Kitchen Whispers, Lifestyle

Let’s talk about Soy

I thought I’d finally address the elephant in the room – aside from the almond milk controversy, I’ll do that when I have more energy.

You heard it, read it somewhere,  and certainly were warned by family and friends when you told them you consumed soy products. “Soy is dangerous: it contains estrogen, it will give you cancer, it will make you less “manly”” etc.

The real hassle in finding out the truth about soy was the information disseminated by soy producing companies, or, companies that are “threatened” by the rise of veganism.

Today I am sad to announce that the effects that soy has on our bodies are not completely sorted out just yet. But this is what you can find out if you ask nutritionists, and do some research online.

PS: This is not, in any way, medical/professional advice. I came up with this summary by reading reliable articles online, and by asking a couple nutritionists’ opinions. 

1. What are Phytoestrogens?

To use popular English, phytoestrogen is a chemical compound found in plants (yes, seeds and fruits – and even red wine –  contain them too, but in lower quantities) that mimic the naturally formed estrogen in our bodies. They are sometimes given as supplements, for healing purposes.

Phytoestrogen in soy contains isoflavones, which after a whole complex chemical reaction during digestion, return to the gut area in a different form, and either produce “metabolite equol” (I’ll call it A) or “O-DMA” (I’ll call it B).

It’s also been shown that 30%-50% of individuals are able to make that conversion to “A” (most of which are vegetarians or Asians), and it’s been hypothesized that the ability to do this is crucial in obtaining all the amazing effects of soy consumption.

The pros of phytoestrogen:

1. Some can lead to reduction of cell proliferation are a protein called PTK that is crucial in the development of cancer cells. So yes, they can have anti-cancerous properties.

2. In other weird chemical reactions, it can also be protecting nerve cells in the brain, and improve cardiovascular functions.

3. They are good anti-inflammatory chemicals, and good antioxidants.

The cons of phytoestrogen:

Since they mimic estrogen, they can block estrogen receptors (ERs) and lead to hormonal imbalances. They are considered endocrine disruptors and can cause imbalances in lactation, reproductive cycles, sexual  behavior, timing of puberty…

However, and with the studies around this, these effects are not conclusive yet, and are still in the “could” category; these effects were found in animals in the 1940’s, and thought to be generated by phytoestrogen, but it turned out, a few years later, that they were actually due to another chemical called coumestrol.

There are two receptors estrogen might block, and it blocks them differently. I do not want to bore you with the chemical details of this, but you can read more on the link I’ve attached below.

The conclusion is, that it is very “Selective” in the ER (estrogen receptive) it blocks, and thus is compared to a breast cancer drug that can be agonist in the uterus and bone, but, antagonist in the breast.

Agonist: it binds to receptor and activates a reaction
Antagonist: it blocks the action of the agonist and results in a reverse reaction

Even though I still don’t get exactly what this means as an amateur, it is clear and enough for me to understand that it can have different effects in different parts/circumstances of the body.

Whether it binds to one block or the other (ERα or ERβ) changes the result completely. And it highly depends on circumstance, and a bunch of conditions, to determine the result yielded by phytoestrogen.

2. What does this mean ?

The conditional benefits of Soy 

On top of all this confusion, while Soy has shown to yield extremely beneficial effects in bodies, studies are still inconclusive, because of the critical role dose, genes, dietary composition and other factors play

Indeed, the benefits of soy and phytoestrogens in general varied greatly across epidemiological studies.

For example, the benefits of phytoestrogens related to menopause were much more present in Asian countries than in Western ones.

Other benefits such as helping out with good bone density, turned out to depend on whether equol production occurred. Also, the extent to which Soy led to lower cholesterol, highly depended on the amount of soy consumed.

To quote one of the articles I read (and I reference below),

“determining if phytoestrogens increase or reduce the risk of developing breast cancer has proven to be one of the most challenging human health impacts to address.”

While it is known that by blocking the ERs, exposure to estrogen increases chances of getting breast cancer, the studies on the considerably lower cancer rates in Asia say the opposite is true.

This is where it gets most complicated; the study results vary greatly across ethnicity.

3. So can I eat soy?

It is well concluded that a moderate intake of soy leads to a lot of pros and cons (similarly to caffeine, alcohol, etc.)

Despite the “cons”, soy remains a great source of protein, free of cholesterol, and packed with amazing nutrients.

Moderation is key here. Soy and phytoestrogens are NOT poison, but they are also not “superfoods” that we can just include 24/7 in our diet.

If you consume soy in your diet, just be aware of the potential risks associated with phytoestrogens, and make choices accordingly:

For example: 
If the milk in my fridge is Soy-based, then I make the conscious effort of avoiding soy in other forms during meals. 
If I had minced soy in my food for the week, I replace soy-milk with Oat, and avoid soy Yoghurt. 

People suffering from heart disease, high cholesterol, and other specific cases, ARE still encouraged to include soy in their diets, and there’s nothing to worry about if consumed moderately.

So my conclusion is, soy is A-Ok.

In a proper plant-based/vegan diet, there is not ONE component that we abuse of, unlike dairy and animal products in other diets; there are so many ingredients to have fun with, we accidentally consume a “moderate” amount of everything.

However, we shouldn’t depend on Soy to cure our diseases, and make us live forever; its benefits highly rely on our genes, ethnicity, and overall diet.

that being said, we shouldn’t “rely” on soy to make us healthy. It is just another sprinkle on top of the amazing benefits of a vegan diet.

Here is one of the articles I read to help writing this


What IS Vegan ‘Cheese’?

One of the arguments against veganism that truly drive me crazy is:

“Well, if I’ll feel like eating cheese, I’ll have to put chemicals and bad things that are really unhealthy in my body”

This argument used to really piss me off because I knew that even if that were true, the effect meat and dairy have on our bodies is not that great either. Still, I couldn’t really say anything other than

I barely have these anyway, I don’t find a need for them in my diet!

Which is true by the way!

BUT, I was still curious to know what I was having when I occasionally ate vegan ‘cheese’. This is for the Vegans out there who need to pack sandwiches, have late nights, or would just like to indulge in a Vegan Pizza every once in awhile!

🇱🇧 Lebanese shoppers, there’s a special section in here for you! 🇱🇧

PS: you can make your own cheese at home with cashews/almonds, water, mustard, nutritional yeast, and other spices! I still haven’t figured out a recipe on my own since I don’t own a blender, but there’s plenty online!

The investigation was simple; I went on Violife‘s (the vegan alternative to cheese that I use if needed) website and read the ingredients to their regular sliced cheese. Here is a list of the ingredients used + whether or not I approve of it:

  • Water, Approved
  • Coconut Oil (23%), Approved
  • Modified Starch*, **google: “Modified starch is the starch extracted from grains and vegetables which has been treated to improve its ability to keep the texture and structure of the food”** , Approved
  • Starch, Approved
  • Sea Salt, Approved
  • Flavourings,
  • Olive Extract, Approved
  • Colour: B-Carotene, **google: “Beta carotene is an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A and plays a very important role in health. It’s responsible for the red, yellow, and orange coloration of some fruits and veggies.“, Approved

*Not to be confused with GMO (Genetically Modified) Ingredients

Here is the same list for their grated Mozarella:

Water, Coconut Oil (24%), Modified Starch*, Starch, Sea Salt, Mozzarella flavour, Olive Extract, Colour: B-Carotene, Vitamin B12
*Not to be confused with GMO (Genetically Modified) ingredients.”

I asked a couple of friends who studied Nutrition and Food Science about what “Flavourings” usually means in ingredient lists. They told me they couldn’t really know unless I had more information. So I asked them about what other foods we find flavourings in.

An example they could think of was: Syrups!

So basically, your Ketchup, Mustard, Caramel Macchiato, Vanilla Latte, Pumpkin Spice Latte, etc. all contain “flavourings”

I then asked if one should be concerned about finding flavorings in an ingredients list, and they answered with a simple: no.

🇱🇧 Lebanese Shoppers 🇱🇧

You can find “Violife” Cheese at Better Life Market in Beirut, “Nature et moi” at Spinney’s, “Badass Vegan” at ChiTabi3i and “Ada’s Vegan” and “Vicky’s” at either Live organic, or by delivery by finding them on their Insta page!

I also thought sharing an example of the kind of vegan cheeses we find in Lebanon would be a good idea; they’re actually quite different than the ones I find in stores in the UK.

As an example, check out the ingredients’ list for Ada’s Vegan Mozzarella:

Water, Almond, Lemon Juice, Tapioca Flour, Coconut Oil, Herbs, Spices, Himalayan Salt.”

AND all products are organic! Can it get any better?

In Conclusion: I think it’s safe to say that Vegan Cheese is completely A-Ok. I still wouldn’t have it every day because I’d simply get bored of it, and if you’re a vegan, you probably know how extensive the list of ingredients we can’t wait to use is!

So go on ahead with a restful mind, and celebrate with a big Vegan Pizza!

I recommend Luna’s Kitchen’s Cheese and Pesto Pizza for Lebanese residents, and Mamma’s American Pizza in case anyone from Edinburgh’s reading this!

How good does debunking stereotypes against veganism feel?

This was taken during my meal at Frankie and Benny’s Edinburgh: Rigatoni (Veganuary Menu) and Melted Fries!