That is the question!
And the answer continues to remain controversial. There is a wealth of conflicting information online regarding this subject.
As a cancer survivor, British asian, fitness professional and someone who does not consume animal meat or poultry, the subject of soy in food continues to come up. So let me break it down into as short a piece as I can to give you a general sense of it all in plain English from my perspective.
Some studies promote its health benefits with statements like: Soy’s anti-estrogen properties prevent breast cancer, its fiber content can lower colorectal cancer, and in various stages of prostate cancer soy lowered PSA levels. Here’s one such study: MDAndersonorg
Other pluses for soy include its low fat content and high protein content, making it an efficient nutrient, especially in a vegetarian diet.
Many western articles point to asians having lower occurrences of certain types of cancer, reasoning that asians eat a high amount of soy. They use statistics to prove that the two facts are related. Here’s a WebMD article detailing an example of this theory.
Books like the China Study link an asian diet heavy in soy with health benefits.
Some studies show that soy consumption switches on cancer-forming genes, increasing the rate of cancer cell growth; like this one on breastcancer.org
Others provide studies linking soy to miscarriages, hormonal disruptions, infertility, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction; like this one from Dr. Mercola.
Some studies claim too much soy causes dementia and other brain issues, as well as hair loss.
The Middle Ground:
What’s clear is that the jury is out. This information sounds all too familiar: Wine is good for you, then it’s bad. Fat causes heart attacks, so we must eat nothing but carbs. Oh wait, oops, carbs are bad, now fat is back in fashion! Heard this before?
There are easy guidelines to follow here that can also be mirrored when deciding on your fat, sugar, carbs or alcohol consumption too. The rules are quite simple. In fact, there’s really only one:
DON’T EAT TOO MUCH OF IT!
I knew a middle aged woman in Oklahoma some years ago who was overweight and tried every fad diet possible to lose a few pounds. The only thing she didn’t try was sensible portions and moderation. She ended up doing crazy things like downing an entire bottle of olive oil because she read it was “good for your heart”. True story. Not long after this, she had a heart attack.
As with everything, too much of something is bad. But with soy, this statement rings even more profoundly. In an attempt to give us westerners a miracle low fat, non-meat protein substitute that’s easy to produce, the soy industry has given us a soy mutant monster. Soy protein isolate is a component of soy, literally isolated and multiplied to hulk like levels.
Enthusiastic believers in the asian diet ignore the fact that asians also eat a lot of meats, vegetables, fungi, legumes, fruits……. The point really is to look at the amounts and the ratios. They aren’t knocking back pints of soy milk like it’s going out of fashion.
Additionally, if that soy isn’t organic it may be genetically modified for hardiness to be sprayed with Round Up. This means it has probably also been sprayed with said toxic chemicals you’d never want to set foot near, much less consume.
Even if it’s organic, if it isn’t fermented, it contains high levels of phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that leaches vital nutrients from your body, and blocks the uptake of others. Dr. Mercola’s article details this well, but you can find this information in many forms if you google it. Here’s an article from foodforbreastcancer.com that suggests eliminating soy protein isolate from your diet if you are fighting breast cancer.
With all the back and forth, what is one supposed to believe? Conclusive findings don’t appear to be anywhere near in sight. So for myself, I choose to logic my way around the situation. Here is my deductive reasoning:
- Soy clearly doesn’t actually cure cancer. If it did, we’d all be miraculously cured by now. So there’s no need to start consuming it heavily for its proclaimed health benefits, when I can get my protein from many sources, even if I’m a vegan.
- Asians traditionally don’t eat unfermented soy products without also consuming some form of seafood or seaweed, which neutralized the phytic acid in the soy, making it safe to eat. So probably eating soy protein isolates and other unfermented soy products doesn’t mimic the Asian miracle diet anyway.
- If numerous studies tell you something causes cancer, perhaps it is worth listening to that information and investigating it before jumping under the bus and regretting it later.
I choose to eat organic soy and fermented soy products in moderation. I avoid any foods containing soy protein isolates like the plague; like soy milk and soy burgers. I don’t go near soy beans aka Edamame either. This crop was originally used in between usable crop seasons on fallow land to re-nourish the soil and wasn’t consumed in its bean form. Asians knew it to be poisonous to consume as is. Hence, they developed a way to ferment the bean and make it edible. Here’s an article that I quickly googled referencing this at authorityNutrition.com. Edemame is not fermented! It doesn’t make the cut!
Here is a list of soy based products I personally deem safe:
- Organic Tofu – but I try to make sure I consume some form of seaweed or seafood along with it. It doesn’t have to be much. And I don’t eat it very often, perhaps once a month as my source of protein. I happen to LOVE tofu, so it’s hard not to eat too much of it to be honest!
- Organic Miso – fermented soy paste soup, sometimes with seaweed and tofu.
- Organic Tempeh – Health food stores have a lot of Tempeh burgers/patties to choose from, in various flavors.
- Organic Soy Sauce – a fermented sauce.
- Natto is also a fermented soy product that makes the cut, but I don’t personally like it.
Moderation, moderation, moderation!
Be sensible, read articles, make your own decisions based on more than one source.
I have spent a fortune over the years on Pilates classes even though I have been a certified Pilates instructor for years. Why? The equipment. Home gym style reformers just don’t have the smooth running glide of a clunky home gym version, and space is always an issue with a reformer in your home. Let’s not mention that a decent reformer can run thousands of dollars.
I recently developed a hip injury from sitting in Lotus too much meditating of all things. I have ended up receiving a lot of Physical Therapy for this issue to get back to full health. Pilates reformer as well as Wall Unit / Springboard work became a major factor in my rehabilitation. Quick shout out to Maile Bay at Excel Physical Therapy in San Pedro, CA for her amazing top level diagnosis and treatment regiment btw. I highly recommend this clinic!
Since regular Pilates classes didn’t allow me to focus on my therapy exercises, I decided to make my own Wall Unit at my father’s house, where I’m living for part of the year. It cost me under 100 GBP total for everything I needed to make this unit.
My Wall Unit works just like any other Springboard, with a series of eyelets spaced evenly in pairs, roughly a foot apart, spanning about 6 ft. I have tubes and springs attached to it. I also created a spring bar for core work. I did this with materials I bought from the local hardware store and amazon.
Here’s how I did it:
- I bought two 2×4 planks of wood from the hardware store. Sanded and white washed them. Then attached eyelets in regular intervals on each, making sure to match the levels on both sides. Here’s the link to the eyelets I bought on amazon.co.uk
- I drilled holes in the external weight bearing wall in my bedroom, and attached the two planks of wood, using heavy duty, weight bearing bolts, glued and screwed into the wall. (You can look up the recommended weight allowances for Wall Pilates equipment from various equipment instructional websites, if you aren’t sure of the weight needed.)
- I bought Carabiner Snap Hooks for attaching tubing to wall eyelets also from amazon.co.uk, but you can get these in a hardware store too, or climbing store.
- I bought a cheap exercise Resistance bands kit with removable handles online. There are dozens of kits to choose from, but this kit has a great little selection of handles, different resistance levels and plenty of quick release attachments which came in handy.
- This item was my biggest expense at 46.79 GBP for two springs and I picked carefully. Replacement Pilates bed springs don’t really have a cheaper counterpart you can replace with. I chose to buy 2 medium level resistance springs to use for for all-purpose exercises. I can always buy more if I want, but I haven’t need to. The link above may be out of stock, but you get the idea.
I bought a thick wooden dowel from the hardware store. You can use a broom handle, or anything about that size. I cut the dowel to about 2.5ft to fit my space, and attached an eyelet on each end to fasten carabiners. One dowel will make two. These can be used at the bottom of the wall unit for holding feet or hands in place while doing ab work for example. Or can be used as a spring trapeze attachment. Put a spring on each side and attach the springs to the wall unit using more carabiners.
At less than 100 GBP, my DIY unit may not have all the bells and whistles of commercial versions, but it does the job and you can pick and choose what equipment you spend your money on, based on your needs. Just to compare, here are some commercial Wall Units and pricing. :
The Great Yoga Wall website offers modular systems that you can order all kinds of parts to customize your set up. But it is costly. If you can afford it, it looks like great quality equipment and definitely worthy for professional set ups.
My design allows me to use one spring or band on its own for stability exercises and two together for symmetrical work. I also have a neck traction device from my Chiropractor that can be hung from this unit whenever I need to use it, and its a great place to store my yoga hammock when not in use. So it’s very handy. Here’s a video with some exercises you can do on a Springboard. If you google pilates wall workouts or Pilates Springboard workout, you’ll find more.
Here’s some other DIY Pilates hacks to get a professional reformer experience in your own home:
Try using wash clothes on a wood or tiled floor or gliding discs to mimic a reformer. There are lots of great youtube workouts available to give you ideas. Here’s a couple to get you started: Wash cloth Workout by FitWasted and Home Full Body Toning Wash Rag/Glider Workout with More Than Mrs.
There are dozens of options for Exercise Gliders on Amazon.co.uk, like this one. The same discs are available in US on amazon.com for $14.99 with Prime shipping. Check for the double sided ones – smooth plastic on one side for gliding on carpet, and fabric on the other, for gliding on hard floors.
If you really want a reformer, but just can’t afford one and/or don’t have the space, a Total Gym is the closest, best piece of equipment to give you a similar experience….and not just because Chuck Norris said so! Using it flat, it can mimic non-resistance reformer exercises, and inclining it progressively will give you more resistance. Of course, it can’t do everything, but it gets pretty good results, can be bought new cheaply and/or probably even cheaper second-hand. And it packs away under your bed or against a wall very nicely. Here’s a couple of links for some on amazon, but I’d shop around…there are many models and prices:
Cristopeit Sport TE1 Exerciser, a cheap version of a Total Gym. Available on amazon.co.uk
We’ve all been told to supplement with Folic Acid by a doctor, nutritionist or other health professional, especially if you’re female and trying to start a family. As a woman doing just that, my fertility specialist as well as my general practitioner both recommended I start supplementing. Both recommended Folic Acid as an 800mg per day supplement, in addition to fortified foods and natural sources.
However, it doesn’t take much digging to realize that Folic Acid isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. So here’s the quick down low on what’s really going on, and why you probably should throw away those Folic Acid pills and multivitamins.
Folic Acid was first synthesized in 1943 and became mandatory in food fortification in 1998 in the USA, after being believed to prevent neural defects (NTDs) in newborns. It has since become a staple supplement for all women of child baring age providing support for red blood cell development, reducing levels of homocysteine in the blood, and supporting the nervous system. Instances of NTDs have indeed gone down as a result of all this Folic Acid making the rounds. Other signs of Folate deficiency are:
- Soreness/ulcers on the tongue
- Skin pigment changes
However, when you ingest Folic Acid, it undergoes a process of reduction and methylation in the liver. Taking in too much of this supplement leaves unprocessed levels of it in your system that may cause harm. Studies from countries that do not fortify food with Folic Acid conclude a link to Folic Acid and numerous cancers, including prostate and colon cancer. Additionally, excess unprocessed Folic Acid in the system appears to mask vitamin B12 deficiency. In studies, combined B12 deficiency and Folic Acid overdosing has led to diagnosis of cognitive decline and anemia. Check out this article by Chris Kresser for more details:
So what’s a girl to do? It turns out that Folic Acid is the synthetic version of Folate. Folate is the term for a group of water soluble b-vitamins otherwise known as B9. It is the natural tetrahydrofolate derivative of the supplement Folic Acid, and is found naturally occurring in food, unlike Folic Acid, which is an oxidised synthetic compound. Am I hammering that point home yet? Folate is naturally occurring and bio-available when ingested, Folic Acid is neither.
This article from Paleo for Women, claims that Folic acid cannot cross the placenta to the fetus, the way natural folate can. So a Folate supplement would benefit your unborn child too.
Natural Sources of Folate:
Romaine lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, turnips, cauliflower, beets, lentils, chickpeas, all types of animal liver, greens, parsley, okra, mushrooms, lima beans, papaya, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, raspberries, squash, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, avocado.
…and here’s a nice article on Foods high in Folate on healthline.com.
If you can’t get enough from your natural diet, you can still supplement with Folate. There are many brands making a Folate dietary supplement. My favorite is Solgar’s Folate 800 MCG (as Metafolin). I use this product as it is suitable for vegetarians. Here’s a link to get it on amazon.com .
Look for the terms “5-methyltetrahydrofolate” or “5-MTHF” on the bottle. Avoid labels that just read Folic Acid, and avoid multivitamins that contain Folic Acid too.
As an ex-athlete, Personal Trainer, cancer survivor and Yoga fanatic, I encounter lots of comments and questions on the subject of fasting from friends and clients, and want to give you a little insight into my experience with this as an avid faster myself.
Fasting has had controversial reviews over the years, mostly from Western thinking industries, as is the case with fitness professionals, whose goal it is to drive that metabolism every waking moment of the day, with small meals frequently to maximise your calorie burning potential and make sure your body doesn’t eat up that precious muscle tone you’ve worked so hard to get. Of course, these are all valid and accurate things to do, and I myself recommend doing all of it, most of the time.
But about twice a year, it’s good to reset that immune system and give your body a chance to flush out toxins, repair itself, produce new cells and start fresh. That’s where the fast comes in. New scientific studies are emerging reporting that fasting “kick-starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells, which fight off infection”. Check out this article from the British Telegraph on the findings.
Something fasting is NOT about, is weight loss. Weight loss inherently happens from a fast, but it shouldn’t be the reason you are fasting, and fasting should not be attempted if you are underweight, or currently fighting illness. Suffice to say, after you have fasted, it’s likely you’ll gain back every pound you lost in short order once your diet has been reinstated. Using fasting as a way of crash dieting is dangerous and foolhardy.
Fasting is linked with improvements in mental clarity, as well as boosting or resetting your immune system and reducing cell inflammation – a major factor in fighting things like cancer, hormonal issues and digestive concerns. Some radical studies claim that long fasts can cure arthritis and many other diseases. However, I don’t personally recommend trying this without consulting professional fasting experts.
But what about my precious muscle tone you might ask? Aren’t I going to hit the caveman starvation level, rock bottom metabolism that everyone talks about? Isn’t my body going to shut down? Not to worry. The benefits of fasting are amazing. Although it is true that you’ll experience SOME muscle loss during a fast, the rate at which it happens is insanely slow, at 0.2kg per day after full Ketosis is reached (at around 3 days). You need to have some level of body reserves to be able to fast and endure muscle loss. If you’re too thin, a competitive athlete or body builder, a water fast might not be for you, and you should probably consider other options like a juice fast. Check out this article for more details.
Basically, for the minuscule amount of muscle tone you will lose in a short water fast, you’ll get so many more benefits. Water fasting 48hrs for women, and 72 hrs for men initiates Ketosis, a fuel burning system your body converts to in times of glucose shortage. Our brains and organs need glucose, usually stored in the blood, supplied by daily intakes of food to maintain our bodies. During a fast, the body switches to using Ketones as a fuel source instead. This happens already during high level workouts, and also during sleep in non-fasting individuals. It’s a naturally occurring process. It is recommended that you fast between 3-21 days for optimum results. Below 3 days, and your body won’t have reached Ketosis. After 3 days, every added day you fast allows your body to consume more dead cells and junk to convert to fuel, cleaning your body. Once you stop your fast, your body will create fresh white blood cells, resetting your immune system.
Self-monitoring during fasting:
You can monitor how well your fast is going by using pH and Ketone strips. These will help you in with knowing when your body has starting Ketosis and how acidic your body is. (The 2nd phase of fasting is acidosis, a stage when your body becomes very acidic and is trying to eliminate toxins.) Knowing when you are in Ketosis will tell you how many days you are benefiting from the process. After a fast, continuing to monitor these stats will help you know when you’re back to normal. For my last fast, I used Perfect Keto strips and Just Fitter pH strips. Below is the data I collected from the fast. The data represents both my data and my boyfriend’s. For context, I am a 5ft tall pescatarian weighing 140 lbs. My boyfriend is a 6ft tall meat eater weighing 220 lbs.
As you can see, I reached Ketosis early on Day 2, while Rick reached it some 12 hrs later. After we ate again, I remained in Ketosis the rest of the day, while Rick immediately dropped out of it according to these numbers. It’s worth noting that water consumption may effect the results. Notice also how Rick’s pH is more Alkaline than mine. He has a healthier normal pH than me. I tend to run acidic, a trait apparently shared by all who get a cancer diagnosis incidentally. I generally eat foods to lower my acidity but while fasting it is normal to become more acidic, so it’s no cause for alarm.
If you want to learn more about fasting, I recommend Dr. Fuhrman’s book, Fasting and Eating for Health, available on amazon, from which the second article above has also quoted from.
If you want to learn about long fasts, up to 40 days, check out this article about The Five Stages of Fasting siting the work of Dr. Nikolayev including Russian case studies. The article has extreme claims and I urge you to consult a health professional with this specialty to supervise you should you wish to try a fast like this. If anyone reading this has ever fasted and has a story to share about their experience, I’d love to hear from you.
Before your fast:
Since everyone is different, your preparation and activities during a fast will vary, but here’s some tips from my own experience with it.
Choose a time to water fast when you won’t be under high stress, working a lot, under intense physical stress or subject to lots of social events. Your body’s response to fasting can include feeling weak, feeling exhilarated, having no energy, having lots of energy, sleeping better, having insomnia, finding mental clarity and needing to rest a lot. Until you’ve done it yourself, you won’t know what to expect. Apparently, if you are especially over weight, you experience increased levels of energy. I myself experienced weakness and lethargy most of the time during my first fast, but the second time I did it, I experienced clarity of mind and no feelings of hunger for 4 days. My body didn’t purge as expected either. I basically had a pretty uneventful time of it, and just worked, walked my dog and did Tai Chi throughout the fast with no problems. The third time I did it, I had a terrible time Days 2 and 3 and couldn’t handle a 4th day due to work commitments and had to eat again. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t sleep, felt like my head was burning up but my body was cold, had crazy acidosis, with stomach cramps and nausea the whole time. I think the changes in how I feel during a fast are to do with how toxic my constitution is when I begin. But this is a personal observation about the way my own body responds to fasting. Yours may do something entirely different.
Other side effects I’ve experienced are fat loss with improved muscle tone, decreased bloating, and lowered cell inflammation. I also believe that with my history of cancer, the resetting of my white blood cells is crucial to my longevity.
For my first fast, I chose to fast Friday-Sunday, to avoid social activities or stress. By my second fast, I chose week days, so I could eat on the weekend. It’s largely psychological, so pick dates that you know are going to be easiest for you and your schedule.
Before fasting you may want to prepare a little. You can graduate into your fast by eating only fruit and vegetables for 1-2 days prior, or even just freshly prepared fruit/veg juices. But you don’t NEED to do this. I think it helps to eliminate at least meat/dairy a day or so before fasting, so your body isn’t so in shock when you drop to just water.
During your fast:
Definitely stay away from food related things. You’ll find yourself wanting to eat your face lotion if it smells nice.
Try to stay busy. Read, meditate, go for walks. Just don’t talk about food! There’s nothing worse than trying to fast if you live with other people who are not fasting. Your sense of smell becomes heightened and the smell of any food whatsoever becomes the best thing you’ve ever smelled. It becomes a moment by moment battle to stay on goal with the smell of delicious food wafting around hours after it has been cooked.
Don’t brush your teeth with toothpaste and don’t oil pull. While on a fast, don’t put anything in your mouth that will stimulate your digestive juices. Brush with water and floss with non-flavored products. This is probably the most unbearable part of fasting for me. My mouth feels horrid. For the first 2 days, it just feels dirty. It is reported that after 4-5 days, your body starts expelling toxins through your skin and mouth. You can experience boils and your tongue will go white with gunk that your body is eliminating. After a couple of days of this, it goes away, and you begin to feel fresher and very alert.
Don’t take a hot bath. I’ve experienced doing this myself, and there are reports of similar responses from others describing dizziness, blindness, palpitations, nausea and shortness of breath. The experience is all temporary, but not pleasant, so best to avoid. If you do experience this, just lay down, take deep breathes and ride it out.
DRINK LOTS OF WATER. Your body will start to die if you don’t drink enough water! I can’t stress this enough. Water is needed to flush out the toxic waste your body is producing. You also need it just to survive. Sip water constantly throughout the day if you can. I like to heat up water and drink it as if it is tea. My partner enjoys ice water. It’s said room temperature is best, but do what feels good to keep you on track.
Fasting can make me feel a little nauseous at times. Drinking water can make it feel worse. Usually this means I’m doing a lot more cleaning in my body than usual, and I need to stick with it. If I’ve been getting any acid reflux and heart burn, the nauseousness seems worse during the fast. It does however eliminate the acid reflux and heart burn once I return to normal, and my bloating subsides.
Exercise if you feel like it. I exercise gently, as I am generally weak in the legs during a fast. I stick to walking and Tai Chi. My partner will run and walk. He tends to be someone who feels pretty awesome on a fast. You can aid ketosis during a water fast by exercising, so it is worth doing if you have the energy. I suggest you don’t over-do it until you can safely say you understand your own body’s response to fasting.
Listen to your body’s signs to end the fast. Despite how your energy levels feel, your body may tell you when it is time to stop. Let’s not mistake this with your mind’s lack of will to continue. Understand the difference in yourself. Don’t fight your body when it lets you know to end it.
After your fast:
On completing your fast, it is important to gently reintroduce your body to food. Remember, your usual fuel burning systems have converted. You need to give your body time to change them back.
On day 1, drink something like freshly squeezed orange juice to give yourself a good vitamin hit, and introduce your stomach to regular fuel again. Do this first, and wait several hours, continuing to drink lots of water. Then introduce other fruit and vegetable juices throughout the day. Listen to your body. You may be able to convert back to solids by early evening.
On day 2, you can return to solids. I recommend sticking to fruits, vegetables and decaffeinated teas. I enjoy baking a plain sweet potato to sooth my stomach as it gets back to work again. I also like plenty of miso soup, as it is thin and gentle on my stomach.
On day 3, you’re back normal….whatever normal is for you.
If you’re considering a permanent change to your diet, like converting to vegetarian or vegan, doing so after a fast can be a great time to do it. You’ve cleaned up your system and reduced your habitual cravings already, making it easier to stick to your new dietary goals.
If you failed to reach your fasting goals…..not to worry, there’s always another chance to try again in a few months. And the next time around, you’ll know more about yourself, so you’ll be better prepared.
Good luck and enjoy the experience.
(Last update on 10/23/17)