It is no surprise that there is a lot of health information today in our society. The Internet, and it seems every well meaning health expert is full of health tips, diet advice, information, etc. All of this would be excellent if the information was all meaningful, valuable and of a high quality, but it often isn’t. Too many people have their own biases, and easily spread around half-truths, or over simplified explanations that often cause more harm, as in confusion, than good. This why today, a lot of our information has turned to mis-information.
Who is to blame? No one person or group. It has become a societal issue due to so many different approaches to health and diet today, and so many corporate stakes. We have a small percentage of people who rely for information on credible, unbiased science. Then, there is another small percentage of people who actually understand the body, and science enough to make sense of what they learn and bring all of the information together. Thirdly, we have the media that often highly distorts the facts of science for us and makes us learn things that are incorrect, which we then go and pass around to others. So you can quickly see how the vicious cycle transpires of how easily information is distorted. And of course to add to all this, everybody is entitled to their own opinion.
One example of a highly controversial topic is soy. And to illustrate my point, I will share an example from personal experience. The other day in my inbox, I received a health newsletter from Dr. Mercola of Mercola.com and one from HealthCastle.com.
Interesting. As you can imagine, I had a bit of a chuckle at the irony of them coming together at the same time. But this example is not isolated and happens all the time. So when it comes to soy, let’s take a closer look at what is really going on and try to make sense of the mis-information.
What does HealthCastle say?
HealthCastle starts off by telling us how the North American diet often overlooks soy and then goes on to give us the following benefits for incorporating soy into one’s diet.
- can help to lower cholesterol
- can help to lower the risk of heart disease
- builds bone health
- helps prevent cancer, particularly prostate cancer
As you can see the above are very common things that the average Westerner would be interested in improving upon.
Now let us pay attention to this, they claim that health experts recommend a diet with 25 grams of daily soy protein intake to reap the health benefits.
Hence the article goes on to list 10 ways in which you can add more soy to your diet, which in a summary are:
- Soy Nut Butter
- Soy Milk
- Soy Nuts
- Soy Cheese
- Soy Cereal
- Soy Ice-Cream
- Soft Tofu
- Hard Tofu
- Soy Meats
For details about each of the above visit the article of “10 Ways to Add More Soy To Your Diet.”
What does Dr. Mercola say?
Dr. Mercola begins by introducing soy through two corporation giants, DuPont and Dow Chemical, who in the past and still today are linked to making products that cause many people ill health. Today these two companies have gotten into the soy market and are now two of the leading suppliers of soy as a major food source for humans, marketing it to people as a healthier and greener food choice.
Naturally, you can see how misinformation can be started so easily in such cases. As more and more people take up a vegetarian lifestyle, animal product alternatives like soy sound very sustainable. Yet we have to make sure that what we take as facts comes from the least biased sources possible. And two companies who have nothing to do with people’s health and everything to do with their wallets are hardly credible sources.
Hence, Dr. Mercola then continues his article by linking to 14 trusted health studies – science right from the source. Sources of these articles include well-known science journals like the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention and Environmental Health Perspectives.
Here is the summary of health risks he presents based on this research:
In terms of the link between soy isoflavones and lowering cholesterol: “This link is now not supported by many authors or by appropriately designed clinical studies. – NCBI”
In terms of lowering cancer risks: “The role of isoflavones in cancer prevention, particularly of tumours under endocrine control (breast, prostate and others) is again only supported by weak to nonexistent clinical evidence. – NCBI”
In terms of lowering symptoms associated with ageing: “Disturbing data have been reported on potential negative effects of soy isoflavones on cognitive function in the aged, particularly relating to tofu intake. – NCBI”
In terms of lowering cardiovascular risk: “No significant effects on HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, lipoprotein(a), or blood pressure were evident. – NCBI”
Soy can increase risk of bladder cancer
Soy exposure during pregnancy can increase risk of breast cancer in female children
Soy linked to allergies and increased asthma
Dr. Mercola concludes this section by saying that he strongly believes that the risks of consuming soy products far outweigh the benefits.
Dr. Mercola also states that he is not against fermented soy products, which are the ones that have been used for centuries by the Oriental culture, and not the processed soy products that most of the Western world consumes and believes are beneficial for them.
His article then gives facts and figures about soy and why so many people believe soy is a beneficial food product. Now read the following fact carefully:
“Ever since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim for soy foods in 1999 (which said diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease), soy sales have skyrocketed.”
Sound familiar? Perhaps that is why our friends over at HealthCastle think one should be eating 25g of protein per day and living the benefits they mentioned. But when did serious health individuals last take what the FDA says seriously?
He concludes his article with many more insights about the dangers of soy, which if you are interested in eating soy or currently eat soy, you should read yourself here.
What does Evita say?
Okay so there we have it, clearly one medical database is contradicting the other.
Perhaps you do not need to hear my take on it, perhaps based on the above research and write up you have already made up your own mind. Regardless, I would like to take you through a few key points on how to be a critical and discerning consumer when it comes to your health.
First, who are the facts written by? The article on HealthCastle is written by someone who we know nothing about and reviewed by the site founder, a dietician. The article on Mercola is written by Dr. Mercola. Although this makes it more credible, it is not enough as we know that some doctors have their own ideas about health that are not in line with good practice – take the late Dr. Atkins for example.
Secondly, are the facts supported by any research? The article on HealthCastle – no, where as the article on Mercola – yes.
Thirdly, do the parties writing the article have any vested interest for or against the products?As far as HealthCastle, I don’t think so, but one can’t be sure who may be paying the bills behind the scenes and sponsoring certain topics. As far as Dr. Mercola goes, although he does have some products he sells on his sight, this article is not trying to sell anything. Maybe he is for animal products, maybe he isn’t. It is important to note he did not dismiss all soy and gave recommendations for healthy soy products.
In conclusion, I know very well how the Western world takes diets from other cultures that are healthy and messes them up into diets that are unhealthy. Just look at what happened with the Mediterranean diet. Hence, I have no doubt that we have distorted the Oriental purpose of using soy as a healthy food staple. First, we want to eat too much of it—more than the Ancient cultures ever ate on a regular basis. Secondly, we have processed it, and today’s soy comes mainly from Genetically Modified sources, which are nothing short of toxic to our health. For thousands of years there were no artificially processed or genetically modified soy products, which today are widely marketed, and usually the only ones available in stores and restaurants in North America.
My concluding message about soy is that if one is going to eat it, it must come from organic sources, or be organic. This is a must for optimal health. Secondly, while the odd serving of organic tofu or soy milk probably won’t be a big deal to most, Tempeh (fermented soy) should be the only form of this food consumed on any kind of regular basis.
To get the most benefits for your health, regardless of what product is in the spotlight, stay conscious about the information presented to you, look for the whole story, and always question the source of the information you are going to trust.