Soy is a hotly debated product among those who promote and sell
its nutritional value as well as consumers who eat it. The debate
stems largely from the health value of nonfermented soy found in
a great many processed foods in relation to those that use the much
healthier alternative fermented soy.
Why? Nonfermented soy products contain phytic acid, which contains
anti-nutritive properties. Phytic acid binds with certain nutrients,
including iron, to inhibit their absorption. This is a direct, physical
effect that takes place in the digestive system. Their ability to
bind is limited by the milligrams of phytic acid present.
Products using nonfermented soy include:
- Fresh green soybeans
- Whole dry soybeans
- Soy milk
What makes unfermented soy particularly unsafe: It's hard to avoid
soy in processed foods such as baby formula, meat substitutes, drinks
and snacks. One can find it in a great many domestically-produced
food products at the grocery store. Additionally, soy is sanctioned
by groups like the Soy Protein Council and USDA that cite the presence
of isoflavones scientists say reduces one's risk of cancer.
On the other hand, fermented soy stops the effect of phytic acid
and increases the availability of isoflavones. The fermentation
also creates the probiotics--the "good" bacteria the body
is absolutely dependent on, such as lactobacilli--that increase
the quantity, availability, digestibility and assimilation of nutrients
in the body.
Products using fermented soy include:
- Soy sauces
- Fermented tofu and soymilk
Many studies have shown traditionally fermented soy--which is the
form that is very popular in many Asian cultures--aids in preventing
and reducing a variety of diseases including certain forms of heart
disease and cancers.
One such study of the culturing method involved in the production
of the Japanese traditional food miso concluded the culturing process
itself led to a lower number and growth rate of cancers. Researchers
also found it was not the presence of any specific nutrient that
was cultured along with the soyabean paste but the cultured soy
medium itself that was responsible for the health benefits associated
with eating miso.
Miso, a fermented or probiotic form of soyabean, is particularly
rich in the isoflavone aglycones, genistein and daidzein, which
are believed to be cancer chemopreventatives.
The health benefits are found to be as good with natto, according
to research conducted by a Japanese scientist who found natto had
the highest fibrinolytic activity among 200 foods produced worldwide.
About 15 years ago, that same scientist discovered an enzyme produced
in the fermentation process, nattokinase, a powerful agent contained
in the sticky part of natto that dissolves blood clots that lead
to heart attacks, strokes and senility.
Natto also contains vitamin K2 and isophrabon, which help to prevent
diseases such as osteoporosis and breast cancer and slow down the
How Do Fermented Foods Work?
Scientists have considered three different theories:
Primary active ingredients in complex fermented soy "foods"
act synergistically with secondary compounds
Secondary compounds mitigate the undesirable side effects
caused by the predominant active ingredients
Multiple ingredients act through multiple discrete pathways
to therapeutically affect the host. That allows lower concentrations
of each of the botanicals or soy phytochemicals to be more efficacious
when used together than when used individually
Four years ago, the World Health Organization reported the Japanese,
who consume large amounts of fermented soy foods like natto and
miso along with green tea, ginger and ocean herbs, have the longest
lifespan of any people in the world.
Unfortunately, Americans didn't make the top 20 for lengthy lifespans,
which has much to do with a Western diet that emphasizes foods that
are processed and genetically altered. That could have a domino
effect worldwide on the health of other cultures. Experts fear consumers
in other cultures may abandon their traditional fermented foods
for a more Western diet, losing healthy sources of probiotic whole
Being Journal Vol. 11, No.6
Costa Times July 14, 2004