To soy or not to soy?

I’ve been getting asked a lot more than usual lately about soy.

I’ve been getting asked a lot more than usual lately about soy.

Which do I prefer . . . Whey protein or soy protein? My answer is always the same. “Hemp” — as I say with a bit of a laugh. I hope that helps!

When it comes to soy there has been a lot of controversy brewing between many doctors, scientists, dieticians, soy “activists” and the likes of the Weston A. Price Foundation — a non for profit organization founded by Dr. Weston Price, a nutrition pioneer who has studied the diets of people around the world to determine optimal characteristics.

There has been a lot of “disproving” each other’s studies as to why soy is either extremely beneficial or perhaps the ultimate detriment to your health. That’s part of why I love nutrition so much. There’s always something to chew on.

Between various documents, since 2001, the soy industry in North America has grown by 87 per cent and has become somewhere between a $1.8- and $4-billion dollar industry.

Soy has been heavily marketed as a heart healthy, cancer preventing, hormonal balancing food. All sides agree that in Asian cultures, soy has been consumed for thousands of years, and the Asians have lower incidences of cancer and heart disease.

What fails to be included in a lot of these observations is that Asians consume a lot of soy products in their fermented state, ie. natto, tempeh, miso and soy sauce, all of which build beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract and have been known to reduce heart disease and cancer. They are not drinking soy milk.

The main concern with soy is that anywhere from 89-95 per cent of North America’s soy crops are genetically modified. Jeffery Smith, author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette is a leading spokesperson when it comes to genetically modified foods. In his book Genetic Roulette, he describes how liver damage can result from the consumption of GMO soy, among other things. GMO soy is found in many of our packaged food products.

But back to just plain old soy. Another concept that seems to be mostly agreed upon is the implications with the thyroid. Some, like Dr. Mercola, suggest that it is the goitrogens found in soy that interfere with iodine metabolism and therefore can contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

Others say that it is the soy that brings out the problem that was already underlying. Most doctors suggest addressing whether or not you have any digestive or thyroid problems prior to consuming soy, as well as getting allergy testing done, I couldn’t agree more. Not all foods are for everyone.

Some say phytoestrogens in soy help reduce the rates of breast cancer while some say soy increases the rates of breast cancer. Perfect! Always straight-forward, right? Barbour Warren, Ph.D. and Suzanne Snedeker, Ph.D. researchers for the Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors (BCERF) at Cornell University did extensive research on the connection between soy phytoestrogens and breast cancer risk.

“Although there has been a large amount of research on this topic, current evidence does not either prove or disprove a link between soy phytoestrogen exposure and breast cancer risk. Because of these uncertainties, moderation should be exercised in the amount soy-based foods people choose to eat. Use of soy supplements is not recommended at this time.”

My personal opinion is to enjoy some edamame beans, have a little tofu from time to time if it’s something you enjoy, and by all means eat up when it comes to fermented soy products. But before supplementing with soy do some more reading from sources that are as unbiased as possible. Look at the source and talk to your naturopathic doctor to get some personal testing done. For more information on soy, read The Whole Soy Story, by Dr. Kaayla Daniel.

Kristin Fraser, BSc, is a registered holistic nutritionist and local freelance writer. Her column appears every second Wednesday. She can be reached at