The Vegetarian/Vegan Protein Problem:
The Dangers of Soy Products such as Tofu
Written by Joachim Bartoll, September 2016
Classic Muscle Newsletter, October 2016 (issue #25)
In my Ketogenic article series, I touched on the “protein problem” with vegetarian or vegan versions of the ketogenic diet. The main culprit is the low protein quality of vegetable protein sources – mainly due to lacking amino acids and containing antinutrients and fiber that block absorption. On average, only about 65 to 75 percent of vegetable proteins are absorbed and used by the body in contrast to 95+ percent of the protein in meat, eggs, fish, and milk-based protein powders. Some vegetable sources, and especially seeds, nuts, beans, legumes and grains, also contain a lot of antinutrients such as phytates (phytatic acid), which blocks absorption of important minerals such as zinc, calcium and iron. Phytates also reduce the digestibility of starches, proteins, and fats. In other words, if you largely get your protein from vegetable sources, this could easily mean that you believe you’re consuming 110 grams of protein from reading nutrition labels and calorie tables, but in reality, you might actually only absorb roughly 75 grams of protein – and thereby putting you at risk for muscle loss. It could also lead to lack of specific important amino acids, which could disrupt enzyme- and/or hormone production further down the road.
While protein quality and protein absorption are a big issue with most vegetables and legumes, the worst problem is that many vegetarians, or vegans, rely on soy products to cover their protein needs.
Soy is actually one of the most commonly genetically modified food in the world. And one of the more popular vegetarian foods, tofu, is made from soybeans, water and a coagulant, or curdling agent. According to most unbiased nutritional experts, soy is not a health food and it does not prevent disease (as falsely advertised by the globalist vegan profiteer agenda). Furthermore, numerous scientific studies link soy to digestive troubles, malnutrition, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, as well as heart disease and cancer.
Soy has simply been put on a pedestal by the food industry since it’s dirt cheap and they make huge profits from putting soy in as many food products as possible.
Let’s take a closer look at Soy and Tofu in particular.
In 1994, the first genetically modified soybean was introduced to the U.S. market by Monsanto. While food prices continue to rise around the world, the availability of non-GMO soybeans is decreasing. More and more Asian and U.S. food manufacturers in Asia turns to genetically modified soybeans, since they will produce greater returns on each soybean. Today, at least 90 percent all soy grown in the United States is genetically modified. This is such an alarmingly high amount that it’s no wonder it’s so challenging to find soy products that are non-GMO. If you live in Europe, consider that the EU import more than 40 million tonnes of soy products each year, primarily from Brazil, the United States and Argentina. In Argentina, more than 98 % of the soybeans are genetically modified.
Due to Monsanto, the leading producer of GMO foods in the U.S., the majority of soy products are made from Monsanto Roundup Ready Soybeans. These soybeans are genetically engineered in such a way that their DNA is changed. The business idea behind this modification is that it makes the soybean plants withstand the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s own herbicide Roundup. They promote and sell the deadliest herbicide known to man, and then they provide genetically modified crops engineered to resist that poison. It’s a win-win for Monsanto.
Genetically modified foods are linked to many health problems because they kill off good bacteria in your gut and also damage the lining of your intestines, causing leaking gut and similar diseases (mainly because of a high content of lectins, one of the plants anti-fungal defense chemicals).
In a 2011 review published in Environmental Sciences Europe, 19 studies of mammals, fed GMO soybeans and corn, were evaluated. The 90-day trials indicate liver and kidney problems as a result of consuming GMO foods. Kidneys were specifically affected by 43.5 percent of all disrupted parameters in male subjects while the liver was disrupted by 30.8 percent for the females 1. It’s actually become harder to find this original study since its publication. Also, a lot of recent studies claim GMO to be perfectly safe. However, if you look into the funding and/or the researchers of these “studies”, they all are connected to the GMO industry. This makes it really tough to wade through the research to find the truth. And many writers and journalists fall short. Since they only read the headline and possibly the abstract – but they rarely look at how the study was made, what interests are involved or who the researchers are (and their funding).
Now, even if you find non-GMO soy products, such like tofu, there’s still plenty of bad stuff to be aware of.
Phytoestrogens, Fat Distribution and Breast Cancer
Soy, and tofu in particular, contains plant-based estrogens known as phytoestrogens. These compounds have an estrogen-like effect on the body as they bind to estrogen receptors. In men this will cause higher estrogen levels and a more “woman-like” fat distribution, especially around hips and legs. In women, they will block your normal estrogen production, which will have devastating effects on body composition, your skin, physical performance and mental health. Phytoestrogens have also been linked to breast cancer. Some scientific research finds that soy might “feed” certain breast cancers since it can behave just like estrogen. It might depend on how much soy is consumed as well as the overall health of the woman, but if you have breast cancer currently, are a survivor of breast cancer, I would definitely avoid tofu and other unfermented soy products entirely.
With that being said, there might be a place for a modest consumption of phytoestrogens if you’re past menopause and have low levels of circulating estrogen, especially if you suffer from bone loss/bone resorption (low bone mineral density). If this would be the case however, I would recommend hormone therapy or phytoestrogens from another source than soy – as well as a diet high in vitamin K2 (MK4 from animals), vitamin D3 (mainly from sun exposure), and vitamin A (retinol from animals).
Thyroid Hormone Disruption
Soy contains the isoflavone genistein, a goitrogenic compound. These goitrogens block thyroid hormone from binding to its receptors and can thus interfere with thyroid hormone production and cause hypothyroidism.
Many parents think they’re making a healthy choice when they opt for soy formula for their babies. Unfortunately, it’s the complete opposite. A study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood shows how the intake of soy products can negatively affect us starting at a very early age, especially for people born with congenital hypothyroidism. As this 2004 study shows, infants fed soy formula have a prolonged increase of thyroid stimulating hormone compared to infants fed non-soy formula 2.
An earlier study carried out in 1994 showed similarly concerning results. A patient with congenital hypothyroidism continued to be “persistently hypothyroid” while on a soy formula diet even though the patient was receiving large doses of L-thyroxine (T4) 3. The thyroid prohormone T4 is a standard conventional treatment for hypothyroidism.
Antinutrients in soy products that interfere with nutrient absorption
Tofu contains phytate in large amounts, which contributes to the firm texture of tofu. Phytate is essentially phytic acid bound to a mineral. Phytate and phytic acid are known antinutrients, and they aren’t the only antinutrients in tofu. Soy products like tofu contain several highly concerning antinutrients, including:
- protease inhibitors – which interfere with protein digestion and have caused malnutrition, poor growth, digestive distress and pancreatitis.
- phytates – which block mineral absorption, causing zinc, iron and calcium deficiencies.
- lectins and saponins – linked to ‘leaky gut’ and other gastrointestinal and immune problems.
- oxalates – which can promote kidney stones, joint problems, and vulvodynia.
When it comes to tofu, cooking it does not seem to reduce the level of phytates and other antinutrients. What does reduce these antinutrients to a lesser degree is fermentation. As such, fermented soy products are s slightly better choice – but still a terrible choice.
Cognitive Problems and Diseases
Soy and tofu have been linked with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, two cognitive health concerns that negatively impact the brain and basic daily functioning. One ongoing study of Japanese Americans residing in Hawaii found a significant statistical relationship between two or more servings of tofu per week and “accelerated aging of the brain.” Additionally, the study subjects who ate tofu in mid-life had lower cognitive function in the later years of their lives. They also had an increased occurrence of both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease 4. These findings are probably a combination of hormone disruption from the phytoestrogens and nutrition deficiencies from the antinutrients.
According to a study published in Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, eating high amounts tofu was linked to a worse memory while eating high amounts of tempeh was shown to improve memory. The researchers hypothesize that tempeh’s high folate levels have protective and counteractive effects on phytoestrogen content 5.
Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D Deficiencies
Soy contains B12 analogs, which are compounds that resemble vitamin B12. However, these B12 analogs cannot be used by your body the way it would use real B12 (the bioconversion is very low and dependent on other co-factors being present). This is why soy foods like tofu can actually contribute to vitamin B12 deficiency, especially among people who avoid animal protein, like vegetarians and vegans.
I’ve mentioned in earlier articles that vitamin D deficiency is a widespread problem. While the previous anti-sun propaganda and sunscreen blockers are the main problem, you probably didn’t know that unfermented soy products contribute to vitamin D deficiency. Soy foods actually increase your body’s vitamin D requirements, which means that consuming soy products like tofu can make a vitamin D deficiency even worse. A study from 2004 actually showed severe vitamin D deficiency (rickets) in some toddlers and young children due to soybean milk and soy formula.
Digestive Problems and Gastrointestinal Issues
Unfermented soy products like tofu contain strong enzyme inhibitors, which block the action of the pancreatic enzyme trypsin along with other proteolytic enzymes needed for protein digestion. This not only disrupts a healthy digestive process and lower protein uptake even further, but can also causes problems with the pancreas.
Most people actually lack in the enzymes necessary to digest unfermented soy foods, similarly to how many people are lactose intolerant. This causes similar problems such as indigestion, gas, bloating/water retention, cold or flu-like symptoms, and a whole slew of gastrointestinal issues.
Many people also have soy sensitivities or even full-blown allergies due not only to the genetic modification of soy, but also due to overexposure since soy is lurking in many more products than we realize.
As I’ve written numerous times in the past, there is not one single reason to consume soy products or being ‘vegan’ – as that is an unsustainable starvation diet hiding behind an economic agenda for controlling the food supply. There is no substitute for animal products, and when it comes to protein; meat, dairy and eggs are vastly superior anything from plants.