populations who are supposedly impervious to its pitfalls.

I’m not going to attempt a medical ruling on the health benefits of soy here. I’m not a medical doctor, and as you all will have gathered by now, I disagree quite sharply with allopathic medicine on many, many issues of health and nutrition. Moreover, this is a debate on which science and medicine have proven contradictory. For every warning against soy, you can easily google an article or study that will make claims to the contrary; for every concern you raise, you’ll find a doctor who tells you that soy is not only fine, but health-promoting.

Why don’t I eat soy?
What I can tell you is why I personally choose to avoid soy altogether (and why I don’t recommend it for anyone who has sensitive digestion).

The first reason should be obvious: most forms of soy are not only not raw, but also heavily processed. I don’t put processed foods in my body, period, and soy is no exception.

The second has to do with hormones. Soy contains isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens-in other words, plant-based estrogens. Soy’s estrogenic properties (the fact that it mimics hormones in the human body) are both its strength and its danger, according to whom you talk to. Personally? I don’t ingest anything that alters my hormonal balance (for the record, ladies, this also means that I don’t take hormonal birth control). I’m the child of a breast cancer survivor, and while my Mom’s case wasn’t classified as estrogen-receptive, I’m still exceptionally vigilant about estrogen. High exposure to estrogen has been linked to breast cancer, and while I’m the first to question the truth of a single study or even a few, my research into this topic has been pretty exhaustive, for obvious reasons. (If you’re at all dubious about the potency of phytoestrogens, don’t be: I’ve now spoken to a couple of nutritionists now who say that they’ve seen excessive soy consumption encourage breast growth in women, and even gynecomastia in men.)

The third reason I don’t eat soy has to do with its impact on thyroid health. I don’t suffer from thyroid dysfunction of any sort, but there are well-established concerns about the relationship between soy isoflavones and thyroid health. Soy is technically a goitrogen-a food than can promote the formation of goiters. Goitrogens are known to slow down thyroid function; many nutritionists believe that soy is downright toxic to the thyroid, and a likely culprit in thyroid disease. A famous 2000 study, conducted by two FDA researchers, led the researchers to write a letter of protest to the FDA claiming that soy is not only toxic to the thyroid, but a likely carcinogen as well. The two researchers have subsequently refined their argument to include other factors that must also be present for soy to prove toxic, but they remain critical of soy. On the whole, it’s safe to say that many figures in the health community (figures whose work I know and whom I trust) believe that soy has a distinctly negative impact on thyroid health.

The last reason I won’t eat soy-and here’s where I can speak most confidently-is that soy does not promote digestive health. It, like dairy, is heavily mucous forming, which means that it digests with difficulty and slows down peristalsis-in other words, it’s a nightmare for anyone suffering from IBS or constipation. It’s also irritating to the GI tract, which is why it’s no surprise that soy is one of the most commonly diagnosed food allergies. You may hear claims to the contrary about this, but my conversations with naturopaths (my own included), GIs, and colonic hydrotherapists – who I consider the true gurus of gastrointestinal wisdom! – have confirmed this. So has personal experience! I always found soy products heavily irritating and experienced relief when I stopped eating them.

Are there any positives to eating soy?
Ok. All this aside, I you’re probably still wondering: do I believe that there is any place for minimally processed soy foods in a healthy diet?

Yes. To start, I think that soy is a terrific transition food if you’re making the switch from a standard diet to a vegan or vegetarian one. Soy analogs (boca burgers, soymilk, soy ice cream) can be helpful to many new vegetarians, and that’s fine. I never quite got the appeal of soy substitutes myself: I didn’t like burgers and hot dogs in the first place, so soy versions of those things didn’t really entice! But I ate soy yogurt for a long time, as well as the occasional glass of soymilk. (As soon as I discovered the joy of almond milk, it was easy to give it up.) Go ahead and use soy as a tool in moving towards a plant based diet if you need to; just keep in mind that your digestive system might hum better without it!

I also believe that what kind of soy you eat matters: edamame is obviously the least processed, and (in my mind) most ideal (it combines as a starch). Tempeh is my second favorite choice, as it’s slightly less processed than tofu. And organic tofu (handmade locally if you can get it) is the next best choice. I suggest steering clear of all soy isolates if you can.

Also, how much you eat matters. Obviously, eating tofu now and again (especially if its your alternative to conventional meat) ain’t gonna kill you! Nor will a soy milkshake if you’re having a lousy day and need a vegan treat. Many raw friends of mine still treat themselves to soy indulgences (read: tofutti cuties) when they feel like it, and I think that this is totally OK-especially since these “treats” are healthy upgrades in comparison to many other options. Just try to avoid eating soy all the time in its more processed forms. And if you’re ready to give soy up because you share any of the concerns above, great! I really applaud this choice, and I think you’ll find that vegan life after soy is much easier than you think.

As with all things, I welcome you to do your own research about this issue-and, if need be, to draw your own conclusions. My feelings about soy are strong, but I think independently, and I like to encourage others to do the same. Arm yourself with your own clear and independent understanding of the facts out there. I know that much of it is contradictory, so be persistent in seeking out truth!

To find out the whole skinny about soy (and other pertinent well-written topics,) please go to


  • […] You could use soy milk but there has been so much controversy regarding soy (to read more go to Is Soy Safe? written by Gena Hamshaw.) In my opinion, it is preferable to just avoid the whole argument and use […]

  • Johnnie
    July 27th, 2014 at 11:58 am


    good info!!…

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