Tofu a friend or foe - there are always two sides to a story and there is definitely an argument for and against the consumption of soy products – and this is for a few reasons.

One of the negatives of growing soybeans using current farming practices is that the majority of crops are either genetically modified or sprayed with pesticides, fungicides and herbicides then made into other products such as TVP (textured vegetable protein) and soy milk. 

Soybeans are considered to be what is classified as a goitrogenic food.  *Goitrogens inhibit thyroid hormone production by interfering with the entry of the essential mineral Iodine into the Thyroid gland, eventually causing it to enlarge and form a Goitre, further worsening any dysfunctional Thyroid conditions.

However, before you go crossing all soy products off your shopping list, they have a multitude of positives to add to the soy debate.  Soy can be grown organically, fermented and made into super nutritious and healthful foods such as Tofu, Tempeh and Natto - and these types of fermented foods not only won’t inhibit the Thyroid gland at all, but their numerous other health benefits are outstanding!  This is because the fermentation process not only destroys the thyroid inhibiting compounds, but the beneficial bacteria support healthy digestion, as well as contributing additional vitamins.

Soy is the perfect substitute for meat in vegan and vegetarian diets as it is considered a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.  It is rich in the minerals iron and calcium, as well as containing compounds called Isoflavones, or plant oestrogens.  Due to their weak oestrogenic affect, these Isoflavones are excellent for balancing female hormones when it comes to reducing the severity of hot flashes during menopause and perimenopause (as oestrogen levels decline as we age), but also useful in other hormonal based conditions.

In fact, a **study published in the Journal of human nutrition and dietetics regarding the properties of Isoflavones discovered consuming a diet that included around 35% soy protein significantly lowered testosterone and triglyceride levels as well as improved weight and blood sugar control in women suffering from PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome).

As a Naturopath specialising in stress, I am always looking for nutrition ‘hacks’ to support my client’s general health and wellbeing – and sleep is crucial for rest and repair.  Producing sufficient levels of the neurotransmitter Serotonin is important to promote a healthy sleep cycle as well as decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression. ***Although soy does not contain Serotonin, it contains three compounds that support Serotonin production -  the amino acid Tryptophan, Isoflavones and complex carbohydrates.  Just a 1 cup serving size of tofu gives you 89% of your daily requirement of Tryptophan, which in combination with the compounds above, helps to synthesize Serotonin.

Hence even though I would consider thyroid inhibiting, GMO based soy foods to be my foe, overall, soybeans in general are my friend as they are a nutritious and versatile food that would make an excellent addition to the standard Australian diet.

If you are considering transitioning to a more plant based diet, shopping for meat substitutes at the supermarket can be a potential minefield.  If you are not sure what to buy, the general rule would be to steer well clear of the highly processed ‘faux meat’ products and look for organic, non gmo, fermented soy foods like Tofu. 

Try this healthy, quick and easy recipe which you can play around with the flavours by switching out whatever vegetables you have on hand.

Written by Natasha Zervaas N.P.


Image courtesy of Google copyright-free images

*https://www.verywellhealth.com/soy-and-the-thyroid-3231800

** https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/

*** https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/soy-serotonin-3834.html

Tofu a friend or foe Tofu a friend or foe

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