Soy Debate: Why Do Health Practitioners Never Agree?

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Soy is one of those things in the holistic health world that attracts as many opinions as there are practitioners. I tend to agree with the likes of Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon – that soy is a no-no. But there are other health experts with whom I agree on other points who also tout the benefits of soy – Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Michael Murray are two that come to mind; both of whom I greatly respect, but disagree with on the soy issue.

The problem is the considerable amount of research on soy: some tout its benefits and others its dangers. In my mind, however, the research showing the negatives of soy far outweigh the benefits. I believe that those who recommend soy are either unaware of the research that shows it to be harmful or under value it.

One reason for the boatloads of evidence on the benefits of soy is the boatloads of money put into researching it. Industrial farms use soy crops as a means of fixing nitrogen into the soil, but then they have to figure out what to do with all that soy. This is the main reason soy is so cheap and so prevalent in our food chain (either soy oil, soy lecithin or soy protein is in just about everything in the grocery store). It’s also the reason so much research has been done on this legume. Given enough money, I’m convinced any moderately healthy food could be elevated to the level of superfood with the studies to back it up. Many foods have the same positive effects of soy but don’t come with the negatives in tow, so I feel it’s something that you’re better off avoiding. This is my opinion.

But let’s get back to the essence of your question; why health experts don’t always reach agreement. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Natasha Turner, but she and I don’t always see eye to eye on certain food recommendations. In fact, on the site there are many great health writers, but few of writers come to a consensus on everything. James Fell is a fantastic fitness writer, but he adheres to the calorie counting model whereas I don’t. Dr. Natasha Turner promotes soy and dairy consumption; I don’t. Even Joy McCarthy, who received her holistic nutrition training at the same school as I did, doesn’t always agree with me. And all these writers would probably have disagreements with each other too.

Although there should be one right answer when it comes to health, fitness and nutrition, this answer is difficult to come by. One explanation is the uniqueness of each individual means different things are going to work for different people. But it also has to do with each health expert’s sources of information and inherent biases. Unfortunately, we all have biases and can’t help but have them interfere with our recommendations. Even science articles themselves, which most of us base our opinions on, aren’t without their biases.

So what does this mean for you? It means a lot of sorting through different information. But that’s OK because learning is fun! I recommend gathering the evidence as best you can and weighing the pros and cons. This doesn’t just apply to soy, but to any health advice. Listen to experts on either side of the issue. Enlist the help of a practitioner, if you can, because they’ve hopefully done a lot of research themselves. The important thing is to find what works for you; intellectually, but more importantly on a practical level. As much sense as one practitioner’s advice might make, do you feel good following their advice? Are you seeing improvement in your health? At the end of the day, this is the most important thing to consider.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.

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