So Your Company Has the One and Only Healthy Soy Shake? Prove It to Me!

Apr 11, 2014

This week I got a flurry of emails about a  “unique new soy shake” that supposedly has all the benies of soy with none of the risks.   These writers state they “love” their particular product and tell me it’s “a whole soy-based beverage powder that’s completely healthy and natural and made from organic, not GMO soy.”  And they want me to endorse this amazing soy product.   Supposedly there are no health dangers whatsoever because it comes from a “rare company that has integrity” and  is manufactured with a “special process” that is “unique and different.”  This “special process” is even  described as “a gentle process that protects the valuable phytonutrients in soy.

Is this possible?   I don’t think so!   And, yes,  I’ve written about this topic before, actually several times before.   But the letters don’t stop!    So here we go again!

Nearly all these letter writers assume the dangers of soy to be “the result of the poor processing methods other companies use.”   Many plead with me  to share  the good news that Brand X or Y  is a good and healthy product that not only tastes delicious but cures cancer, heart disease, depression, leads to weight loss, and improves performance everywhere from the athletic field to the boardroom to the bedroom.  [As the Naughty Nutritionist, I would certainly like that last to be true, but the evidence is sparse indeed!   Indeed soy has a longstanding reputation as being a downer in that department!]

Since The Whole Soy Story was published in 2005 I have received hundreds of such letters, many of which pertain to MLM companies though others refer to the assorted shakes powders sold in supermarkets, health food stores, health clubs and so forth. When people contact any of these companies about the dangers of soy, the responses they get back are virtually interchangeable except for the company name.   Supposedly their products are “processed differently” from the competition, using “a unique and secret process” that makes soybeans both safe and healthy.

My thoughts are this:  organic soybeans are certainly safer than GMO soybeans, as there are serious dangers to all GMO foods, soy, corn or whatever.  GMO soy contains higher and more resistant levels of protease inhibitors, among other toxins.

Whole soybeans are also better than soy protein isolate and other fractionated ingredients as this choice will minimize some harmful processing methods, particularly the use of hexane to split the bean.  It is also possible that some of the other processing methods might be gentler. For example, the process might involve alkaline baths with a lower pH than is used by some commercial companies. Gentler processing methods could conceivably result in lower levels of the toxins lysinalanines and nitrosamines.

That said, I find it highly unlikely that the manufacturers of any of these products have removed the dangerous estrogenic isoflavones. Unless the companies use alcohol extraction, the isoflavones will not be removed. In fact these companies don’t want to remove the isoflavones because they all boast about their “health effects” and claim that their unique product somehow has all the benefits and none of the dangers of isoflavones.  This, of course, is impossible.

Saponins will also be present in any soybean product that has not been alcohol extracted.   Saponins are components found in soybeans that  can bind with cholesterol and damage cell membranes, leading to digestive troubles and other ills. Not surprisingly, these are marketed as healthy “all natural” cholesterol lowerers, bile acid reducers and cancer preventers and curers.

These shake powder products most likely also contain a full complement of protease inhibitors (which interfere with protein digestion), phytates (which inhibit mineral absorption), lectins (which can cause blood cell clumping), and oxalates (linked to a multitude of health problems, including kidney stones and vulvodynia). As far as I know, no modern process yet invented can remove all of these things.   What’s needed to eliminate or deactivate the  majority of them is old-fashioned fermentation, the traditional method used to make miso, natto and tempeh.  Such foods eaten in a richly varied diet are healthy and nutritious. But these are NOT the soy ingredients put into shake powders.

When I inform people of the above, they usually trot out letters from their companies assuring them that said problems are greatly exaggerated and the work of fear-mongering anti soy people.  Or those problems are real, a problem with other products, but uniquely taken care of completely by them.    My  response is:   Please write your company and ask them to send reports from independent laboratories proving that these antinutrients and toxins have been largely eliminated.  This is what will convince me, not claims that their “special, secret, patented and unique process” does this work.

Over the past ten years, I have reviewed numerous soybean processing manuals and seen many patent applications. I have yet to see any evidence that this can be done.  Rather many years of USDA studies show it cannot.   I discuss these processing issues thoroughly in The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food, particularly in Chapters 4-12.  Given the fact that manufacturers cannot get rid of them,  isoflavones, protease inhibitors, phytates, saponins and other antinutrients and toxins have been elevated from devils into angels and are being marketed as health promoting.  They are not.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend  soy shake products based on “claims.”  Show me the evidence.

For more about the dangers of soyfoods, read my book The Whole Soy Story. Thanks.

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