Another Good News on Soy Story

27 02 2010
Just a little sprout, nothing to fear

Don't fear the bean

Soy. Is it good for you, or is it bad for you? Just a few years ago there was no question, it was a great addition to the diet. Then some dark forces, combined with ill-informed theories, suddenly cast suspicion on the miracle bean. The estrogens, aaack, the estrogens! They must be feeding estrogen fueled tumors. They must be feminizing men.

Seriously, I googled ” boys soy feminine” and found a blog swearing that soy is making boys gay and their penises smaller. The blogger even extended this to a “spiritual” effect, whatever that means. I guess all these kids who eat tofu with their hippie parents seem femme-y to him.

Think. If this were the case, there would be no Chinese people, because all the men would be gay and infertile. The women would be dying of breast cancer as lonely spinsters. Unlike the reality, which is that the populations who eat soy are healthy across the board.

I know I have railed about this before, so bear with me. More studies have come out, as they do with some regularity, refuting the scare theories. But, as Mark Twain once said, “a lie can make it around the world, while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” or something to that effect. Basically, once you get the idea out there that something that was already foreign to Americans might make men girlish, well, the damage is done.

In a meta-analysis to be published in Fertility and Sterility magazine, based on more than 50 groups of men, found that neither soy foods or the isoflavones that they contain had any effect on testosterone levels in men. In fact, a meta-analysis of 14 other studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a 30% reduction of prostate cancer risk in men who consumed soymilk and tofu.

The isoflavones in soy act like very weak estrogens, which seems to have a beneficial effect on both women and men. Both men and women make estrogens in their bodies and consume plant estrogens in everything from coffee to flax seeds. It is a misunderstanding of this, combined with the myth that men need lots of red meat to be masculine, that seems to have fed this silliness.

In looking for explanations for rising infertility, some people blame soy, when they should look elsewhere. Maybe at the super potent estrogens in plastics, that leach into all our food and drink, for a start. Soy has been consumed for thousands of years in Asian countries and they have no fertility problems.

Will this lift the cloud of suspicion, and return soy to its place of glory? I fear that it will never be what it might have been. The anti-soy thing has taken hold, and may never leave the minds of the public at large.
Soy on FoodistaSoy


Is Yogurt the Magic Potion for Life?

21 02 2010

Is this the miracle food?

We’ve all seen them, The famous actress over 50, the sassy girls at the wedding, spooning up yogurt and dishing about the health benefits of the special bacteria in there. They promise good digestive health, as they chat collegially about certain, ahem, issues they are having, down there.

Probiotics, the bacteria that are being pitched to you so vigorously in these charming marketing tools, are a vast population of tiny organisms that populate your digestive tract. They are part of a huge growth market, in part because of these high powered sales pitches, and in part because of good science. Unfortunately, buying pills and powders, or eating yogurt, may not be helping you at all.

To clarify, yogurt is just one of the foods that contain live cultures. Fermenting of foods is a natural action that we have been employing for centuries, by basically allowing things to decay a bit, as the ambient microflora population goes to work, or by seeding the food with a chosen bacteria. Fermentation breaks down foods and makes them more digestible, liberating both flavor compounds and health giving chemicals that you would not have been able to get before the bacteria went to work. Examples include sauerkraut and kimchee, beer, wine, chocolate, miso, soy sauce, tempeh, sourdough bread, black tea, cheese, and more. In most of these foods, the fermentation is either halted by killing the live bacteria, by heating it (bread and chocolate) or greatly slowed by cold storage (yogurt and miso).

For more on fermented foods, check out Sandor Katz website:

Foods in which the organisms are live have always been associated with good digestive health. The gut is populated with colonies of bacteria, a number of which actually do the digesting for you. Yes, there are foods that you cannot break down yourself, but you have a friendly group of microbes down there to do it for you. This is the case with the indigestible starch chains in beans, called oligosaccharides. The only downside is that the bacteria digesting your beans for you give off some gas in the process, so it is actually them who give beans their musical reputation. The upside is that the more of these bacteria you have in the gut, the lower your risks of colon cancer, so maybe the toots are not such a terrible thing.

The science so far is pretty solid on a few things with probiotics. Lactobacillus helps with diarrhea and constipation. A few of them help greatly with dermatitis. Claims are made that they build the immune system, and it makes sense that they would, but it’s still being studied. A big issue in all of this is that a study might find that a certain strain does something, but that is one of thousands and most yogurts don’t tell you with that much specificity what is in there.

Still in the age of antibiotics being given to livestock, probiotics seem like a good way to keep your gut populated with the right bacteria in between onslaughts. And for the general population just looking to stay healthy, they can’t hurt at all. But are all these little bugs something we should use to treat actual health issues?

Well, according to Gail Cresci, a dietitian and expert on probiotics from the Medical College of Georgia, Not Necessarily.
While ms Cresci is deep into the use of specific bacteria to treat specific imbalances, she cautions against a one size fits all approach. According to her, most of the supplements that people take are wasted, never delivering live cultures where they need to go. She cautions that antibiotics are a big problem for the gut, but also says something even more refreshing.
She says that what you eat to feed your bacteria is more important than supplementing. She recommends a balanced, real food diet, with 30% or less of calories from fat and less that 10% saturated, 25-30 gs fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and then some protein, preferably fiber rich plant sources like beans and nuts, and dairy if you can tolerate it.
So maybe it is less about buying powders and pills, and more about eating right? She must not be on the payroll of a supplement manufacturer.

So, eat plenty of fermented foods, especially with live cultures, to keep your internal populations flourishing, and to reap the many other benefits of fermentation. Vegans who don’t want to eat yogurt can eat other live culture foods. Check out kefir and kraut and kimchee.  Don’t fall for ads that claim one brand of yogurt will save you. Eat a good, balanced diet that feeds your friends as well as you.
Kefir on FoodistaKefir

The Magic Pan that Vegetarians Must Have

13 02 2010

All the iron you need in a pan

Usually when we talk about eating a balanced diet, we talk about food. Eat more of this, less of that, that kind of thing. But there is one nutrient that vegetarians and vegans can add to their balanced diets just by changing pans.

I’m talking about iron, of course, and the vegetarian’s friend, the cast iron pan. Yes, cast iron is a powerful way to get plenty of iron, all without eating any meat. It’s also a great way to cook.

Your Grandmother probably cooked in cast iron, and if you are really lucky, you inherited her pans. The indestructibility of cast iron makes is a lifetime investment, and beyond. I have some I inherited from my Mother in Law that go back to her Mother, and they aren’t going anywhere.

Cooking foods in cast iron measurably adds iron to them, especially if they are a bit acidic. In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 1986, researchers measured the increase in iron in certain foods cooked in the pans. A 3 ounce serving of spaghetti sauce cooked in cast iron increased from .6 mg iron to 5.7 mg. 3 ounces of applesauce went from .35 mg to 7.3 mg. Scrambled eggs increased from 1.49 mg to 4.79 mg, and pancakes went from .63 mg to 1.31 mg. Plain white rice went from .67 mg per serving to 1.97mg, tripling it.

Since women of childbearing age need 18 mg per day, and most other adults need 8 mg, cooking in iron makes great sense. Other iron tips include eating some vitamin C with your iron containing foods. Good vegetarian source include cooked soy beans (8.8 mg per cup) lentils (6.6mg per cup) leafy greens like chard (4.0 mg per cooked cup) and dried fruits and molasses.

If you drink caffeine, don’t have it with iron containing foods, and don’t eat too much bran. It’s better to eat whole grain foods throughout the day than to eat large doses of bran, since the phytates in bran can keep you from absorbing your iron.

Cast iron cookery may be a lost art these days, after everyone went to teflon and non-stick pans during our fat-phobic years. Better to go back to leaching good for you iron into your stir-fry than the chemicals in the other stuff. Cast iron takes a little more effort to maintain, but its worth it. Don’t buy an enameled one if you are looking for iron, it has to be naked iron touching the food.

So, when you get your cast iron pan, you may have to season it. Lodge makes a pre-seasoned line now, which is very popular. It’s not hard to season a pan, but it’s like training a puppy, you have to do it consistently at first. So, when you get your pan, heat the oven to 200 F, rub the pan with a thin coating of shortening, and put the pan in the oven for an hour or two. Don’t use too much fat, or you might get a film. Some people recommend setting it upside down on a foil lined baking pan so that any extra oil will drain out, but that is a production. What is happening in the oven is that the pores of the metal actually open up in the heat, and the oil bonds with it to make non-stick coating.

After that, every time you use the pan, wipe it out, never scour. I know, sometimes things stick anyway, and you might have to give it a rub with a scrubbie in spots. It’s all good. Just do your best to not damage the seasoned surface, and then dry it and rub it down with more shortening. I like to keep my skillets in the oven-then they don’t get dusty, and when I preheat the oven for baking, the pans get heated with their coating of oil. Then I just take the hot pan out and put it on the back of the stove to cool.

If you don’t have a cast iron Dutch oven, I recommend buying one, they are not expensive. Use it for all your spaghetti sauces and soups like this one. Just season it afterward.

And you may just feel better every day.

Spicy Black Bean and Collard Soup in Cast Iron

This is a basic bean soup, you can use other beans as well. Simmering for a long time increases the iron content, so cooking beans in iron is a both delicious and good for you!

Makes about 8 cups
1   cup  black beans, sorted and rinsed
1   small  chipotle chile canned in adobo, chopped
1    large  carrot, chopped
1   medium  yellow onion, diced
2   stalks  celery, sliced
2   cloves  garlic, minced
1   tablespoon  cumin
1/2   teaspoon  oregano
14   ounces  canned diced tomatoes
1/2   teaspoon  salt
1   bunch  collard greens, chopped

1. Sort and wash beans. Put in a cast iron dutch oven. Soak overnight or quick soak by covering with an inch of water, bringing to a boil, and turning off for 1 hour. Pour off the soaking water and cover with water by an inch, and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the beans to a simmer and add the chipotle, onion, carrot, and celery. Cover the pot and cook until the beans are almost tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary. Add the, garlic, cumin, oregano, tomatoes, salt and crushed chiles. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
3. Add the chopped collards and cook for about 5 minutes, just until the greens are soft and dark green. Adjust seasonings and serve with cornbread or rice. This freezes well, also. Makes about 8 cups.

Seasoning Cast Iron on FoodistaSeasoning Cast Iron