Last updated on August 23rd, 2011
In my last post, I speculated about my sensitivity to wheat, noting that having virtually eliminated wheat from my diet, I have also eliminated chronic digestion problems that seemed to be getting worse as I aged.
It was easy to finger wheat, which has a growing reputation as a bad dietary player for many people. Both the gluten and lectin families of proteins in wheat have been connected to health problems that fall under the heading of “inflammation.”
In the post, I considered a couple of other suspects, dairy and beans (legumes), but the details of my own dietary history, before and after carbs, pointed most strongly at wheat.
I still feel that way, but I now have an additional suspect to consider: soy.
OK, soybeans are legumes, but they aren’t the kind of legumes I was thinking of yesterday. I had lentils and navy beans in mind: the beans I ate in soups. (Anita’s bean soups are the best. They aren’t the reason I married her. Just a nice bonus.)
I was put onto soybeans by a book I picked up at Border’s going out of business sale: The Inflammation Syndrome: Your Nutrition Plan for Great Health, Weight Loss, and Pain-Free Living by Jack Challem (Wiley, 2010). Step #10 in Challem’s 14-step dietary program for reducing or reversing inflammation is “Identify and avoid food allergens.”
Given my frame of mind, when I cracked open the book today, #10 was the first step I read. Challem says people can be sensitive to any food, but three common sensitivities are to wheat, dairy and soy.
Like many Americans, I rarely sought out soy-based products. Soy sauce would be the exception. But like most Americans, I’ve been consuming a lot more soy than I knew.
Some people deliberately avoid soy. My wife is one. Anita avoids soy because of its “phytoestrogens,” which have been associated with the type of breast cancer that runs in her family.
But I never had a reason to be suspicious of soy. In fact, when I first started eating low-carb, I thought soybeans would be my friend. They are low in carbs and high in protein — what more could you want? It’s a freakin’ health food! One of the fist specialty low-carb foods that I bought was soy milk. I didn’t like it much, but probably could have gotten used to it.
Then I started reading about problems with the way soy is prepared and used in modern western diets. (See, for example, Mary G. Enig’s Soy: Cinderella’s Dark Side.) Basically, it is used way too much and not in the fermented forms traditional in eastern diets. Like wheat, soybeans in their natural state contain anti-nutrients that are not destroyed by ordinary cooking.
So I never bought any more soy milk, and I also started reading food labels more closely.
In the U.S., soy provides a cheap oil and cheap protein, and food manufacturers put it in everything from mayonnaise and salad dressings to chocolate and potato chips. When you read food labels, you see soy everywhere. Sometimes it is disguised by a phrase such as “and other vegetable oils.” Maybe that isn’t soy oil, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Luckily, I was already giving up most packaged foods, and all high-carb junk food. It’s a natural part of switching to a low-carb, whole foods way of eating. But soy is in some products I still consume, such as bottled salad dressing and mayonnaise.
I figure those convenience products and an occasional dash of soy sauce are plenty of soy for me. (And I’m working on limiting the convenience products more and more.)
By ditching most packaged foods, I ditched a lot of soy. That action may or may not have been a factor in my digestive tract improvements, but I’m not drinking more soy milk to find out.
As far as that goes, I’m not drinking cow’s milk, either. Some cream in my coffee and an ounce or two of cheese are usually all the dairy I eat in a day.
My intestines and I are doing fine on a no-wheat, limited-dairy, limited-soy, low-carb diet. We’ll stick with that.