Soy - Part Six: The Benefits of Fermented Soy
If you've been following along with The Truth About Soy series, then you've probably asked yourself (or pretended to ask me) something along the lines of: "But what about people in Asian cultures? They are healthy and eat a lot of soy!" That's a very valid question--One that I asked myself too!
But what I've discovered is that the soy used in Asian cuisine is vastly different than the soy products we eat in North America. Not only is it consumed in much smaller quantities than we've been led to believe, but it also processed very differently--it's fermented!
So soy isn't ALL bad! There are actually benefits of eating fermented soy!
What is fermented soy?
Here's a little history:
Ancient Chinese texts show that soy bean was originally used to balance nitrogen levels in soil to grow other foods, not as a food source itself, as they understood that soy was not fit for consumption in its raw state. Around 1000 B.C., during the Chou Dynasty, it was discovered that a mold, when allowed to grow on soybeans, destroyed the toxins present and made the nutrients in the beans available to the body. This process became known as fermentation and created the foods tempeh, miso, and natto. A few centuries later, a simpler process was developed by soaking soy beans for a long time, then cooking the beans, and treating them with nigari (a substance found in seawater.) This produced tofu.
Tempeh, miso and natto are healthy choices of fermented soy. The fermentation of tofu is still somewhat problematic because although the enzyme inhibitors are removed, most of the phytates still remain. Traditionally prepared soy sauce has also been fermented, making it another okay choice.
When soy has been fermented, the nutrients become available for the body's use. Nutrients like vitamin K, plus enzymes, and omega 3 fatty acids. All things our bodies need!
Beware of imitators!
Not all soy products sold in stores are traditionally fermented.
Take, for instance, soy sauce. The traditional fermentation brewing process takes 6 to 8 months to complete and the process creates a mix of phenolic compounds, including natural glutamic acid, which gives it its unique taste. The modern day method of hydrolysis speeds the process up to only 2 days. This process involves using the enzyme glutamase as a reactor, which leads to large amounts of unnatural glutamic acid (MSG) in the final product.
This quick process is great for the food industry, but certainly not our health. So be sure to look for fermented soy products that are labeled as being naturally brewed.
But, even fermented soy should be consumed in only moderate amounts.
In Asian cultures, only about an ounce of soy is eaten per day, according to sources. Soy products are not substitutes for animal meats, but eaten in addition to meat and seafood as nourishing condiments.
Vegetarianism is quite popular in our current culture, but according to H. Leon Abrams, "Vegetable protein alone cannot sustain healthy life because it does not contain enough of all of the amino acids that are essential. There is only one plant that can be classed as a complete protein--the soybean; but it is so low in two of the essential amino acids that it cannot serve as a complete protein for human consumption... Vegetable protein, when supplemented properly with animal protein, makes an excellent combination."
So even if you stick to properly prepared fermented soy products, it is ill-advised to rely solely on soy for your nutritional needs.
What about other grains?
If you're familiar with the concept of soaking and sprouting other grains and seeds, then you may be wondering why we can't just do that with soy. While all grains, nuts, and seeds contain some anti-nutrient properties, these products are easy to process. Soaking and sprouting for a day is enough to inactivate the anti-nutrient properties. But soy is different; it's stubborn. It requires a long, slow fermentation process.
So if you enjoy eating foods like miso, tempeh, natto and soy sauce, than fear not! As long as they are fermented in a traditional manner, they will be a benefit to your health.
Read the whole "Truth About Soy" Series:
Part One - Introduction
Part Two - The Dangers of Unfermented Soy
Part Three - Phytoestrogens
Part Four - GMO's and Soy Production
Part Five - Should Kids Eat Soy?
Part Six - The Benefits of Fermented Soy
Part Seven - Conclusion