By Heather Moore, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA
If you avoid eating soy-based foods, including tofu, tempeh, edamame, veggie burgers, and soy milk because you've heard reports claiming that soy products are responsible for everything from "man-boobs" and cancer to deforestation you might be interested in the recent Guardian article urging people to ignore all the scaremonger stories and eat more soy.
According to the commentary, most anti-soy stories can be traced back to Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF), a group that claims that saturated animal fat is essential for good health, animal fat intake and high cholesterol levels aren't connected to heart disease or cancer, vegetarians have lower life expectancy than meat-eaters, and other pro-meat propaganda that contradicts leading health experts, not to mention basic common sense. One of WAPF's more ardent supporters, Dr. Stephen Byrnes, openly boasted about his high animal fat diet and robust health—until he died of a stroke at 42.
Much of what the WAPF says is anecdotal, untrue, or based on scientifically flawed animal experiments, points out Dr. Justine Butler, a health campaigner for the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation. There is no scientific evidence showing that soy is harmful to humans, yet some people continue to perpetuate groundless scare stories about soy. When Dr. Butler was interviewed for BBC Radio London, for example, the presenter asked her if soy foods were safe, then "fell about laughing saying he didn't want to grow man-boobs."
Now, I'm just guessing here, but I bet he wasn't equally concerned about developing gynecomastia—the clinical term for man-boobs or "moobs"—from eating meat and dairy products, even though many physicians believe that the conditions is caused by the estrogen-mimicking chemicals in these foods. (Factory-farmed animals are fed growth-promoting hormones that accumulate in fat tissue and are taken up by the estrogen receptor sites in the body. Hormone-treated cow’s milk, for instance, contains high levels of Insulin Growth Factor (IGF-1), which studies show can cause gynecomastia.)
In fact, many of the people who have asked me about soy in the past think nothing of chowing down on hamburgers and cheese pizza. Soy may not be a "miracle food," because there really is no such thing, but unlike meat, eggs, and dairy products, soy is cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat, and has cardiovascular benefits.
Researchers with the Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute have found evidence suggesting that eating soy can help ward off colon cancer, and soy is also known to prevent prostate and breast cancer. Research shows that women who eat soy, especially early in life, are 30 percent less likely to develop breast cancer, compared with women who eat little or no soy products. For women who’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer, eating soy may actually help reduce their risk of a recurrence.
Research also shows that soy consumption can help prevent strokes, that menopausal women who eat soy may have fewer hot flashes, and that soy consumption can protect against osteoporosis. A study from Clinical and Experimental Allergy suggests that the antioxidants in soy may also benefit asthma sufferers.
And for those who've heard that soy production destroys the Amazonian rain forest, Dr. Butler rightfully points out that the problem is not people eating soy; it's that 80% of the world's soy is fed to farmed animals so that people can eat meat and dairy products.
So, while there's no need to go overboard by drinking soy-infused water and the like, go ahead and enjoy soy. It's not only healthy and humane, it's versatile and delicious. As Dr. Butler concludes, both the rain forests and our health will benefit tremendously if more people switch from animal-based foods to a varied plant-based diet, including soy foods.