The USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines came out early this year, and the soy industry is thrilled that “soy made the cut.”
Soy products are cited twice in the executive summary of the report with the recommendation that all Americans increase their intake of soy products and fortified soy beverages. In the body of the report itself, soy milk appears right up there with low-fat and no-fat milks as good for us and to be drunk two or three times daily while processed soy products are touted as worthy meat equivalents. Vegetable oils — a code for soy oil in most cases — are recommended to “replace solid fats wherever possible.” This triple threat to public health can only be the work of the USDA in conjunction with the soy industry and other manufacturers of processed, packaged and junk foods.
Vegans too ought to be happy. There’s still dread animal flesh and “white blood” in the picture, but the USDA has kowtowed to vegan mythology, buying into their belief that vegan diets, if carefully planned, can be healthful. USDA even gives vegans their very own appendix, including specific dietary recommendations, including “fortified foods for some nutrients,” especially calcium and B12. What might those fortified foods be? Soy milk, energy bars, fake steaks, burgers and other processed, packaged foods tricked out as health foods.
Overall, there’s something for everyone who eats packaged, processed and fast foods, even chocoholics. The USDA actually considers fat-free chocolate milk to be a “nutrient dense food,” their phrase, not mine, and I am sorry to say I am not making any of this up.
So what might adopting soy milk, fake meats and vegetable oils mean to the health of the American public? Let’s look here at two of the USDA’s choices: fortified soy beveages, and soy proteins. For information about the inadvisability of vegetable oils, read “The Skinny on Fats,” “The Oiling of America” and other articles on this website.
Soy beverage–popularly known as soy milk–is a lactose-free dairy substitute that marketers would have us believe has been drunk by healthy Asians since time immemorial. In fact, the earliest historical reference is 1866 and the Chinese did not traditionally value soy milk until vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists missionaries from America popularized it starting in the 1920s.
The soy milks sold in supermarkets and health food stores and recommended by the USDA are not exactly traditional soy products. In the good old days, soy milk-making began with a long soak. The softened beans were then ground on a stone grinder, using massive amounts of water. The mush then went into a cloth bag, was placed under a heavy rock, and pressed and squeezed until most of the liquid ran out. The soy paste was then boiled in fresh water. Large amounts of filthy scum that rose to the surface were carefully removed.
The modern method is faster, cheaper — and retains the scum. It speeds up the presoaking phase with the use of an alkaline solution, skips the squeezing and skimming steps, uses common fluoridated and chlorinated tap water, and cooks the soy paste in a pressure cooker. The speed comes at a cost: the high pH of the soaking solution followed by pressure cooking destroys key nutrients, including vitamins and the sulfur-containing amino acids and leaves toxic residues.
Taste, not nutrition, is what most concerns the soy industry, and the USDA as well if it plans to get Americans of all ages to swig two to three cups daily. The taste problem is the enzyme lipoxygenase, which oxidizes the polyunsaturated fatty acids in soy, causing the “beaniness” and rancidity. The industry’s attempted solutions have included high heat, pressure cooking and replacement of the traditional presoaking with a fast blanch in an alkaline solution of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Major manufacturers have even “offed” the off flavors using a deodorizing process similar to that in oil refining, which involves passing cooked soy milk through a vacuum pan at extremely high temperatures in the presence of a strong vacuum.
To cover up any “beaniness” that remains, processors trot out sweeteners and flavorings. Almost all commercially sold soy milks contain barley malt, brown rice syrup, raw cane crystals or some other form of sugar. The higher the sugar, the higher the acceptability among consumers. Accordingly, most 8 ounce glasses of soy milk contain anywhere from four to sixteen grams (slightly less than 1 teaspoon to slightly more than 1 tablespoon). Flavors such as “plain” or “original” are almost always sweetened, although perceived by many consumers as unsweetened. Perhaps the USDA folks who came up with the guidelines thought so as well. Otherwise its recommendation of soy milk would not jive with its recommendation for consumers to cut back on sugar.
Eliminating the aftertaste in soy milk poses yet another challenge for food manufacturers. The undesirable sour, bitter and astringent characteristics come from oxidized phospholipids (rancid lecithin), oxidized fatty acids (rancid soy oil), the antinutrients called saponins and the plant estrogens known as isoflavones. The last are so bitter and astringent that they produce dry mouth. This has put the soy industry into a bit of a quandary. The only way it can make its soy milk please consumers is to remove some of the very toxins that it has assiduously promoted as cancer preventing and cholesterol lowering.
Note the USDA caveat that the soy milk be “fortified soy milk.” The reason is soy milk made with soybeans and water has such a poor nutritional profile that it must be fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals to compete with cow’s milk. Even in health-food store foods, these added supplements are cheap, mass-produced products. The soy milk industry puts vegetarian vitamin D2 in soymilk, even though the dairy industry quietly stopped adding this form of the vitamin years ago. Although any form of vitamin D helps people meet their RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances), D2 has been linked to hyperactivity, coronary heart disease and allergic reactions. The USDA has singled out Vitamin D in these dietary guidelines as a special nutrient to keep in mind. Too bad it’s not specific enough about type.
In keeping with USDA approved lowfat diets, consumers may opt for the low fat — or “lite”– soymilks made with soy protein isolate (SPI), not the full-fat soybean. To improve both color and texture of these “healthier soy milks,” manufacturers work with a whole palette of additives, including colorants, flavorizers and texturizers.
Soy-milk derived products such as soy puddings, ice creams, yogurts, cottage cheese whipped “creams” and cheese substitutes also meet USDA guideline, but are even poorer choices, given ingredients such as carageenen, corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated fats and soy protein hydrolyzates.
Should we really be eating and drinking processed foods with ingredient lists like this? Soy milk has a reputation for being a simple, old fashioned food. It is not. Even Peter Golbitz of Soyatech has admitted this. “Soymilk is one of those unique food products that doesn’t exist naturally in nature, such as a fruit, vegetable or cow’s milk — it is, and always has been, a processed food. Since there are many options available to processors today in regards to process type, variety of soybean, type of sugar and an array of flavoring and masking additives, product formulators need real guidelines to follow to create winning products.” Too bad that the USDA is more interested in pushing “product formulations” than Mother Nature’s real foods.
MEAT ANALOGUES AND OTHER SOY PROTEIN PRODUCTS
The USDA supports all-American ingenuity. That’s the only positive reason I can think of for its recommendation of the ersatz meat products known in the food industry as “analogues.” Soy analogue products marketed over the years have had colorful names such as Soysage, Not Dogs, Fakin’ Bakin, Sham Ham, Soyloin, Veat, Wham, Tuno, Bolono and Foney Baloney. Although named after — and often made to look like — the familiar meat products they are meant to replace, taste testers tend to evaluate them as poor imitations at best. But thanks to food technology specialists and their lavish use of sugar and other sweeteners, salt, artificial flavorings, colorings, preservatives and MSG, more and more consumers are willing to tolerate these products, some solely because of their belief in alleged health benefits.
Manufactured using high heat and pressure, chemical solvents, acids and alkalis, extruders and other harsh tools, these USDA-approved meat substitutes are very likely to contain toxic or carcnogenic residues. This is also true of highly processed porducts using fractions of milk, eggs, meat, grains, oils or vegetables. The difference is that processed soy foods are billed as “health foods” whereas other processed foods are widely acknowledged to be what they are — junk foods that do not support health. The soy industry typically puts a positive spin on their products by claiming all the health benefits found in soy while insisting that levels of toxins are too low to pose any hazard to the consumer.
But risk is always a product of dose and duration of exposure. Vegans who favor soy protein, wheat gluten and other heavily processed plant protein products as their primary sources of protein are regularly exposed to relatively high levels of toxins. The usual suspects are nitrosamines, lysinoalanines, heterocyclic amines, excitotoxins, chlorpropanols, furanones, hexane and other solvents.
Let’s look now at how soy protein isolate and textured soy protein — two of the most common ingredients found in soy meat analogues — are manufactured.
SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE (SPI) is mixed with nearly every food product sold in today’s stores — energy bars, body builder powders, breakfast shakes, burgers and hot dogs. SPI is a highly refined product, heavily processed to remove “off flavors,” “beany“ tastes, and flatulence producers and to improve digestibility. Vitamin, mineral and protein quality, however, are sacrificed. Indeed soy isolates increase the requirements for vitamins E, K, D and B12. Among the minerals, phosphorous is poorly utilized, and calcium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, copper, iron and especially zinc deficiencies appear routinely in animals — including human animals — fed SPI as the primary source of protein in their diets. Soy protein isolates are also more deficient in sulfur-containing amino acids than other soy protein products. What’s increased during the production of SPI are levels of toxins and carcinogens such as nitrosamines and lysinoalanines.
The manufacture of SPI has always been a complicated, high-tech procedure. There’s nothing natural about it. It takes place in chemical factories, not kitchens. Although the manufacturing process varies, and some companies hold patents on key elements of the process, the basic procedure begins with defatted soybean meal, which is mixed with a caustic alkaline solution to remove the fiber, then washed in an acid solution to precipitate out the protein. The protein curds are then dipped into yet another alkaline solution and spray dried at extremely high temperatures.
SPI is often spun into protein fibers using technology borrowed from the textile industry. The only difference is that taste-enhancing and fiber-binding elements are incorporated into the fibers during processing. The process involves preparing a protein solution with a soy protein content of 10 to 50 percent at a very alkaline pH that is above 10. The solution is aged at about 121 degrees F until it becomes as viscous as honey at which point it is called ”spinning dope.” The dope is next forced through the holes of an extrusion device, coagulated with an acid bath, stretched long and thin, bound with edible binders such as starch, dextrins, gums, albumen and cellulose, and coated with fat flavor, color and other substances. The idea is to attain the fibrous “bite” of animal muscle meats.
For chunkier, less well-defined fibers, processor tend to prefer the Textured Soy Protein (TSP) process. Textured Soy Protein or Textured Vegetable Protein is sold as granules, particles and chunks and used by fast food companies and food processors as a meat substitute or extender for chili, spaghetti sauce, tacos, sloppy joes and other strongly spiced recipes. It’s been big in the USDA school lunch programs since 1971.
Here’s how it’s made: First force defatted soy flour through a machine with a spiral tapered screw called an extruder under conditions of such extreme heat and pressure that the very structure of the soy protein is changed. What comes out is a dried out, fibrous, and textured alien protein product that can survive just about anything that a food processor might later do to it. Then add red or brown colors and flavorings before texturization, drying and packaging.
Soy protein extrusion differs little from extrusion technology used to produce starch-based packing materials, fiber-based industrial products or plastic toy parts, bowls and plates. The difference is that extruded foods such as TSP are designed to be reconstituted with water, at which point they resemble ground beef or stew meat. Processing always leaves s toxic residues and TSP furthermore requires using natural and artificial flavors and MSG if it’s going to taste anything like ham, chicken or beef.
In conclusion, the USDA sure has an interesting idea of what constitutes healthy proteins. Bringing soy front and center in the new food guidelines will feed the profits required by Big Pfood. Big Pharm is surely happy as well as this latest USDA food fix isn’t going to solve any of our great American health crises soon.
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Complete references for the information on soy products contained in this blog can be found in my book The Whole Soy Story:The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food (New Trends, 2005), particularly chapters 6-9, 11 and 14,