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Goodbye Soy

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Goodbye soy!

In my endeavors to become a better informed consumer and improve my health, I have decided to completely give up soy. Yes, soy is sold in health stores and marketed as a healthy alternative to meat proteins, but since I’ve been doing my homework, I’m convinced that we, as consumers, are not getting the whole truth about soy.

So, if soy is really unhealthy, how come we don’t know about it? Well, soy is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s not easy to take down a beast this size.

But if you do your research, you will find that there are a lot of good resources out there warning about the dangers of soy: like the Weston A. Price Foundation and

From my readings, I’ve come to understand that soy reduces the absorption of minerals like calcium, because of its high levels of phytic acid. It also interferes with protein digestion and can cause pancreatic disorders. Soy increases the body’s requirements for vitamin D and B12. When soy is processed, it forms MSG: you may have heard of it… it’s a very potent neurotoxin. Furthermore, soy contains high levels of aluminum which is very harmful to the kidneys and nervous system. But what I remember reading about the most, was how soy disrupts endocrine function and can potentially cause infertility or breast cancer in women.

Fermented soy products like miso are not as harmful as the soy we get in North America.

And yet, after all those warning signs, soy is still considered a health food. This article was particularly interesting to me, because the author (PhD) took all the pro soy arguments in the ongoing debate out there and explained how they reached their conclusion and why it is flawed. My favorite part is the Okinawa argument. Yes, Okinawans eat soy and yes, they are a healthy people. But guess what. They eat soy as a condiment, not as a main protein replacement. Apparently, old-fashioned fermented soy products like miso, natto and tempeh are fine. In North America, none of our soy products are fermented. Also, Okinawans eat a lot of fish and *drum rolls*: lard. I’ve barely summarized just a small part of the article but this is a must-read for anyone interested in the soy debate.

Alright, so how do you not eat soy? Well… you have to be careful. Soy is apparently in at least 60% of processed foods found at the grocery store and pretty much 100% of fast foods. Soy lecithin is used as an emulsifier in almost all chocolates. Anything with vegetable oil has soy (mayo, sauces, and salad dressings come to mind); a lot of sausages and deli meats contain soy. And of course, there are the obvious, like soy milk and tofu. You just have to be careful and read the ingredients.

It’s really not that hard, when you’ve been doing it a while. And it allows you to get creative in the kitchen! Make your own mayo (red palm oil is a great substitute), make your own salad dressings, make your own chocolate! Even make your own soy sauce with healthy substitute ingredients!

This may not be a dietary change where you will feel the benefits right away, but after examining all the details, it is definitely a very smart long term health choice.

How to soak grains

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Now that we’ve determined that grains, seeds and legumes should be soaked before consumption, in order to start pre-digesting and neutralizing most harmful components, I thought it would only make sense to show you how it’s done.

First, place what you want to soak in large bowls. From what I’ve been reading on the subject, it seems soaking in water only is not enough. A good rule of thumb seems to be to use 2 Tablespoons of an acid medium, per cup of grain. I use lemon juice, but I understand there are many other options out there, like lime juice and vinegar. Once you have your acid, cover with water. I’m not exactly sure about the quantity, but I cover the grains and then some, almost filling my bowls. Soaking properly takes 24 hours, so make sure you plan your recipes ahead.

From left to right, I am soaking millet, brown rice and chickpeas.

And that is how I soak. I have also read some very interesting things, that I’ll be happy to share with you. This scientist keeps the soaking liquid from his brown rice and reuses a portion of it everytime he soaks rice. Apparently, this process helps to get rid of even more phytic acid. I don’t understand all the details, but it seems brown rice contains phytase, an enzyme that actually degrades phytic acid, and by keeping the liquid it was soaked in, it helps cultivate microorganisms that make their own phytase. Which makes me wonder… Would keeping soaking liquid from other grains work the same way? Could you add some of the soaking liquid from brown rice to help break down phytic acid in other grains?

I understand also that it is possible to soak the flour directly, instead of the grain, like described here. I have never tried this method, mainly because I’m more comfortable with soaking grains only once a week when I make flour, instead of planning everything I want to bake at least 24 hours ahead of time. I also can’t help thinking it is odd to use the actual soaking liquid in your recipe…

The harmful effects of gluten

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Celiac disease is the worst extreme of gluten sensitivity. But just because you don’t have Celiac disease doesn’t mean that you are safe from  other harmful effects of wheat and gluten. It is estimated that at least 20% of the world population has some form or another of gluten intolerance and most are not even aware of it.

Why is that? Mainly because it’s hard to diagnose. Harmful effects include fatigue and digestive problems. And this may sound weird, but  it can be hard to determine that you have digestive issues if you’ve had them all your life and have no idea what “normal” feels like. The only way to really tell is to not eat gluten and see if you feel better.

However, not eating gluten doesn’t solve everything. Grains in general seem to have a lot of nasty things in them that we shouldn’t eat.  That’s just their natural defenses. Did you know that before mass production and food processing (“quick rise” dough), everyone used to soak their grains before eating them. They didn’t do this just for fun… it had a purpose: removing lectins, phytic acid and partially breaking down gluten. Soaking is basically a way to pre-digest your food, because humans aren’t pure herbivores and our digestive system isn’t made to deal with grains. Not yet anyway… In the scheme of things, humans have been on a hunter/gatherer diet for much, much longer than they have been eating grains and we simply have not yet adapted.

From my understanding, lectins seem to affect the body much like gluten, causing digestive disorders and drawing an auto immune response. They’ve been associated with diseases such as IBS, Crohn’s, colitis, thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and arthritis. Phytic acid acts as an anti-nutrient. It binds with minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium, preventing the body from absorbing all that goodness.

I think the healthiest diet would be one without any grains. That way, we avoid all this talk of gluten, phytic acid and lectins altogether  and we are forced to eat more vegetables as filler. However, I do agree it is hard to give up all baked goods, but it certainly seems a good idea to limit them.

My point is, if like me, you don’t want to give up all grains, you need to learn to prepare them correctly so you get the benefits  from them and as little of the drawbacks as possible. Soaking or fermenting grains, seeds and legumes largely neutralizes their harmful components and it is extremely important to do it, just like our ancestors used to.

Call me crazy, but we give up a technique used for thousands of years and we drastically increase the amount of grains in our diet and
suddenly all these new diseases come out of nowhere.

Again, I’m not a biologist or nutritionist, I’ve just read a lot on gluten and the above is a mere summary of what I have learned. Here are some of the wonderful blogs and studies that I’ve been reading, to condense the above information (if the subject interests you, I strongly recommend taking a look at those):

The Dark Side of Wheat

Whole Health Source

The Lowdown on Lectins

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