comments_image Comments

How Can You Tell If You're Eating Healthy Soy or Soy That's Bad for You? Navigating the Dangers of Processed Food

How to keep an eye out for highly processed soy products.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia



AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Melanie Warner is joining us, longtime journalist covering the food industry. Her new book is called Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. Melanie, can you talk about soy products?

MELANIE WARNER: Yeah, I think soy is one of the more confusing products out there for people. I mean, there—and the problem is, there’s soy, and there’s soy. So you have traditional soy products that have been consumed in Asia for centuries, and these are things like miso and tempeh. These are fermented soy products that are actually quite healthy. Tempeh, for instance, has beneficial bacteria in it, much like yogurt does. People don’t always realize that. And then you have—

AMY GOODMAN: I’m a great devotee of tempeh. I love tempeh.

MELANIE WARNER: Yeah, and it’s actually quite delicious, more so than tofu. And so—


MELANIE WARNER: Yeah. And then you have—and then you have the other kind of soy products, which is these highly processed soy products, which are very predominant ingredients in processed food.

So, for instance, soybean oil. Soybean oil has been the leading fat that’s been in processed food for the past five or six decades. It’s so prevalent that it consumes—my estimation was that it—we’re consuming 10 percent of our total daily calories from soybean oil, in part because it’s in—used to fry a lot of foods. So, soybean oil is something that when you go to the grocery store, I’ve seen—I’ve seen it listed on chip packages as a simple, natural ingredient. And if you look at bottles of cooking oil over in a different aisle, it’ll say "100 percent natural." But I spent a fair amount of time learning about how soybean oil is produced, and when you find out about it, you realize it doesn’t scream "natural" at all. The main process uses a chemical called hexane, which is known to be a neurotoxic chemical. And they use that to leech the oil out of the soybeans. It’s very efficient at doing that. And then they vacuum it off. So the idea is that no hexane remains in the final oil, or if any does, it’s small amounts. And then soybean oil goes through other processes, like bleaching and deodorizing. And this has the effect of removing some of the healthy things that would otherwise be in soybean oil, like vitamin E and compounds called phytosterols. So—and then sometimes there’s more processes, like hydrogenation, this relatively new process called interesterification. So this is a very processed processed oil that we’re consuming.

And then you could look at something like soy protein, which comes after the soybean oil production. And that is also something that, by the time it gets to be soy protein—I spent some time inside a soy protein manufacturing plant; this one was outside of—outside of Memphis—and saw these giant hissing and whirling machines and all these chemicals that go into the process in the making of this, that by the time it gets—and there are so many steps—that by the time you get to soy protein, you have almost no nutrition there. Soybeans are this tidy package of vitamins and minerals and fiber and phytosterols, and by the time you get to soy protein, really all you have left is protein, and everything else has been processed out.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how do you look for what’s good or bad when you’re buying food, in terms of the ingredient list? And let me go to a subject that might surprise people: Subway. You know, it’s being touted as the great both, yes, chain, but healthy alternative, because the bread is baked, you know, in the store, and there are a lot of vegetables that are included. I was shocked, on page 11 of "Weird Science," where you talk about the number of ingredients of a Subway sweet onion chicken teriyaki sandwich. And for folks who like little quizzes, guess how many ingredients there are in a Subway sweet onion chicken teriyaki sandwich. The answer would be 105. Fifty-five are dry, dusty substances that were added to the sandwich for a whole variety of reasons. I’m going to try to read some of these. "The chicken contains thirteen: potassium chloride, maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast extract, gum Arabic, salt, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, fructose, dextrose, thiamine hydrochloride, soy protein concentrate, modified potato starch, sodium phosphates. The teriyaki glaze has twelve: sodium benzoate, modified food starch, salt, sugar, acetic acid, maltodextrin, corn starch, spice, wheat, natural flavoring, garlic powder, yeast extract. The fat-free sweet onion sauce, you get another eight." And it goes on from there. I don’t have any of these ingredients in my cupboards, Melanie.

See more stories tagged with: