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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Book Review: The Whole Soy Story Part two - the review

Part One here.

The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food
Author: Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN

Part Two

The book is highly detailed, somewhat technical, but very accessible to the layman. Dr. Daniel doesn’t dumb the subject down for readers, but simply explains what things are and what they do, clearly assuming the reader is intelligent enough to understand her descriptions and follow along. Throughout the book are also text boxes of extra information, ranging from research data and quotes to stories recounted by individuals describing things that happened to themselves or their children.

Reading this book has certainly been an eye opening experience. Several times, I’d find myself going from the book to my cupboards or fridge. I had always assumed that the soy sauce we used was fermented soy sauce – how else is soy sauce made? – only to discover that it wasn’t. We are not a soy eating family, yet we found that we’ve actually been eating quite a lot of products with soy or soy derivatives.

I was also greatly surprised at the many things associated with soy products. It was no surprise to learn that soy estrogens had negative effects on males, but the effects on both males and females of all ages was greater than I expected. To read about connections between soy and ADD/ADHD, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, both hyper- and hypo-thyroidism, precocious puberty in girls, disrupted sexual development in boys, and a long list of other health problems were frequent light bulb moments. I kept seeing parallels between what I was reading in The Whole Soy Story and information I was reading elsewhere.

Just as one example, there’s the “obesity epidemic.” There are all sorts of people lamenting how kids today are so fat, and it’s because they’re lazy, screen-addicted, junk food eating brats too slothful to get their butts outside to run around or play sports. Or, it’s because their parents are too stupid to feed them properly, and too inept to get their lazy kids off the couch and outside to play, driving them everywhere, etc. Never mind that study after study has shown that larger kids are no less active than thin kids, and that their diets are no different. A particular description of kids today that kept popping into my mind was of boys who are so fat, they have breasts. Meanwhile, I find myself reading of how soy estrogens affect children, including weight gain and the development of breasts in boys!

At this point, I want to add some personal parallels in our own lives. Dh has been struggling with his health for many years, though things are greatly improved with the treatment of his sleep apnea. Recently, however, he had been having an increase in troubles that led to him missing quite a lot of work and generally having a really hard time of things. As I was reading the book, I kept finding symptoms described that matched what my husband was going through. We are not a soy eating family, so a connection seemed far fetched, until we started looking more closely at ingredient lists and discovering just how much soy we have been unknowingly eating. My husband, meanwhile, went to the doctor who wrote him up for some very extensive blood work. When the results came in, one of the first things the doctor told my husband to do was cut out soy products. He then gave my husband a number of prescriptions to hopefully get his body functioning normally again. My husband developed an intolerance for dairy products late in life – somewhere around his early 30’s or so. Now it seems that he’s developed an intolerance for soy as well, even if it’s just in the form of additives to food.

After reading this book, I feel that even if soy were only half as destructive as the author claims, it should be banned as a food. I was especially alarmed by the effects of soy on infants, ranging from 9 month old baby girls going through puberty, to boys being born with deformities of the sexual organs.

While we ourselves have never been soy eaters, I know a lot of people who eat quite a lot of it. While fermented soy products such as miso and tempeh remain “safe” foods in my mind, at least in small amounts, I find myself wondering about my friends who eat soy products and how it might be affecting them. I know people who are vegetarian and vegan, both for health and for philosophical reasons, who eat a lot of soy. I know people who have issues with dairy who use soy to replace dairy products. Some eat soy simply because they can’t afford to buy a lot of meat, and soy is a cheap, supposedly healthy, source of protein. Mostly, though, the people I know who eat a lot of soy do so because they are trying to cut down on meat, and believe they are choosing a healthy alternative, or that they are being better for the environment by cutting back on meat and dairy, while meeting their protein needs through soy. If even the relatively small amounts of soy additives that we are eating can have such an effect on my husband, what might be happening to my friends and acquaintances that are eating so much more?

My biggest concern while reading this book is the effects of soy on children, infants and the developing foetus. I was also noting many correlations between the effects of soy on the body, and health problems that are being blamed on things such as growth hormones in beef, dairy products, high fructose corn syrup, plastics, etc. – claims that in-depth studies frequently do not substantiate. Many of the foods that would have these substances would also have soy additives. Could it be that the health problems being blamed on these substances are actually caused by soy? After reading this book, I strongly suspect this to be likely.

I should make a point of noting that not everything in the book is anti-soy. The author does mention several potentially beneficial chemicals in soy, as pharmaceutical products. These benefits would not be accessible through diet, as these potentially beneficial chemicals would have to be isolated from the many deleterious chemicals. If research results are controversial or ambivalent, she'll say as much, without automatically ruling against soy.

There are a few passing items in the book I didn’t necessarily agree with, such as comments about plastics, GM foods, etc., but these are so briefly mentioned in the book, there’s not as much to go on. In many other areas, the book confirms information, not necessarily soy-related, that I’ve encountered elsewhere. This book will probably not be popular with those who choose a meatless diet for philosophical reasons. While the author does not promote meat eating in any way, neither does she say "meat is bad," which matches the belief systems of a lot of people who eat a lot of soy as a meat alternative. The author does state that, because of their tendency to eat so many more soy products, vegans and vegetarians are at greater risk for soy-related damage, but she does not attack their dietary choices at all. Some may not see it that way. In fact, in an online search, the only review about this book that was negative (about six pages into my search) was written by an ‘ecology” website writer.

In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this book. More than that, I feel that the information in this book is important, and should be more common knowledge. As I mentioned before, even if the author were exaggerating the dangers of soy (which, based on the obvious amount of research that's been done and referenced, is not an issue), that would still make non-fermented soy something that shouldn’t even be in the food chain at all, and fermented soy only in very small amounts.

Back to Part One

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