Confused about soy protein?! That’s completely understandable, as there are mixed opinions over whether or not you should be eating this widely-utilized plant-based protein. The confusion stems over the fact that there are completely different types of soy…. There’s whole food soy, organic/non-organic soy, fermented soy, and processed soy (including soy protein isolate). Processed soy is the kind you’ll find in tons of manufactured, pre-packaged items on store shelves, including protein powders and bars, and meal replacement shakes.
In this article, we’re going to talk specifically about some of the major potential negative side effects of soy protein isolate – and what you need to know to be totally informed. We’re also going to address the question, “Is soy protein bad for you?”, and finally, give our recommendations for the best dairy-free meal replacement shakes. Read on to discover more…
Different Types of Soy
If you’ve ever had edamame while eating out at a restaurant, you’ve tried a version of whole food soy. Edamame is actually an immature green soybean. In addition, soy milk and tofu are made from whole soybeans.
Another type of soy is fermented soy products, which are basically soy foods that have gone through an additional fermentation process, greatly increasing the nutritional value. Fermented soy products include some types of soy sauce, tempeh, miso and natto.
Finally, you will also find various types of processed soy foods, including vegetarian/vegan “meats”, and dairy substitutes such as plant-based yogurts, butters and cheeses. In addition, you’ll find soy flours and soybean oil in many processed foods.
What is Soy Protein Isolate?
When speaking of processed soy foods, soy protein isolate is one of the most processed on the scale. It’s made by grinding whole soybeans into flakes and then extracting the oil. But it’s this extraction process that is one of the reasons soy protein isolate is viewed as very bad for you by many parties.
One of the most common ways to make soy protein isolate is with a method called hexane extraction, in which the fats are separated from the soybean. But hexane is actually a gasoline byproduct, and, (in our opinions), nasty substance that the soybeans actually soak in! Sounds gross, right?! In fact, the USDA won’t allow this substance to be used on organic foods! So, you will only come across it with non-organic soy protein isolate.
Once the fats are removed from the soybeans, the beans then soak in an ethanol or acidic “bath”, which removes carbohydrates – and the soy concentrate that forms is then spray-dried into a powder. But, the bottom line is that even the finished product can still contain residue from the hexane, which many believe is just plain dangerous. In addition, the spray drying method can also be a cause for concern, potentially forming nitrates, which don’t react well in the human body and may lead to health problems.
On top of all of this, the entire point of making soy protein isolate, (isolating the protein from the soybean), makes this processed version of soy much less healthy. This is because the process leaves behind most of the nutritious elements of actual whole food soybeans. Therefore, there’s a big difference nutritionally in consuming fresh, whole soybeans vs, processed soy protein and associated products.
Are There Additional Problems With Soy?
More problems with soy?! Yes, we’re so glad you asked! Even when referring to whole food soy, the soybean crop in general brings with it some major potential health roadblocks, which we’ll discuss next…
1) Most soy in the US is genetically-modified
Soybeans are one of the top GMO (or lab-altered) crops, with over 90 percent of soy in the US being genetically-modified. What’s the problem with GMOs? Most of these foods are altered in order to resist the toxic herbicide, glyphosate, which is then added to the crops so that animals don’t eat them.
But what this means for you is that you will end up ingesting this suspicious chemical which is sprayed on the soybeans! Though of course research showing that glyphosate is bad for human health varies, some sources say that in particular, it may be harmful to your gut – which actually determines the health of your entire body.
2) Soy contains estrogenic properties
Next, soy naturally contains properties known as isoflavones, (also called phytoestrogens), that actually mimic estrogen in the body once consumed. Though some studies show that this can actually be a good thing in some instances, such as in helping women have less hot flashes during menopause, other studies show that it can cause health problems. For instance, having extra estrogen (in men or women) could potentially result in hormone imbalances, infertility or disease.
3) Soy may inhibit thyroid function
Soy also contains substances called goitrogens, which can mess with your thyroid by depressing it’s function. It can also affect hormones needed to keep your metabolism going strong, which can potentially lead to weight gain and make it harder to lose weight.
4) It’s one of the top allergenic foods
Another problem with soy is that many people have an allergy or intolerance that makes it difficult to digest soy products; In fact, it’s one of the top 8 most allergenic foods along with milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and wheat. Therefore, consuming soy (in any form), may give some people an upset stomach – and this includes the soy protein isolate in your meal replacement shakes.
5) Soy protein may cause digestive problems
Even if you aren’t allergic or have an intolerance to soy, you may still have trouble with proper digestion after consuming it… since it contains large quantities of natural toxins called “antinutrients”. These properties actually block the action of important digestive enzymes in the body, like one called trypsin, making it much harder to digest protein; And this can potentially cause unpleasant side effects such as gas, bloating, constipation, or stomach cramps.
So… Should You Eat Soy Products?
When it comes to soy, the bottom line is, we absolutely suggest you avoid all types of processed soy, non-organic soy, and especially soy protein isolate (which you’ll find in some meal replacement shakes). As outlined in the article above, processed soy is stripped of most of its beneficial nutrients, and there are also many problems with non-organic soy crops in general.
If you’re going to eat soy, we recommend whole food, organic soy… and fermented soy products will offer the most nutrition and health benefits. However, as with any food item, you want to exercise moderation and balance. Plus, you want to keep in mind the additional problems with soy (such as its estrogenic properties, goitrogens, and antinutrients), and exercise additional caution.
Finally, when it comes to meal replacement shakes, we recommend that you steer clear of brands containing soy protein or soy protein isolate. These highly-processed versions of soy may help you increase your daily protein intake, but the other risks associated with them are completely unnecessary.
Plus, there are many other amazing plant-based proteins that don’t carry the same potential health warnings as soy protein. If you’re vegetarian, vegan, lactose-intolerant, or simply trying to improve your health, we recommend a proven plant-based protein powder with pea, brown rice, hemp, or chia proteins.