the healthy vegan: soy

If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know that the vegan diet, when done properly–plant- and whole foods-based–does wonders for the human body. The vegan diet means a cholesterol-free diet. It can drastically reduce the risk of several cancers, such as colorectal cancer, and can also reduce cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and much more. Still, the diet comes with some concerns, which is what gives the vegan diet a bad rap to those unfamiliar with its benefits. Vitamin B12 in particular comes from almost solely animal-based foods, and omega-3 fatty acids can be equally difficult to get your fill of if you’re not actively seeking out plant-based sources of it, such as flaxseed.

For these reasons, I take a vegan multivitamin. Not everyone agrees with this choice. The theory is that any diet, when done properly, should afford the correct amount of essential vitamins and nutrients in order to thrive. I don’t always trust my diet to do what it should, so I supplement. I try to my best but we are a busy people, and sometimes nutrition falls by the wayside. While my calorie tracking on MyFitnessPal proves that I find no difficulty in obtaining my recommended daily dose of protein, there is more than the “do vegans eat enough protein?” question when it comes to overall vegan health. Although I actively add flaxseed to various foods, like oatmeal, and I also add nutritional yeast to a variety of my meals, which is rich in B12, I ere on the cautious side and continue to supplement. This choice is largely in part to a blood test I was subjected to while I was a vegetarian, about two years ago. I was low on Vitamin D and B12, and my doctor recommended I supplement those two vitamins. Since giving up all animal products, I’ve begun to fear that perhaps I’m not obtaining enough iodine or iron from my diet. While perhaps unnecessary, I continue to take my vegan multivitamin, especially because when I skip it for longer than a week, I feel lethargic. This may be a psychological mind over matter situation more than an actual deficiency, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Besides B12, D, iodine, and iron, there is an even more hotly contested concern in the vegan and vegetarian community: soy consumption. There have been studies done that link a diet with increased soy consumption to thyroid disfunction. Until now, I’ve taken that research with a grain of salt, pushing it out of my mind. When I had the aforementioned blood test done, my doctor also performed a full metabolic panel because I’d come to her with symptoms that she said resembled hypothyroidism–depression, fatigue, weight gain, weakness, and muscle and joint pain, to name a few. When she examined my thyroid, she did not feel anything abnormal–it wasn’t enlarged and she could not feel any nodules. My metabolic panel came back just fine. I have to keep in mind, though, that this was when I was a vegetarian, not a vegan. Since adopting a vegan diet, I have drastically increased my consumption of soy. I eat tofu at least twice a week. I eat tempeh at least once a week. I put 2 tablespoons of Silk soy creamer in my coffee every morning. This doesn’t sound out of line to me, but several sources I’ve looked at state that “high soy consumption” is considered consuming soy three or more times a week. I certainly fit the bill.

One source writes:

Daniel Doerge and Daniel Sheehan, two scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spoke out against claims of the supposed benefits of soy. In a February 1999 letter to the FDA they wrote:

“There is abundant evidence that the isoflavones in soy demonstrate toxicity in oestrogen sensitive tissues and in the thyroid. Eating as little as 30 grammes of soy per day can result in hypothyroidism, with symptoms of lethargy, constipation, weight gain and fatigue.”

I’m weary of what the FDA presents to us as truth, and this study is 13 years old, after all. Given my recent difficulties with losing weight and chronic fatigue, however, I have to wonder if there’s any truth to this claim. There’s no way of knowing unless I march back to my doctor and have my thyroid checked out once again. It’s a scary thought that my healthy diet could be damaging my body, but I also have to question whether my “frequent” consumption of tofu, tempeh and soy creamer is all that different from the consumption of soy of the typical processed-foods, meat-eating diet. Soy is an ingredient in many processed foods. It finds its way into everything. I’m not sure how much different my soy consumption really is stacked up against an unhealthy processed diet, but it certainly provides me with some food for thought. Soy consumption has been said to mimic, or even exacerbate, an increase in estrogen in the human body, and this seems to be the root of the problem, if I’ve examined the issue correctly.

I’m not sure if the damage that soy might do to the body can be reversed by avoiding, or limiting, soy consumption, or if its a permanent damage that cannot be undone. I’d love to hear your thoughts from your experiences or your own research. I aim to eat as healthfully as possible. I don’t want it to come down to a doctor’s visit where my doctor warns me that my vegan diet is doing more harm than good. I wouldn’t believe that if I heard it. In fact, I might find it time to find a new doctor if that’s what she had to say.

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5 thoughts on “the healthy vegan: soy

  1. Kinenchen says:

    I like this article . It’s got some good references and does a nice easier to understand summary of the data in the articles sited. For me, the bottom line is that dairy comes from an animal that is either pregnant or just gave birth and has actual estrogen and progesterone in it… not just ‘estrogen like’ compounds. It’s known that estrogen and progesterone promote the cancers that soy isoflavones are suspected to slow or prevent. That being said, I do the regular blood test too in addition to monitoring my blood iron and cholesterol via frequent blood donations. You’re right to be vigilant, everyone should be. 🙂 Thanks for this post!

    • Kinenchen says:

      Oh right, I forgot to say why my bottom line is what it is: my personal opinion is that the “soy has estrogen [like compounds]” argument arose as a criticism by the ADA, in order to distract people from what’s in dairy. Science has largely disproven the idea that soy is bad for you.

      • Thanks for the insight! I knew you’d show up with all sorts of scientific tidbits. Knew I could count on you!! 🙂

      • Melissa says:

        I also appreciate this info!! And I love how you keep up monitoring your iron via blood donations… I did that all the time in college, looks like I need to take it up again! It’s a great way to make sure you’re on track, AND you’re helping someone in the process! Win-win!

        My only 2 cents to add to this is that I don’t trust the FDA or whatever to give us accurate info when half the time the lobbyists for Big Ag has their hand in, oh, everything scientific… and no, typically I’m not a conspiracy-theorist type person (for example, I believe in vaccines.) I’ve just read a lot of info (latest: The Skinny Bitch Home and Beauty book) where the authors have done their own extensive research that disproves the ‘claims’ that soy is bad for you.

        However, you know, ‘everything in moderation.’

  2. Kinenchen says:

    I wish I could convince all on my own but the data speak for themselves. Would you let me know how you find the reading materials? I want to know if it’s appropriate for non-scientists/non-übernerds. (I love Star Wars!) 😉

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