No Tofu!

I think Jeff really has been psychologically wounded by remembrances of Pumpkin-Tofu Mousses past, because he sent me this photo (taken when he was at Whole Foods for lunch) with the above title as the subject line.

No danger of Tofurky* ever crossing my dining room table. No way, no how. While I have enjoyed several well-prepared tofu dishes over the years, I’m generally not a big fan of soy. I did jump on the soy bandwagon at one point, mostly in the form of soymilk and protein bars chock full of very processed forms of soy, namely soy protein isolate. These were targeted toward women, of course, because soy is allegedly supposed to protect us from breast cancer and raging menopausal hormones.

Now, it appears that soy can have health benefits, but can also present some very real health risks. A 2006 American Heart Association review of recent research on soy protein (the part of the soy bean that had been really touted as being healthy) found that there was no evidence that soy protein prevents cancer, protects against osteoporosis, improves cholesterol levels. In studies that did show some positive effect, it’s not clear whether it was due to the soy protein or some other part of the soybean. Which leads back to my conviction that, whenever possible, we should eat whole foods instead of processed foods. With whole foods, you get the whole package, including those bits that science hasn’t isolated in a lab and labeled “healthy”…yet.

For all the talk about cultures that have low rates of certain diseases because they eat a lot of soy (that’s assuming “cause and effect” can be shown, which it generally can’t), certain things were glossed over.

  1. Those cultures don’t eat that much soy. But they do eat a lot of vegetables.
  2. The forms of soy consumed tend to be young and unprocessed (edamame) or fermented (tempeh, miso, soy sauce, natto). In fact, some people argue that fermented soy foods are the only soy foods fit for human consumption. 

So, that’s why I tend to avoid soy (other than soy sauce). I won’t buy any product with soy protein isolate in it, including protein powders (I opt for whey protein). I don’t drink soymilk (I do use some almond milk), and I eat tofu only once in a while. I tried and failed to like edamame, and I have never worked miso, tempeh or natto into my repertoire, although I consider them healthy foods. The way I feel about it is this: There are so many possible healthy foods out there, that as long as I am getting a good variety of them into my diet, I don’t worry so much about the ones I’m not eating. I mean, come on, you can only eat so many calories in a day without needing to buy bigger pants.

Yes, dear readers, you can overeat healthy foods…don’t let anyone ever persuade you otherwise!

If you want to know more about the debate over soy, I found a nice, balanced article here by a writer who has a Masters degree in nutrition from Bastyr University.

* What IS the deal with Tofurky, anyway? There are so many fantastic, wonderful, delicious Thanksgiving side dishes that it would be so easy to have a magnificent vegetarian Thanksgiving feast without the turkey. I just don’t get this whole “meat subsitute” thing.