As Americans get fatter and fatter, the soy industry has stepped up its efforts to promote soy as the ticket to weight loss. In school cafeterias soy is presented as the “healthy” meat and dairy alternative that can prevent childhood obesity. In health food stores and supermarkets, it’s promoted as a “miracle food” that can prevent heart disease, cancer, bone loss, menopausal symptoms, and weight gain. Soy ingredients also predominate in the shakes, bars, and other products that serve a growing weight loss market that has rocketed from fifty-five billion dollars in 2006 to sixty-six billion dollars today.
It’s a lucrative market. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 69.2 percent of adults over the age of twenty to be overweight, with 35.9 percent of them obese. In Europe, the International Association for the Study of Obesity reported 53.1 percent of the population overweight, with 17.2 percent obese. And as the American way of eating spreads around the world, fattening will follow, opening up even more future markets.
Clearly the soy industry has reason to perceive vast potential for profit. Accordingly, it has not only funded research on soy and weight loss but held conferences to present favorable findings to food industry representatives, health-care professionals, dietitians and university scientists. These events have been sponsored by the Illinois Center of Soy Foods, the National Soybean Research Laboratory and many other pro-soy organizations, and their carefully orchestrated headlines have been widely reported in the media.
The latest effort comes from soy giant Solae, which recently teamed up with the British Obesity Society to run a survey in which nutritionists are being asked to weigh in on the role of protein in the diet and on weight management. The researchers don’t seem to be interested in just any protein, however, but only in soy. As Dr. Marcus Stephen, formerly CEO of the British Obesity Society, put it, “The British Obesity Society is really excited to be partnering with Solae on this soy perception survey. We have worked hard together to establish an effective survey that will produce some interesting and useful insights. We look forward to the findings and working with Solae to produce the report that will inform and educate on the consumption of soy as part of weight management and a healthy diet.”
David Welsby, a science fellow at Solae added, “Solae has worked in close collaboration with the British Obesity Society to create a survey that helps identify where more work needs to be done to educate nutritionists and the public on the benefits of consuming soy as a source of protein, specifically focusing on the value of consuming soy protein as part of a weight management programme and achieving a healthy diet.”
Can’t wait to weigh in on this one when it comes out!
In the meantime, it’s fair to say that when the soy industry trumpets its products for weight management, it’s speaking out of two sides of its mouth. Which side is messaging, of course, depends on who’s meant to be listening. For people, soy products are promoted as high-protein, low-fat and perfect for weight loss. For factory farmers, soy-based animal feeds are just the thing to fatten fish, poultry, and animals quickly and profitably for market. Can we have it both ways? Only with the power of public relations, the corruption of scientific research, and the collusion of the many government and nonprofit organizations canoodling with Big Soy.
The truth is soy protein is fattening despite its reputation as a low-carb, low-fat, lowglycemic index, high-protein ingredient. More than seventy years of studies document adverse effects on the thyroid, most often manifesting as hypothyroidism with its familiar symptoms of weight gain, fatigue, lethargy, and malaise. Sadly, the cause and effect is not always clear cut. In some individuals the hypothyroidism develops so gradually that soy does not take the blame. In others, soy stimulates the thyroid, initially contributing to hyperthyroidism with increased metabolism, energy, and weight loss. This, of course, explains why some short-term studies show weight loss. While some overweight individuals might perceive this as a good thing, such stress on the thyroid leads all too soon to glandular exhaustion and long-term hypothyroidism.
Soy’s anti-thyroid effect also comes from estrogenization through the phytoestrogens known as isoflavones. Although not identical to human estrogens, they are close enough to confuse the body and interfere with the production and utilization of all hormones. Weight gain is a common result of endocrine disruption and the confounding of the body’s regulation of fat storage and fat burning.
Soy, of course, is not the only devil in weight loss products. Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, Medi-Fast, Herbalife, and other diet delivery plans all offer processed and packaged products with long lists of dubious ingredients, including the excitotoxins MSG and aspartame, both of which are associated with weight gain. Add in wheat gluten, milk protein isolate, high fructose corn syrup, fiber and a host of artificial colorings, flavorings and texturizers and it’s clear soy protein isolate, textured vegetable protein, and other soy ingredients are not even the worst ingredients. If and when such products contribute to weight loss, the two most likely reasons are reduced food absorption and gastrointestinal disturbances, leading over time to malnutrition and health challenges. To repurpose a quote from coach Vince Lombardi, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”
• U.S. Weight Loss Market Forecast To Hit $66 Billion in 2013; Growth To Improve Due To Pent-up Demand, Finds Marketdata Enterprises, (PRWEB) December 31, 2012 http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/12/prweb10278281.htm; Centers for Disease Control, Health United States, 2012Health, United States, 2012, table 63.
• IASO: Overweight and Obesity in the EU27. International Association for the Study of Obesity, July 2008. http://www.iaso.org/site_media/uploads/v2PDFforwebsiteEU27.pdf
• British Obesity Society and Solae survey UK nutritionists about protein.
• Daniel, Kaayla. The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food (New Trends, 2005).
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2014.