Japanese people love soy! I remember when I was a child, a bottle of soy sauce was always on the table and miso soup and natto (fermented soybeans) were served almost every breakfast. Tofu was a typical ingredient of miso soup and also was eaten cold (called “Hiya-yakko”, with fish flakes, green onion and soy sauce on top) in hot summer days. Soy and soy products represent Japanese cuisine and an important part of Japanese culture.
Today, out of the blue, I came to the realization that I have been in Canada for almost twenty years! Time flies and now I am a wife and a mother of two children. My children have been introduced to Japanese foods since they were little and my husband prefers Asian food over Italian (despite his Italian upbringing), thus my family and I consume a fair amount of soy products regularly.
There are some well known health benefits soybeans have: high in quality protein, high in good fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids), an excellent source of calcium and iron, and so on. Some studies (conducted on Asian women) show that consuming a high-soy diet could reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
However, there is less evidence about the benefits of soy in Western populations. Moreover, the evidence is conflicting. These are some effects that could be harmful to have soy in a diet: high in phytoestrogens (estrogen-like function to the body), high levels of phytic acid (a compound that reduces the absorption of minerals), most likely GMO (90% of soy grown in the US is genetically modified), and so on.
The true health benefits of soy seem highly controversial and make consumers very confused!
Then, Is Soy Good or Bad?
Well, it depends on HOW soybeans are prepared. If you think about it, soy products (miso, soy sauce, natto, tempeh…) are all fermented. Traditionally, soybeans have been consumed in fermented fashion. So, it seems like Fermentation holds the key and makes soybeans have more health benefits! The process of fermentation can not only increase nutrients and bioavailability, but also reduce the phytic acid levels.
The reason why Asian populations seem to be healthier than Western populations are related to many factors. High-soy diet could be one of them, but I think the regular consumption of various fermented foods is the biggest difference between the two cultures. Fermented foods contain probiotics and promote a healthy gut. Especially fermented soybeans are called symbiotics which means they contain both probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics become good gut bacteria inside your intestines and fiber (prebiotics) is their food. Eating in this manner (probiotics and prebiotics together) is one of the best ways to improve gut health.
One of my dreams is to introduce some traditional Japanese fermented foods into Western culture. Tofu, miso, and soy sauce are very easy to find at any supermarket nowadays. However, natto is not well known yet and you can only find it at Asian supermarkets which carry Japanese products. If it is so hard to find, why don’t I make it on my own!
So, I am attempting to make natto and “soy milk yogurt” at home…
All is well and all the best!