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More Trouble With Soy

April 15, 2010

Gah!  I hate how we keep on finding out that companies are engaged in all kinds of shady things with our food supply, and nobody thinks to tell us.  You know, the consumers who buy it and put it in our bodies.

The whole thing reminds me a lot of the “ground” beef affectionately referred to as “Pink Slime.”

Except this time it involves soy.  The last time I wrote about soy was when I was concerned about all the unlabeled genetically modified soybeans that are in almost everything we eat.  Since then, I committed to exclusively buying products made with organic soybeans or pledged that the soy contained no genetically modified ingredients.

And I thought I was fine.

That is, until someone tweeted a link yesterday to an article from the Blue Marble blog on  Which Veggie Burgers Were Made With a Neurotoxin?

What? What! WHAT!

And it turns out the buying products made with soy or made with ingredients derived from soy can be treated with a nasty product called hexane, even when the label says “made with organic soybeans.” The soybeans, after all, are organic.  Their processing is just done with a solvent made from refining crude oil which causes extensive peripheral nervous system failure in people who are chronically exposed to large doses of the stuff.


All of this comes from a recent report issued by the Cornucopia Institute.  They are an organization that is very concerned with organic food and maintaining organic standards.  Needless to say, they are nonplussed by these shenanigans.  Especially the organic part.

You can download both the full report or the executive summary for free.  It is really only part two of the full report that deals with the process (pages 34-44).

The report quotes Steve Demos, founder of White Wave Foods on hexane-extracted soy protein, as saying, “It’s the dirty little secret of the natural-foods business.”


And it gets worse, because this process isn’t limited to soy-based ingredients in veggie burgers.  It is used on ingredients found nutrition bars.  Soy lecithin, which seems to be in practically everything, gets processed with hexene.  Oh yeah, and so does baby formula.

There are two pieces of good news:
1) It may not be as bad for you as it sounds, but more study is needed.
2) Both organic and non-GMO full-fat tofu are untreated with hexane.

But really I don’t want the natural foods industry to have dirty little secrets.  These are supposed to be the good guys.  Once these were the hippies who were going to change the world.  It is no secret that many of the bigger food companies have been buying up the smaller organic and natural foods manufacturers that were growing like crazy.  Yet for some reason I never expected them to make products that incorporate such toxic materials (for both people and the environment) in their manufacture.

Just another good argument for avoiding processed foods.

And don’t forget, only 9 more days to vote in the Times Union Best of the Capital Region poll.  Please help me get the word out about the FUSSYlittleBALLOT during these last few days.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    April 15, 2010 9:09 am

    Soy is a problematic food, because of its estrogenergic properties. It should be eaten with meat, which negates its estrogen boosting properties (Asians usually eat it with meat or meat broth). And it apparently should be fermented; it’s the unfermented kind that’s bad for you, e.g., soy milk, soybean oil, etc.

  2. Chris permalink
    April 15, 2010 11:19 am

    Yes, soy is traditionally prepared in it’s fermented form, and even then only used in small quantities such as as a condiment or part of a broth. As mentioned above, soy is very estrogenic and is not a health food. It also blocks the absorption of other proteins you may be eating with it, and also contains large amounts of trypsin inhibitors.


    In small quantities and when prepared using traditional methods, it’s probably fine. But in our government-subsidising, processed-food, meat-avoiding culture, it’s in practically everything.

    Avoid the veggie burgers and stick with a nice grass-finished hunk of meat. Fortunately, there’s so many grass farmers in our area it’s very easy to support the local guys and eat healthy too.

  3. April 15, 2010 11:55 am

    Your last line says it all. Avoid processed foods as much as possible. The last time I ate a veggie burger, I was a vegetarian, so maybe 9 years ago? All I know is if I were a vegetarian today, I would do everything differently. Whole foods as much as possible. Same thing for protein bars and the like…what’s the point? Eat a fat free or low fat Greek yogurt, just as much protein if not more than most protein bars and it’s a whole food.

  4. April 15, 2010 11:59 am

    I also wanted to add that I am surprised that you are surprised that big companies taking over small organic companies are introducing big business practices to those companies. They’re not taking them over with some altruistic ideal to be in on the organic movement. They’re taking them over to profit and get rid of the competition and as with most big business endeavors, it all becomes about the bottom line. Making money. They couldn’t give a f**k about what they do to the products. As long as people still buy them.

  5. Chris permalink
    April 15, 2010 12:10 pm

    Jen – excellent points. However, there are no 2% cows, so I would have to disagree with eating a reduced-fat yogurt. The full-fat varieties taste better, have a lot less sugar (which needs to be added to compensate for taste when the fat is removed), and will help keep an insulin response and blood sugar spike to a minimum.

  6. James permalink
    April 15, 2010 2:53 pm

    As usual, I will continue my crusade against unnecessary food paranoia here on the FLB. I don’t even want to touch the “soy is bad for you” issue since no one really understands that a protease inhibitor doesn’t rob all the nutritional value from your food and that a 10 or 20% change in estrogen levels exhibited in a study isn’t really biologically significant. I want to deal with hexane.
    If someone wanted to experience the neurotoxicological effects of hexane by consuming contaminated soy products, they would need to be exposed to a concentration of ~400ppm constantly. This means eating ~80g of soy protein (~40mg hexane) at every meal of the day, every single day, for a month. Personally, I don’t think that’s realistic. Hexane is not metabolized by your body and so 99% of it is cleared immediately by the kidneys. The remaining 1% hangs around for maybe another 2-3 hours before being excreted. Even the OSHA personal exposure limit for hexane is 500 ppm constantly throughout an 8 hour work day and they are notorious for setting pretty stringent standards.
    On a final note, I am not an organic expert but I know organic solvent extractions like this are common in lots of other processes and if you are really concerned, you might want to look into the production of nonorganic vegetable, canola, and safflower oils as well as any other emulsifiers.

    • Andrew permalink
      April 15, 2010 6:42 pm

      This article mixes Hexane with Hexene. On Wiki there are two different entries, are these two different products getting confused?

      • James permalink
        April 16, 2010 9:50 am

        The term hexANE describes any fully saturated compound consisting of 6 carbons and 14 hydrogens. It can be straight or branched as you can see on the wiki entry. HexENE describes any 6 carbon compound containing 1 double bond between any 2 of the carbons making it unsaturated. This reduces the number of hydrogens by 2 so its formula is C6H12.
        In the industrial chemical world, these solvents are not usually fractionally distilled into single isomers so the hexANE they use in the extraction is actually a mix of the 6 isomers on wikipedia. It most likely doesn’t contain any hexENE since crude oil contains very little unsaturated acyclic hydrocarbons.

  7. RealFoodMom permalink
    April 15, 2010 4:04 pm

    When I’ve told people over the years about some contraindications of unfermented soy in a healthy diet, they look at me like I have 2 heads. I hadn’t heard the hexane factoids, but I’m not surprised by anything in the food industry anymore.
    Also, regarding jenh718’s comment about yogurt: Only full-fat yogurt is a whole food. If some or all the fat has been removed, it’s out of balance.

  8. April 15, 2010 10:17 pm

    I disagree about the yogurt thing. Full fat yogurt has too much fat (same as full fat milk has too much fat) so I will take the less fat versions. It’s not like anything freaky has to be done to the dairy products to make them lesser fat.

    And low fat Greek yogurt by Chobani or Fage does not have more sugar than the fuller fat versions, they also have less fat overall than most commercial yogurts. Those are the only yogurts I eat, aside from local from the farmer’s market so I’m good.

  9. Chris permalink
    April 16, 2010 9:01 am

    Glad to know Fage doesn’t add more sugar – but – what’s wrong with fat?

  10. April 16, 2010 9:19 am

    Chris, I’m not going to get into the fat debate with you. I’m fairly certain that I can go and find a study that shows that the fat in dairy is not good for you. I eat as I feel comfortable and I hope you do as well. I don’t work out in the fields from morning until night like my ancestors did. I live a fairly sedentary life in comparison. I work, I work out (halfheartedly, I will admit) and I love to bake. So for me, low fat dairy makes sense. Except for cheese. Low fat cheese is an abomination.

  11. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    April 16, 2010 9:35 am

    Low fat or even skim milk is a “whole” food. What nonsense. You must be young. When I was a kid, milk was delivered in bottles house to house. The cream was on the top. You could pour it off and use it for whipping or coffee. The milk then was still “whole” in the sense of a “whole food.” Nothing was done to it. Same with yogurt made out of it.


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