Over the past decade, soy has been widely promoted as a “miracle” food that can prevent heart disease, fight cancer, fan away hot flashes and build strong bones and bodies in far more than 12 ways. Lately its health-building reputation has been kicked up yet another notch as the perfect solution for low-carb dieters. Accordingly, low carb, high soy products are being heavily marketed to 64 million overweight Americans and the 46 million Americans currently on some form of a diet.
Many of these dieters are doing their darndest to stick to the bestselling Atkins, South Beach and Zone diets. Indeed Nutra-Ingredients USA reported recently that the hottest marketing trend of 2003 was low-carb versions of high-carb favorites such as pasta, bread, crackers and cookies. Nearly 4000 new products reached supermarket and health food store shelves, with most achieving their low-carb status by substituting soy protein or soy flour for traditional flours.
Although sales initially experienced double — and even triple — digit growth, the market collapsed as consumers discovered that they didn’t much care for the taste, aftertaste texture or mouth feel of the higher priced goods. What’s more, many gained weight either from the license to eat or from the soy itself. [Soy protein, after all, was used in Japan to fatten animals not employed in farm work.]
The New York Times reported that Atkins Nutritionals “took some of the biggest financial hits” and by May 2004 wrote off $53 million of unsold and expired food products, sending the company into a financial tailspin. Founded in 1989, the company began pushing soy with a vengeance after Robert Atkins’ death from a fall on ice in April 2003.
Surprisingly, the collapse of Atkins Nutritionals did not stop Kraft Foods from striking a deal with Arthur Agatston M.D.of South Beach Diet fame to cash in on the low-carb dieting trend. At that point, his bestseller had been on the New York Times bestselling list for more than a year, making it likely that products fitting within the doctor’s recommendations would sell. As Lance Friedmann, senior vice president of Global Heath and Wellness, put it, “We will use the South Beach Diet trademark on certain Kraft products to identify some food choices that fit within the doctor’s recommendations.” Meanwhile, The South Beach Diet chugs on in paperback, followed by two sequels The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook and The South Beach Diet Dining Guide.
And that’s not all, folks. Copy-cat low-carb books fill the bookstore and even include low-carb books geared specifically for vegetarians and vegans. While most of the low-carb plans over rely on packaged and processed foods and can lead to fat soluble vitamin and other nutritional deficiencies, the plans catering to vegetarians are extremely high in soy protein. Barry Sears, author of the bestselling Zone Diet produced The Soy Zone after learning the regular Zone was too challenging for vegans. Thick in soy protein products, he bills it as nothing less than “the healthiest Zone diet diet ever.”
Sadly most dieters who go on The Soy Zone — or any high soy protein diet — will sooner or later sing the low carb blues. More than 70 years of studies link soy to thyroid damage, manifesting most often as hypothyroidism, a cause of weight gain, fatigue and brain fog — three ills people enter The Zone to avoid! In addition, soy contributes to digestive distress, reproductive disorders, infertility, immune system breakdown and even — health claims to the contrary — heart disease and cancer. The fact that so many of these low-carb foods are loaded with MSG and other additives designed to compensate for the loss of both fats and carbs is dangerous as well.
Sadly, soy isn’t just selling to the low-carb crowd. Sales of soy foods reached a whopping $4 billion in 2004, with most segments of the industry reporting double-digit growth. The marketing of soy as a health food has been so successful that few people realize that respected scientists have warned that possible benefits should be weighed against proven risks. Even researchers working for the soy industry have admitted that the “marketing is way ahead of the science.” The bottom line is people eating large quantities of soy are unwittingly participating in a large, uncontrolled and basically unmonitored human experiment.
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© copyright 2006 Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN