I stop by the Starbuck’s near our Wellness Center every now and then for my morning coffee. The other day I noticed they’d put some pamphlets on the checkout counter about how good their soymilk is for you. I’d like to share my thoughts on this with you.
Many people think of soymilk as a healthy milk substitute – including a lot of my new patients – and I doubt Starbuck’s means its customers any harm. But you shouldn’t drink it.
Soymilk is bad for you. Not just the brand Starbuck’s uses – any brand. It’s an unnatural byproduct of soy that your body can’t digest without processing. If you were to eat unprocessed soy, it would cause cramping, nausea, and can cause more serious health problems.
Here are a few of the pamphlet’s false claims about soymilk (and the truth about them):
Claim: “In countries where soy is a dietary staple, such as China and Indonesia, soy consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of certain chronic diseases.”
Fact: This is only half-true. The soybean itself is inedible. It contains toxins meant to ward off insect predators. These include:
• anti-nutrients that prevent your body from absorbing essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
• enzyme inhibitors that make it harder for your body to absorb protein.
Both of these substances can give you abdominal pain, gas, nausea, cramps, and other gastrointestinal problems.
• hemagglutinin, a substance that promotes blood clots.
• goitrogens, which cause gout and thyroid problems.
Societies that depend heavily on soy-based foods use traditional preparation methods thousands of years old that neutralize or eliminate these poisons. Tempeh, miso, natto, and soy sauce are fermented products. The fermentation process destroys the toxins. Tofu comes from the pressed “curds” of the soybean. The rest is thrown out – and the bad stuff along with it.
Compare this with the industrial processes that go into making soymilk: washing the beans in alkaline or boiling them in a petroleum-based solvent; bleaching, deodorizing, and pumping them full of additives; heat-blasting and crushing them into flakes; and then mixing them with water to make “milk.”
This only adds more dangerous chemicals without removing any of soy’s natural toxins. This is NOT a “dietary staple” in China, Indonesia, or any other country. And it shouldn’t be here, either.
Claim: “Also, interest in soy is rising because scientists have discovered that a soy component called isoflavone appears to reduce the risk of certain diseases.”
Fact: The opposite is true. Recent science suggests soy “isoflavones” are dangerous to your health.
Isoflavone isn’t actually a single substance, but a category of substances. Isoflavones include “phyto-estrogens,” plant-based compounds that mimic the female hormone. Eat enough of these and you’ll upset your body’s hormonal balance.
The young are especially vulnerable: research published just last year found that soy-based phyto-estrogens can cause “precocious puberty.” The study focused on a four-and-a-half year old girl who had developed breasts because her parents fed her too much soy formula.1
Clinical research also links two of these phyto-estrogens, genistein and daidzein, to childhood leukemia2 and breast cancer.3
Stick with a little milk or half-and-half in your coffee. It would be great if Starbuck’s offered organic dairy. That would be truly healthy. Keep some on hand at home and in the office if you have access to a refrigerator.
As for soy products, the traditional fermented soy foods like tempeh, miso and soy sauces are safe and healthy. (Again, go organic if you can.)
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
1 Fortes et al. “High intake of phytoestrogens and precocious thelarche: case report with a possible correlation.” Arquivos Brasileiros de Endocrinologia & Metabologia. 2007. 51(3):500-3
2 Abe, T. Infantile leukemia and soybeans – a hypothesis [editorial].” Leukemia. 1999. 13:317-20.
3 Hsieh et al. “Estrogenic effects of genistein on the growth of estrogen receptor-positive human breast cancer (MCF-7) cells in vitro and in vivo.” Cancer Research. 1998. 58:17 3833-8.