Soy is one food that is often overlooked in the health food rant, yet it is an ingredient that makes its merry way into a vast amount of our daily dishes (whether you know it or not.)
It is the key ingredients for miso, tempeh, tofu as well as soy sauce and is also used as a protein to bulk out pre-made products, from bread to cereal bars. There is a lot of information out there about soy and whether or not it is healthy and in what form it isn’t.
This post is to clarify a little bit about it and help you find out about the different options available, so you can make the best choices.
Is soy is good for our health?!
A few words spring to mind when i think of soy. Sushi, miso, tofu and ramen. All some of my favourite foods that can contain soy, or some sort of derivative. Like so many foods, the range is varied and certain soy products can be healthy but it involves reading ingredient labels, as invariably one ingredient to another can range in quality rather drastically.
When asking the question about its health benefits, it is important to look to the processing of the product. In almost all of the soy products on the market today – soy milk, tofu, soy sauce, miso, tempeh, additional ingredients are added and they are treated in a certain way that can change the bean’s structure and the way it breaks down in the body. It is this treatment that affects the health benefits of the product.
In its soy bean form, or edamame is certainly a beneficial food. These long pod beans are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, iron, and lots of other minerals. I love to eat them simply steamed with shards of flaked sea salt or popped into grain-based salads. They are fresh and delicious and a great filling alternative in dishes without meat.
Other derivatives of soy, like soy protein isolate, which is often used as a meat substitute in pre-made food, it is highly processed and not a healthy food to be eating. It isn’t common for new vegans, in the absence of meat turn to soy based burgers, soy ice cream, soy yogurt to get confused and compensate for the protein they are no longer getting from meat, thinking that these foods are healthy, when in fact, many of these highly processed products made with soy protein isolate and often many other preservatives are often no better then eating fast food. My advice is to always read the label and certainly to focus more on eating natural, simply cooked whole-foods then making diet changes that can leave you ending up less healthy, and probably more unhappy than when you started.
The piccies are some of my favourite tamari containing recipes, just tap on the image to find the recipe.
Soy, Tamari or Liquid Aminos?
To make soy beans into sauce, it undergoes a processing system where the soybeans are cooked with wheat and other grains and added to a salt liquid to brew. The beans then sit for a period of time to ferment before the mixture gets pressed to extract the dark, salty soy liquid.
Like soy, Tamari is made in a similar way, by fermenting soy beans. However in the fermenting process, little, or no wheat gets added to the mixture. Which means it is often available as a gluten free alternative. It is also often a little less salty too. It can be found easily in most large supermarkets and makes a great alternative to soy sauce. I tend to replace soy where I can in favour of tamari. It has the most similar taste and buying gluten free makes it suitable for anyone with IBS or wheat sensitivity.
Liquid Aminos is the other soy-like condiment that is readily available in lots of supermarkets. It is are certified as being a non GM liquid protein concentrate, and is derived from unfermented and unprocessed ‘healthy’ soybeans. As the label indicated, it is high in lots of aminos, but the liquid is made artificially, not with natural bacterial and fungal cultures, so there is some scepticism as to its health benefits.
Again, as with all other soy based food, it is super important to buy organic soy sauce, or whichever variation you choose and to avoid GM wherever you can!
Like peanuts soy is also a common, quite frequently undiagnosed allergen that can cause anything from mild facial puffiness to a more severe reaction. For the last few months I have been suffering from water retention and irritated skin which I am attributing to an excess of soy. A little bit of self diagnosis which I usually don’t recommend (holler at me if you love Japanese food as much as I do) but since cutting it out all my symptoms have disappeared. I will try to introduce it in its unprocessed form, in small quantities when I feel the symptoms have fully passed but for now I am having a break and using only liquid aminos. I though it was worth mentioning in case anyone else has unexplained water retention and headaches that isn’t the result of a boozy January.
If you have any thoughts on soy, please do share your comments below.