To Soy or Not to Soy?

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.

The Good:

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.

The Bad:

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.

SoybeansWith 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.

Book Review – “Dying To Be Me” by Anita Moorjani

Anita Moorjani's "Dying To Be Me". Hayhouse.
Anita Moorjani’s “Dying To Be Me”. Hayhouse.

“Dying To Be Me” is Anita Moorjani’s true account of her battle with cancer, her near-death experience (NDE) and the events surrounding that event. The most compelling parts of the book being about her NDE, where she claims to have died, experienced another realm, and chosen to come back, knowing that she would fully heal within days, even though her 4 yr battle with cancer had left her physical body with Stage 4 Lymphoma that had shut down her organs, produced massive skin legions, and developed into multiple lemon sized tumors throughout her body, leaving her in a coma. Her doctors were just waiting around for her to die, her family surrounding her in her dying moments, expecting the worst.

This book is for anyone who is open to unconventional, nonreligious ideas about what lies beyond this world after we die. If you identify strongly with one religion, Anita’s words may offend or horrify you. However, I don’t discourage you from reading it if this pertains to you – even Moorjani herself doesn’t discourage the means by which you achieve happiness and experience oneness, stating that meditation or prayer can aid in reaching both. But she does step outside the boundaries of all conventional religion with both her opinions and her NDE account. She also talks about the confines of religion preventing its practitioners from finding happiness and oneness.  I for one resonated with her opinions and found her NDE recount intriguing, provoking and inspiring.

Moorjani recounts experiencing a oneness with the universe while in her NDE. She claims that it was like waking from a dream, leaving her physical body and becoming one with everyone and everything, transcending time and space. She claims that she knew about everything that pertained to her, including where around the world her family members were and what they were doing….what the doctor in another room was saying about her to her husband….all facts that were later known to be accurate.

She also talks about feeling the essence of her loved ones that had passed on around her. She could feel them and became them, understanding everything they felt all at once. She could see other lives she had lived, in another life time, though she says linear time didn’t exist as we know it in our physical bodies, so it was as if she was living other lives all at once.

The biggest take away her book reveals, is the importance and strength of love. She says that in her NDE she felt an overwhelming sense of love. A universal love that transcends everything. She says that love accepted her unconditionally. That this love is God. That God is all of us, because we are all one. The oneness and love she felt IS God. She basically claims that we are all part of the universal love. Our essence or spirit, or soul, whichever one you chose to identify with, goes back to this realm of pure unconditional love when our physical bodies are no more. I found this a consoling condition to look forward to, as someone who previously questioned the many seemingly nonsensical versions of life after death that most religions have to offer.

It’s hard to find just one quote to do her words about her NDE justice, but in her words, this is part of the experience:

“The further outward I expanded, the less unusual it felt to be in this miraculous state – in fact, I had no awareness of it being out of the ordinary. It all seemed perfectly natural to me at the time. I continued to be fully aware of every detail of every procedure that was being administered to me, while to the outside world I appeared to be in a coma.

 I continued to sense myself expanding further and further outward, drawing away from my physical surroundings. It as as though I were no longer restricted by the confines of space and time, and continued to spread myself out to occupy a greater expanse of consciousness. I felt a sense of freedom and liberation that I’d never experienced in my physical life before. I can only describe this as the combination of a sense of joy mixed with a generous sprinkling of jubilation and happiness. It stemmed from being released from my sick and dying body, a feeling of jubilant emancipation from all the pain that my illness had caused me.

 As I continued to plunge deeper into the other realm, expanding outward, becoming everyone and everything, I felt all my emotional attachments to my loved ones and my surrounding slowly fall away. What I can only describe as superb and glorious unconditional love surrounded me, wrapping me tight as I continued to let go. The term unconditional love really doesn’t do justice to the feeling, as these words have been overused to the point of having lost their intensity. But the physical battle I’d fought for so very long had finally released its strong hold on me, and I had a beautiful experience of freedom.”

(P. 65 –  2012, 1st Etd.)

Moorjani was raised Hindu, in an Indian family living in Hong Kong, surrounded by Chinese and British ex-pats. Her upbringing was a cultural and religious mash up that led to her confusion and fear of the world and everything in it. She attributes a diagnosis of Stage 2 Lymphoma on her fear of cancer among other things, having watched her best friend and a family member suffer through aggressive cancer treatment. She speaks candidly about her religious conflict in the first few chapters of the book, even telling the story of her unsuccessful brush with arranged marriage.

She blames fear for manifesting disease in all of us. She talks about how to “live your life fearlessly”, not depending on approval from anyone, including yourself. That you have nothing to actually prove to yourself at all. That the universe created you perfectly already. You are here for a purpose that will manifest itself to you without you having to pull teeth to find it. In fact, she recommends following your heart, doing only things that make you happy, forgetting worries about money and success and peer approval, and allowing your heart to tell you what you need out of this life. Beyond this life, nothing you do will make you less loved or change where you end up – no heaven and hell, no karma, or whatever you want to call it. She talks about Heaven being a state, not a place.

The book wraps up with a Q&A from some of her many live talks, trying to further express the experience and the lessons she learned in her NDE. From her perspective, she talks about her experience being like that of a blind man who has never seen, getting to finally see, then losing his sight again. Now that he has seen, he remembers what it felt like, though he can’t access that sense anymore. Throughout the book she does her best to use analogies like this to express what she deems an experience near impossible to recount in words.

What is clear though, is that the experience opened up a new found wisdom and clarity for Anita that has allowed her to enjoy her life to the fullest, appreciate it and spread the word of love and acceptance, and her message of oneness to thousands across the world – Not to mention it having been the moment she made a miraculous recovery from certain death.

I found the book an infectious and easy read. I literally didn’t put it down from cover to cover, taking a day to finish it. However, its the type of book you’ll want to pick up again, maybe highlight, maybe make notes in. I had planned to pass the book along to a friend on completion, but have since changed my mind. I will be keeping my copy close at hand, and will be buying additional copies to distribute to anyone who I think will give Anita’s words the time and energy they deserve.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an open mind… and if this woman and her incredible story interest you further, here’s a video of her talking at TED: