Gluten Free For Good


 

More About Melissa


It’s always something.

Why is the simple act of eating so difficult? It’s food, not astrophysics, although the science behind what we eat, where it comes from, and how that plays into our overall health can be incredibly confusing. Factor in the environmental impact of food production and it’s too much information to sort through.

Here’s an example — soy. Is it a miracle food or low-grade animal fodder? Is the rage over the benefits of soy a marketing ploy or the real thing? What does the research have to say? I’ll help you clear up the confusion. Or, more likely, add to it.

Out of fairness, I’ll start off by admitting I’m not a huge fan, don’t eat soy often, and never eat processed soy foods. I do like my gluten-free tamari (see spicy tamari pepita recipe below) and occasionally eat miso and sea-salted fresh edamame, but I find soy difficult to digest, so for the most part, I avoid it.

Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons. You decide and please let me know what you think. As a nutrition therapist and all around “food” person, I’m interested in what people are eating and why.

Soy pros (according to proponents)

• high in good-quality protein
• good combination of carbs, protein, and fat
• soy protein may lower cholesterol levels
• may be a good source of EFAs (essential fatty acids)
• high in fiber
• good source of many vitamins and minerals
• may be a well-absorbed iron source
• good source of magnesium
• well researched (used as a food source for thousands of years)
• soy’s high content of isoflavins may protect against disease
• isoflavins may protect against enlargement of the prostate gland
• isoflavins in soy may have potent antioxidant properties
• may protect against heart disease, cancers, and immune disorders
• helps mitigate menopause symptoms and protects against bone loss
• may help regulate blood sugar
• most widely grown and used legume in the world

Soy cons

• soy products contain trypsin inhibitors which can interfere with protein digestion
• may cause pancreatic disorders
• soy foods increase the body’s need for vitamin D
• MSG is a byproduct of soy processing and is considered a neurotoxin
• soy foods may contain high levels of aluminum
• the phytoestrogens (plant hormones) in soy may interfere with thyroid function
• infants fed soy formula have 13,000 to 22,000 times more estrogen compounds in their blood than babies fed milk-based formula (information from the Weston A. Price Foundation)
• soy phytoestrogens may interrupt normal endocrine function
• may promote breast cancer
• soy contains high levels of phytic acid which interferes with the assimilation of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc
• soy may interrupt normal development patterns in boys
• the FDA has not approved GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status for soy isoflavones because of the presence of carcinogens in processed soy
• soy foods have been shown to cause infertility in animals
• most US grown soybeans are genetically engineered to allow farmers to use large amounts of pesticides

According to the FDA Poisonous Plant Database, there are 288 studies available relating to the toxic properties of soy. The Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database indicates that soybean subsidies in the United States totaled $14.2 billion (yes, BILLION) from 1995-2006. Here’s where I could spiral off on food politics, but I’ll resist for now. For now, but stay tuned for future developments. Grrrr, I’m saving my pennies (literally) for a new computer and here I find direct cash payments courtesy of me (and you, the taxpayer) going directly to — oops, I promised I’d resist. Sorry about that. Breathe in, breathe out and back to the task at hand.

I’ll finish this off with a fun and easy recipe for spicy tamari pepitas. The fermentation process used to produce tamari makes for a much healthier version of soy.

Spicy Tamari Pepitas
Pepitas are the Spanish version of pumpkin seeds. These spicy treats are wonderful on their own or used as a topping for southwest style soups or on salads. This is a small serving recipe — you can adjust accordingly, but go easy on the oil.

1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
3/4 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you are)
1 to 2 teaspoons gluten-free tamari
Pinch of natural brown sugar (sometimes I use a spot of honey, maybe a teaspoon or leave it out)

Heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Add pepitas and stir continually for a few minutes (3 to 4) until they toast up to a golden brown and start to make a popping noise. Add cayenne, tamari, and sugar and continue to stir for another couple of minutes. Make sure seeds are coated, golden brown, and a touch glossy looking. Move to a cookie sheet and gently spread out to cool and dry before serving. These things are addictive!

* Soy confuso mean’s I’m confused in Spanish. How perfect is that? The conflicting evidence regarding soy is next to impossible to sort out and I found that much of the positive research was (drum roll, please) sponsored by soy special interest groups. Let me know what you think, I’m seriously interested (an unscientific blog-study of sorts).

In good health,
Melissa

27 Responses to “soy confuso* and tamari pepitas”

  1. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    Nothing is sacred, if a company or government can make large amounts of money, ethics go out the window more often than not. I didn’t realise soy was such a contentious subject but I’ll certainly dwell before buying any. Like you I love Tamari but rarely eat any other products….. largely because I found them tasteless. Makes you wonder what the East thinks because presumably they eat tons of the stuff.

    Now then pumpkin seeds, I love them and will gladly join you in making Pepitas… better to munch these than processed snacks full of manmade rubbish. This year Melissa, I’m going to attempt to grow my own pumpkins yet again. I seem to have had bad luck weather wise previously, coupled with planting in the wrong place… my farming ancestors must despair of me !

    Cid

  2. Melissa says:

    Cid — I won’t even start in on the politics of this or I’ll be here writing all morning!

    As for high consumption of soy in the East, that’s what we’re led to believe, but I found that the average consumption of soy in China and Japan to be about 2 to 4 teaspoons per day. They eat it as a condiment (like the tamari we’re talking about), not as a replacement for meat and dairy.

    I received a bunch of locally grown pumpkins in my CSA (community supported agriculture) delivery last year and fell in love with using fresh pumpkin. Here’s a recipe for spicy (hmmm, I seem to like zippy seasonings now that I think about it) roasted pumpkin chunks. I’ll be interested to see how growing your own works out. Maybe I’ll give it try as well.

    http://www.glutenfreeforgood.com/blog/?p=502

  3. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    I forgot I did a whole post on pumpkins. Here’s the link in case you’re interested.

    http://www.glutenfreeforgood.com/blog/?p=486

  4. greedydave says:

    Melissa,

    Another great post packed with great info. I must admit I’ve not tried tamari as I’m a bit of a Kikkoman junkie.

    On the soy front, I seem to recall there being all sorts of wranglings between soy producers and rainforest conservationists. I agree entirely with Cid’s comment about ethics.

    Dave

  5. Miles says:

    Melissa,
    Can you remind me about isoflavins please, they seem to play a big part in the drinks I take in conjunction with weight training but am ignorant of their use.

    Thanks
    Miles

  6. I used to eat lots of soy because I was a near vegetarian before going gluten-free and (still do) limit my dairy intake. But, the more I read about it, the more convinced I became it is potentially harmful and I avoid it now as much as possible. It’s just not worth finding out years down the road that my thyroid is busted because I enjoyed one too many soy lattes! Thanks for compiling all the pros and cons in an easy-to-read format. I can’t imagine all the conflicting evidence you had to wade through for that!

  7. Melissa says:

    Miles,

    Ready? Isoflavones are organic chemical compounds from plants that have estrogenic activity. They are in a class called phytoestrogens (plant chemicals that mimic estrogen). They are chemically similar to estrogen, but are not “real” estrogens. They work like estrogens in the body, but weakly so. Isoflavones are found in small amounts in some grains, legumes, and veggies, but the richest source in the human diet is from soybeans. Don’t panic, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They are antioxidants and some studies suggest they inhibit cancer cells (including prostate cancer). Soy protein is used as a substitute for animal protein because it’s a fairly good quality protein. People have eaten this stuff for centuries, but there is also evidence suggesting the type of soy we’re growing now is not all that healthy for a variety of reasons. I did so much research on this and found some studies touting the benefits, some studies suggesting no benefit, and some showing risks associated with soy use (especially in infant formula).

    If you want me to check it out, let me know the brand of protein formula you’re using.

    As I said in this post, the information on soy is confusing and difficult to interpret. And much of the positive and glowing reports come from soy industry marketing.

    This could be a thesis paper there’s so much conflicting information.

    Hope that helps, although I doubt it does.

  8. Melissa says:

    Lauren,

    Lots of vegetarians and dairy free people eat soy because it’s been marketed as a good alternative to animal products. A lot of the research was sponsored by the people growing the stuff. Hmmm?

    Glad you found this helpful, even if it did just add to the confusion.

    :-)

  9. Melissa says:

    Dave,

    I wanted to check that out (your rainforest comment) before responding and I did find (actually through a NASA link) that large sections of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed and converted to soybean production. Ugh! Thanks for bringing that up.

  10. Kay says:

    Soy is on my allergic list, so I don’t need an opinion. Except . . . I’ve reacted to some olive oils, and read that quite a few are mostly soy bean oil. So I switched to canola oil. I know some folks have rants about canola, but it’s working for me.

    The pepitas sound great, though!

    Our great thaw continues. I got to do some yard work today in a sweatshirt and no coat! I haven’t had a compost can in many years, and decided to set one up. I cleaned all the leaves (arrrrgh!) out of my pond and piled in a bunch of yard stuff and a few kitchen scraps. I secured it to a tree with bungee cords to keep the racoons from knocking it over. And I put a large rock on the lid.

    I went back to my worm farm research and discovered I’m going to need seven pounds of kitchen scraps per week to feed them all. Eeeek! I think I’ll need some more tubs, too. I’d better work on that. The worms are on their way to my house.

    How’s the snow at your house? Mine is nearly all gone.

  11. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    Thanks for the pumpkin links… I love them too and who can resist the beautiful form they take. Courgette flowers in tempura batter with sweet chilli dipping sauce…. yum!

    Roll on autumn.

    Cid

    p.s. by the way, loved that fashion site, especially the colourful bags. Think we should both be working in fashion!

  12. Melissa,

    You raise a thorny and relevant concern here. Thanks for the education on the nutritional con side. As a long-time soy-eater, one gets much more acquainted with the pros! I can tell you that 80-90 percent of the soy grown in the US comes from a GM Monsanto seed. Soy is a mono-crop that, like corn, dominates the market and compels farmers to grow it simply for its immense demand. Farm subsidies provided by the government are meager at best, but at least there’s a guaranteed market…

    I’m troubled by the whole thing. I gave up on processed soy products when I learned how far from the soybean we are by the time that fake sausage patty hits the microwave. If it tastes to good to be true, it probably is! I think the bottom line is to emphasize the whole food credo over processed Frankenfoods. I always have tofu on hand for meals and ingredient replacements, and edamame will always have a place in my kitchen, but I’ve given up on all soy-things textured, powdered or molded into a bar.

  13. Melissa,

    You raise a thorny and relevant concern here. Thanks for the education on the nutritional con side. As a long-time soy-eater, one gets much more acquainted with the pros! I can tell you that 80-90 percent of the soy grown in the US comes from a GM Monsanto seed. Soy is a mono-crop that, like corn, dominates the market and compels farmers to grow it simply for its immense demand. Farm subsidies provided by the government are meager at best, but at least there’s a guaranteed market…

    I’m troubled by the whole thing. I gave up on processed soy products when I learned how far from the soybean we are by the time that fake sausage patty hits the microwave. If it tastes to good to be true, it probably is! I think the bottom line is to emphasize the whole food credo over processed Frankenfoods. I always have tofu on hand for meals and ingredient replacements, and edamame will always have a place in my kitchen, but gone from my diet are all soy-things textured, powdered or molded into a bar.

  14. Melissa says:

    Kay,

    The snow around here (in the yard, anyway) is almost gone, but I hear more is on the way. I can’t get too excited about spring as I have to ski a bunch more this season to make my pass worth the money. I’m still praying for snow.

    :-)

    Thanks for the book suggestion (Big Harvest, Little Space). As soon as my season pass is paid for, I’ll start thinking about gardening.

    Worm on…

  15. Melissa says:

    Cid — wow, leave it to you Brits to come up with something more elegant than roasted pumpkin chunks. Courgette flowers in tempura batter with sweet chili dipping sauce? Are you kidding? I always have to look up words when I’m around you. My basic recipes pale in comparison. You’ll have to post that recipe on Miles’ blog — a wheat free version, of course.

    :-)

  16. Melissa says:

    Jess,

    Thanks for the great (and informative) comment. I appreciate you taking the time. The Environmental Working Group has details as to who gets what when it comes to subsidies. There are also different ways of classifying them so it’s not all that transparent.

    In 2006, the total given out for soybean growers was $642,848,000.

    Confusing data, conflicting information for sure. You’re right though, we should all skip the overly processed Frankenfoods and go for the real thing instead!

    Take care…

  17. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    Take a peek at Miles’ past posts…. I’m sure he covered tempura batter and being the kind of girls that pay attention (!) he’ll be so impressed with us!!

    I’m unsure what kind of flour to substitute but will look into it and report back.

    Cid

  18. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    Hmmm? I will admit, I had to look up courgette. Now I’m wondering if I’m willing to try gluten-free tempura flowers. Sounds a bit exotic for me.

    :-)

    I did check and how did I miss the tempura recipe on Miles’ blog in Dec? It wasn’t that long ago — I must have ignored it because it was “regular” flour. The recipe looks so easy though. Might be worth trying to convert. Amaranth flour? I’ll save it for next summer when I actually have the appropriate flowers. Thanks for the inspiration.

  19. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    I like chickpea/gram flour batters, not that I’ve ever had a great many but I remember slices of aubergine dipped and fried in an Indian food speciality shop.

    Cid

  20. I avoid soy. I think it causes lots of problems because of the phytoestrogenic effect. I actually get hot flashes when I eat foods that contain much soy. I have thyroid issues and will be on natural thyroid meds forever most likely. Were my thyroid issues caused by gluten or soy or both? Plus, I had also read what Jess shared about most soy being GMO. Not something I want. Soy is now in just about every processed food. Ironically, that ends up being a good thing because it makes me avoid processed foods even more. I am vaguely remembering that Michael Pollan talks about how soy ended up being made into a food because of the high production factor or something like that. I do use GF tamari sauce occasionally, but I just read that you can make your own soy sauce equivalent from molasses and balsamic vinegar so I want to try that soon.

    Shirley

  21. Steve Billig says:

    Soy certainly has become a controversial subject. I have my opinion (that soy is generally healthful and safe). If you want to get into the deep weeds on soy, here are links to three significant papers.

    Sally Fallon and Mary Enig of the Weston A. Price Foundation started the conflagration with a strongly anti-soy article called Soy Alert – Tragedy and Hype. Check it out at:
    http://www.westonaprice.org/soy/tradegy.html

    John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution wrote a detailed response which creates a completely different picture, that soy is generally safe and very healthful.
    Check it out at http://www.foodrevolution.org/what_about_soy.htm

    A more independent review of the healthfulness or danger of soy was prepared by Metagenics. This review largely agrees with Robbins’ views. Check it out at:
    http://www.metagenics.com/pdf/pp_soy.pdf

  22. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    I’ve used chickpea flour before and also pinto bean. Garfava bean flour is another good one — there are so many good “alternative” flours available.

    Shirley,

    Your molasses and balsamic vinegar recipe sounds interesting. And easy!

  23. Melissa says:

    Hi Steve — how are you?! Thanks for the resources and your comments, I appreciate that. I did link to the Price Foundation in the post, but having the John Robbins and metagenics links adds to the information.

  24. Lo says:

    OH, the joys of culinary controversy!

    For me, the jury is still out on soy. I’m a big fan of tofu… though I’m very careful to buy organic tofu. And I buy locally, so I know the manufacturer. And I think both of those factors are important.

    For me, food is about the importance of weighing the bad with the good. Every food ends up under fire at some point and time; but healthful eating is all about making good choices… with what we know at the time.

  25. Melissa says:

    Lo — what great comments you have here! Good points all. Yes, we have to be reasonable when it comes to making good eating choices, don’t we? And yes, if you know where your food comes from you certainly have more confidence in eating it!

  26. margene says:

    You have saved me! I was just diagnosed with celiac disease and by googling my favorite snack I found you recipe for GF Tamari Pepitas! Thank you for your whole blog! I’ll be reading.

  27. Melissa says:

    Margene,

    No, you will save yourself! But welcome, anyway.

    :-)

    Celiac disease can be a blessing in disguise. You’ll be fine and I hope this blog is of help. Hang in there, there are wonderful alternatives to wheat, you just need to experiment and find your favorites.

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