Ok, let’s talk about soy.
If you are vegetarian or vegan I’m sure you come across soy products fairly often, especially in “substitute products” like veggie burgers or vegan butter. For those of you who are not vegetarian or vegan, you are bound to eat soy products just as often. One common soy product found many foods from sweet to savory is soybean oil, a cheap alternative to butter. Check the ingredients of some items in your kitchen, I guarantee you'll find it somewhere!
Every now and then I run into an enticing recipe containing tofu, but those recipes are quickly disregarded. It’s not just tofu; I started avoiding most soy products to the best of my ability about a year ago. I went back to school and, by default, started eating foods containing soy or tofu at least twice a day. I was eating in a dining hall where vegetarian food often means tofu and sauce. After a good month and a half of this HUGE spike in my tofu intake (I rarely eat tofu otherwise), I started feeling the effects of what could only be describes as extreme PMS and pregnancy symptoms combined. It was terrible. I was not PMS-ing and I definitely was not pregnant, so after searching my brain to figure out why I felt so crazy, it hit me out of nowhere: too much tofu. I had heard that tofu contains a lot of hormones, and since this was the only possible explanation, I decided to do some research. I found that soy doesn’t exactly contain hormones, but something very similar, and the effects vary from person to person.
Soy contains something called isoflavones, which occur naturally in some plants, soy being one of them. Isoflavones are what people are talking about when they refer to hormones in soy. They are compounds that have the same effects as estrogen in mammals, but the compounds themselves are not actually estrogen. For example, in the 1940’s it was discovered that sheep who ate plants containing isoflavones, specifically alalfa and birdsfoot trefoil, experienced infertility. Further studies were conducted by David E. Samuel, who published his fascinating findings in 1967 and can be read here.
Most studies about the effects of soy have been conducted on mice and rats, but this is because they reportedly function similarly to humans and they use the same hormones in the reproduction department. Studies have shown that high amounts of soy can cause reduced fertility, early puberty, and irregular cycles among, just to name a few. To find more information on how soy can affect you (mainly your menstrual cycle, ladies) and not just rats, you can check out this article from Livestrong. Soy can promote suppressed fertility as well as decreased menstrual pain in some, while others experience increased menstrual pain... so needless to say, everyone reacts differently.
So, yes, I was an unplanned human test on the effects of soy and tofu, and it did not yield satisfying results. While it is difficult to completely avoid all soy products and ingredients, I have learned that soy is not really my kind of a party, so I avoid it whenever possible. If you're concerned, you can almost always find alternative products that do not contain soy. I love using Earth Balance in vegan baking, and luckily they make a soy-free version of the original product. There are always options, so find what works best for you and stick with it!
*For more information, read another interesting story about the effects of soy from Scientific American, and if you really want to dive deep, read the study Biological effects of a diet of soy protein rich in isoflavones on the menstrual cycle of premenopausal women by Aedin Cassidy, Sheila Bingham, and Kenneth DR Setchell
*Photo by TeddyBear[Picnic]