Why Is Soy Bad For You?
The father of modern medicine said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
That was Hippocrates, if you’re wondering…
And that’s great advice…the only problem here is all of the confusion associated with modern-day food products and trying to figure out what’s good for you and what isn’t.
More than once I’m sure you’ve discovered one of your favorite “health foods” actually isn’t healthy at all.
And one of the biggest disappointments when it comes to food as medicine is being confronted with the harm associated with soy.
Years ago everyone was switching to soy.
Doctors were saying it was good for your heart. Then the evidence indicating it wasn’t all that good for you began to emerge (1).
So what exactly does soy do in the body?
As Dr Josh Axe notes, soy presents these problems (2):
- [Contains] Denatured proteins – when heated, proteins and enzymes are destroyed in the manufacturing process, which is one causative factor of the all-too-common soy intolerance or allergy.
- Goitrogens – known to potentially decrease thyroid production.
- Hemagglutinin – red blood cell clotting agent that can cause a decrease in oxygen in your blood cells.
- High phytic acid – shown to reduce the mineral content in our bodies.
- Phytoestrogens/isoflavones – human estrogen imposters linked to hormone imbalance
- Trypsin inhibitors – chemicals that slow down pancreatic enzymes and interfere with protein digestion.
It has other harmful effects on the body, but that's just listing a few.
So when confronted with that information I’m sure you can conclude you’ve got enough of reasons to avoid soy.
But what about Soy Lecithin?
It’s a common ingredient in countless food products on the market, so is it really that bad for you?
Let’s find out.
First off, you need to know what lecithin is.
Lecithin is really just a catch-all term to describe certain fatty structures that are present in both animal and plant tissue.
Back in the day (you know, when dinosaurs roamed and people walked uphill both ways to school), we got lecithin from egg yolk.
Since then, it’s been isolated from a wide variety of sources. These include rapeseed oil (Canola), cottonseed oil, milk, lnd sunflower, among others.
And if you’re wondering what it’s used for, I have an answer for that, too.
Lecithin (all kinds) is used as an emulsifier.
Without getting technical here, emulsifiers are used to help break down fats so they can bond with water.
Many industries use emulsifiers. The beauty industry uses them to make lotions thick and luxurious. And it’s also got a wide variety of medicinal, industrial, and even food industry uses (cooking sprays, metal processing, pill formation).
At the end of the day, it can work to transform the makeup of fatty acids and make them easier to spread, stick, and even easier to digest.
As you might be able to gather, soy lecithin is an extract from soybean oil.
The reason it’s used in so many foods is because it has a unique way of making many foods uniform in texture and appearance. It’s cheap too, which is another reason so many food producers rely on it.
Now, even though soy lecithin is made of soy, it doesn’t necessarily have the same properties regular soy has.
Kind of like how 2 year-olds and 40 year-olds have different “properties”, if you will.
Why Soy Lecithin Isn’t Necessarily as Dangerous as Regular Soy
So, one thing to understand about soy lecithin is it doesn’t resemble regular soy in chemical makeup. Regular, or unfermented soy, is the “bad” kind of soy.
Fermented soy isn’t as bad, and I’ll touch on that in a later article.
The biggest reason soy is a problem is because of its protein composition.
These proteins are what act antagonistically to the body.
While soy lecithin is derived from soy, it has been stripped of many of the harmful proteins contained in unfermented soy products.
This means that it’s likely much safer than regular old soy.
In fact, it’s listed as “Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)” by the (FDA).
I should admit even if it has a glowing recommendation from the FDA, but that’s not a great reason to trust it completely. Yes, the allergen rating of lecithin is very, very low, but metabolites from lecithin have appeared in the victims of heart attacks and stroke (3a), so there is some reason to suspect it to be harmful.
There are more than a few studies showing soy lecithin can have some pretty nasty effects on your health.
Drugs.com notes the following potential side effects that are encountered when it’s included in your diet. (3b)
Nausea, stomach pain, mild skin rash, bloating, diarrhea, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat.
And, one study noted continued and daily consumption of soy lecithin could affect your neurochemistry negatively.
The journal of Developmental Psychobiology writes, “The results indicate that dietary soy lecithin preparation enrichment during development leads to behavioral and neurochemical abnormalities in the exposed offspring.”(4)
But, before you throw the baby out with the bathwater (or your chocolate out with your mayo), you need to know something.
These test subjects (rats) were fed a diet consisting of 2%-5% soy lecithin which is an amount far above what you would consume in a normal diet.
So, it doesn’t necessarily mean lecithin is going to be a detriment to your health.
On the other hand, there’s one more glaring problem associated with soy lecithin, and that is most of it is GMO.
And with the amount of reports on the harms associated with GMO foods it’s yet another reason to be wary of it…
But, There Are Surprising Benefits of Soy Lecithin
One of the first things scientists have been able to find to be true about soy lecithin is it has a remarkable ability to help normalize health levels of cholesterol.(5)
As the journal, Cholesterol, noted in a study (6):
“One soy lecithin capsule (500mg/RP-Sherer) was administrated daily. One-two months before the treatment beginning, blood samples were collected for total lipids and cholesterol fractions analysis. The results showed a reduction of 40.66% and 42.00% in total cholesterol and of 42.05% and 56.15% in LDL [bad cholesterol] cholesterol after treatment for one and two months, respectively. A significant reduction in total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol concentrations was observed during the first month of treatment, suggesting that the administration of soy lecithin daily may be used as a supplemental treatment in hypercholesterolemia.
And the benefits don’t just stop there.
Lecithin can help with the following conditions:
- High Cholesterol
- Age-related memory loss
- Skin disorders
- Gall bladder problems
- Liver disorders
One more thing that makes lecithin a pretty stellar health supplement is how much choline it contains.
Choline is instrumental in the process of methylation which I wrote about extensively here.
If you’ll remember, methylation is the process in which methyl groups are transformed from their “original form” into their end stage and “useable forms.” A vital process for human development, without methylation taking place, numerous disorders could develop.
And lecithin has choline which helps with methylation.
So by way of logical deduction, lecithin can by extension help with this vital process.
BUT, it’s definitely not going to be the most effective element used to spur on the methylation process.
Here’s The Bottom Line on Soy Lecithin
Yes, it’s soy.
And yes, most of it is GMO.
So most lecithin has that working against it.
On the other hand, if you can get pure, organic lecithin, then it won’t likely present many health problems, and it may even help keep cholesterol levels balanced and promote methylation.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend supplementing with it.
Nor would I worry all that much eating food that contains it either. By sticking to whole foods (greens, organic meats, etc.) you won’t have to worry about consuming dangerous levels of lecithin.
Ultimately, you can relax with lecithin in this mix (nice little pun there don’t you think?) and eat it without worry.