My coffee addiction has taken a new direction: soy cafe au lait. For those that don’t speak barista (I only do from years in the industry), that’s a cup half filled with hot coffee, and half filled with steamed soy milk. Mmmm. If you haven’t had soy milk before, it’s kind of a nutty, creamy, extra delicious experience that tastes a bit like autumn in your mouth. There’s texture (unlike non-fat milk) and there’s a flavor it truly masters as its own. Plus protein and calcium that can’t be beat. Not a bad way to get your caffeine fix taken care of.
Of course, nothing good is free. Soy milk comes with a price: fear. There’s been a lot of speculation about whether soy milk is in fact, a carcinogen. Boo. Well, in this episode of Runner’s Delight, we’ll be doing a little peeksie at what the big-wigs (and small wigs) are saying. And hey, check out if soy milk is actually a good recovery beverage as well! Let’s do this.
The Pros of the Soy
First, a quick overview of why soy is even breaking wind at all: soy is a kick-butt alternative to milk products whilst still retaining a lot of milk’s nutritious qualities. So if you’re lactose intolerant, you suddenly have options! Soy milk is yummy on cereal. It makes a spritely “ice cream.” Get extra crazy and try soy cheese. Basically, soy is a nice way to avoid actual milk.
Okay, why soy milk is rocking the house. It’s got less fat than whole-milk (heck, what doesn’t?) and it’s loaded with calcium, protein, and iron, plus a host of vitamins. As an added bonus, according to UC Berkeley’s esteemed Wellness Letter, “Soy isoflavones may also act as antioxidants and have other beneficial effects on blood vessels and the heart.” Heart health and cancer-reducing tendencies in one? Nice.
Other benefits of soy include decreasing the risk of prostate cancer, remedying the symptoms of menopause, and battling osteoporosis by promoting greater bone mass.
The Cons of the Soy*
Soy milk is so potentially nefarious he even has a website devoted entirely to the concern he stirs up: soymilkdangers.com. Unfortunately, the author of soymilkdangers.com freely admits he’s not an expert in the field of soy milk’s murky past, so I had to rule him out as a credible source.
Okay, why soy milk is rocking the boat. There’s the processing issue. Many soy products, including some soy milks and fake-meat soy-based alternatives are being made by “alkaline…a petroleum-based solvent; bleaching, deodorizing, and pumping them [soybeans] full of additives; heat-blasting and crushing them into flakes” according to Dianna Gregg, author of The Hidden Dangers of Soy. Sort of the opposite of healthy-sounding. Anytime “bleaching” is involved, I tend to be wary (yes, even of flour. Heck, even of the laundry).
So the process of making many (though not all**) soy products is a little sketch. What else? The more we consume soy products, the more research has been shedding light on possible health-related issues. Thyroid and reproductive effects top the list of concerns, with allergies and learning disorders taking up the not-too-distant rear. Kaayla Daniel reports that soy is a thyroid inhibitor, stating:
The United Kingdom’s Committee on Toxicology has identified several populations at special risk: infants on soy formula, vegans who use soy as their principal meat and dairy replacements, and men and women who self-medicate with soy foods and/or isoflavone supplements in an attempt to prevent or reverse menopausal symptoms, cancer, or heart disease.
In other words, people who are using a lot of soy are blocking their thyroids from working quite right. Ain’t that a can of worms.
And soy is being cited as reducing testosterone levels, meaning children who imbibe soy “are at greatest risk of inadequate reproductive development. The effect on boys is to reduce testosterone levels and sperm count. Male reproductive growth is not the lone victim. Girls may develop reproductive tract abnormalities, leading to infertility,” as noted by Kay Miranda who writes for eHow.com.
Hmm. Soy’s not looking so squeaky clean.
Soy + Exercise = ?
Honestly, there’s not a whole lot out there on soy’s possible exercise benefits. If we wanted to get into the protein shake debate about whey versus soy versus casein…well, there’s a lot to be said. But in terms of recovery or as a pre-workout pick-me-up, nothing really is being highlighted in the wide world of soy. In my incredibly humble opinion, I do appreciate soy milk as a source of protein, and I do feel more energetic late into the day since I’ve been soy-cafe au laiting myself. But I highly doubt that’s all the soy’s doing.
So what we have here seems to be a case of inconclusiveness on all fronts. Soy is definitely healthy for you in some respects, but it’s unclear as to whether those benefits outweigh the potential negatives. And as for exercise, same deal: not enough research has been collected and analyzed to give us really impacting results.
My two cents? All in moderation. Don’t make soy your only source of nutrients (just like sunshine can’t be the only place you get vitamin D); but don’t eschew soy, either.
* Writing that made me imagine soy as a con-artist who is sneaking around swindling people out of their money. Or maybe he’s doing less financially based cons and is more of a trickster…
** Miso, tempeh and pure tofu are among the non-processed soy products that aren’t full of additives and other strange culinary experiments.