with Dr. Ben Kim on the Place of Soy in the Health Food Arena
Conducted by Josh Day with Dr. Ben Kim
& Beyond editor Josh Day recently sat down with Dr. Kim to ask
him a few questions on a topic that's always hot in the health food
world. We're talking about soy... what it is, what it does in your
body, and why you see soy this and soy that on almost every aisle
of your local health food store.
jump straight into the interview, shall we?
What exactly is soy?
Dr. Kim: Soybeans are legumes - they look like peas in a pod, but
they're larger. Soybeans are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty
acids, tryptophan, fiber, iron, and a bunch of other minerals.
All of the soy products on the market today - soy milk, tofu, soy
sauce, miso, tempeh - they're made using soybeans, and in most cases,
additional ingredients are added.
Josh: Whats up with everything we hear about fermented
and unfermented soy?
Dr. Kim: Foods made with fermented soy are thought to be healthier
than those made with unfermented soy. Examples of foods made
with fermented soy are miso, tempeh, and naturally brewed soy sauce.
Tofu and soy milk are examples of foods made with unfermented soy,
although sometimes, tofu, once its made, is fermented to produce
fermented tofu dishes in East Asian cooking mostly Chinese.
Josh: Is soy as good for you as many in the health food movement
would have us believe?
Dr. Kim: To me, soy is just another food. I think that you can eat
soy and be healthy, but you dont need to eat it to be healthy.
Josh: In health food stores you see "soy" everything
-- soy milk, soy dairy, etc. Many people, especially vegans, consume
soy as if it were oxygen. They think they're doing their body good
but perhaps they're not?
Dr. Kim: Right, I think the most important point here is that its
best to eat a variety of foods. Anytime you eat too much of one
specific food, especially if that food is rich in protein, you may
increase your risk of eventually becoming intolerant to that food.
Ive seen this happen to people with soy milk, tahini, almonds,
and a number of other protein-dense foods.
Lots of processed foods made with soy like meat-substitutes
theyre made with soy protein
isolate, which is a highly processed food that cant
be as good for us as soybeans that are minimally or naturally processed.
Fermentation is a natural type of processing that doesnt
have the potential to hurt the nutrient value of soybeans the way
that high temperature processing techniques do.
I think I know what youre getting at with this question. Some
people become vegan and turn to soy cheese, soy burgers, soy hot
dogs, soy nuggets, soy ice cream, soy yogurt, soy everything to
feel like they arent depriving themselves of foods that they
enjoyed in the past. The vast majority of these highly processed
foods are made with soy protein isolate and preservatives, and in
my opinion, theyre no better than French fries, donuts, and
regular fast food fare.
Josh: Is "soy" milk or "soy" cheese any better
than, say, the bottled parmesan "cheese" that comes in
a cardboard can?
Dr. Kim: Soy milk - if its made with whole, organic soy beans
and its not sweetened - I think can be a healthy food choice.
But again, the key is to drink it in moderation. A cup or two of
good soy milk a few times a week in your smoothies or on your cereal
is fine, in my opinion. Soy milk that is made with soy protein isolate
and/or has added sugar, even if the sugar is from a natural
source, like evaporated cane juice, is probably no better for us
than Tang. In fact, if its made with soy protein isolate,
its probably worse than Tang, because with Tang, you arent
getting highly processed protein into your system.
Soy cheese my understanding is that some brands of soy cheese
contain casein, the protein found in animal milk. And casein is
problematic for a lot of people. If youre going to eat soy
cheese, I would say to pick a brand that is casein-free and made
with soy milk that is made with whole, organic soy beans. And again,
I would recommend eating it in moderation, say a couple of times
a week at most.
Parmesan cheese I dont know much about how the parmesan
cheese that comes in a cardboard can is made, so I cant say
how healthy a food choice it is. What I can say is that any food
that is made with pasteurized milk isnt a great choice because
it contains casein thats been heated at a high temperature.
I think that Dr. T. Colin Campbell of The China Study believes
that theres a strong association between casein intake and
risk of different types of cancer and other degenerative diseases.
I tend to agree with this, but I cant say the same thing about
raw dairy products. Casein that is unheated and found in milk that
comes from a healthy animal that is allowed to live in a natural
setting may be just fine just look at groups of people out
there mostly Caucasians who live long and healthy
lives with raw dairy as staples this includes different types
of cheese made with raw dairy.
If youre asking me to compare soy cheese that is casein-free
and made with soy milk that is made with whole, organic soy beans
vs. Parmesan cheese thats grated fresh from one of those big
cylindrical blocks made with raw milk, the kind that you see on
one of those Food Network travel shows (I think Malto Mario did
one of those is he really Italian? Because he looks Irish
to me Margaret and I have a running bet on this), then I
think the answer just depends on each persons physiology.
For me, being of Asian descent, soy cheese is probably a healthier
choice than Parmesan cheese. And for you, being Caucasian, assuming
that you arent lactose-intolerant, fresh Parmesan cheese is
probably the better choice. Just so you know, I dont eat soy
or dairy cheese. Well, sometimes, I get a bit in some food at a
restaurant, but this probably happens about once a year at most.
Josh: Do you use soy products in your home? If so, what kinds,
and do you believe there is any health benefit?
Dr. Kim: Sure, we use den jang, which is the Korean version of miso
its a paste thats made with fermented soy beans.
We get it from a Korean market in Toronto in a big tub. Its
made in Korea with organic soybeans. Mostly, we use it to make den
jang soup, which is made by boiling onions, zucchini, spinach, and
sometimes some mushrooms in vegetable broth, and adding some of
the paste after the vegetables are ready and the heat is turned
off. You have to smear the soybean paste along the sides of the
pot to get it to blend in with the rest of the soap. Or what Margaret
does is she holds a medium size strainer in the soup and uses a
spoon to push the den jang through the strainer as it dissolves
into the broth.
We also use soy sauce we usually use Kikkoman its
naturally fermented for several months.
When we use soy sauce, we use just a bit, just to add a little flavour.
You know youve used too much if you wake up the next morning
with a swollen face. I did this once when I lived in Korea.
Naturally fermented soy sauce and den jang are rich in friendly
bacteria, and den jang is rich in protein, iron, tryptophan
all of the nutrients that I mentioned before are in soybeans
I guess those are the health benefits. Oh, and soy sauce, if its
made properly, is extremely rich in naturally occurring antioxidants
its a much richer source of antioxidants than most
types of red wine.
Josh: I love fried rice. A lot of people don't know fried rice
is simply cooked rice, white or brown, stir fried in a wok or hibachi
grill with soy sauce. Now, I've heard soy sauce is not good for
you. Is this true?
Dr. Kim: I think that it mostly depends on the brand that you use.
Some companies make soy sauce by boiling soybeans for a day before
adding color and artificial flavors some of these brands
contain MSG or compounds that very closely resemble MSG.
Most brands of soy sauce are pretty high in salt, so its best
to use small bits at a time. People who have health issues that
are exacerbated by significant salt intake should probably avoid
Also, a few years ago, a government agency in the U.K. found that
some brands of soy sauce contained dangerous amounts of a couple
of different chemicals. The thing is, these chemicals were found
in brands that were made with the short-cut method. Bottom line:
if you use small amounts of a high quality soy sauce thats
been fermented over several months, I think this is fine for most
Josh: How prevalent is soy in Korean cooking? I see soy sauce in
Japanese and Chinese food all the time.
Dr. Kim: I think that its used about as often as we use it.
Den Jang (miso) is used to make soup, which is probably eaten a
few times a week in most Korean homes. Soy sauce is used to add
flavour to some dishes, almost always in small amounts. Soy sauce
is also used as a part of marinades for various meat dishes. Ah,
and tofu we sometimes add little cubes of tofu to our soups,
and sometimes, Koreans will make a separate side dish with tofu
sometimes cooked, sometimes raw with a sauce thats
made with soy sauce, sesame seeds, and green onions.
Josh: What's the relationship between soy and MSG?
Dr. Kim: My understanding is that quality brands of naturally fermented
soy sauce dont have added MSG or MSG-like compounds. Cheaper
brands use hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which behaves like MSG
in the body.
Unless youve been eating foods with MSG for a long time, its
likely that your body will let you know whenever you eat something
that has added MSG or an MSG-like substance. Some of the more common
symptoms that people experience after eating MSG are pounding headaches,
heart palpitations, sweating, a flushed feeling, nausea, weakness,
and shortness of breath.
Several people have told me that they tend to have really crazy
dreams whenever they eat MSG this makes sense, as MSG is
considered an excitotoxin that can rapidly stimulate brain tissue.
Bottom line: if you use a high quality, naturally fermented soy
sauce, and you use it sparingly, you probably dont have to
worry about getting MSG from soy sauce.
from Ben Kim:
large amounts of unfermented soy products on a regular basis is
likely harmful to human health for a variety of reasons, including
high phytate content and possible contamination with Aluminum.
in the anti-soy camp point to the potential that soy has to be an
"endocrine disruptor," while others in this camp believe
that the phytoestrogen content of soy can increase one's risk of
developing breast cancer.
the best of my knowledge, there are no definitive studies in the
peer-reviewed, indexed body of literature that offer conclusive
proof to back up these anti-soy claims. I find some of these claims
to be in the alarmism zone - for example, to say that any food is
an "endocrine disruptor" is a generalization that doesn't
mean anything to me, as every food that we eat and every thought
that we think technically disrupts our endocrine systems.
I mentioned in this interview with Josh Day, I feel that it is prudent
to eat all foods - including soy - in moderation. And I do feel
that it's better for human health to eat fermented forms of soy
over unfermented varieties.
bottom line for me is that I know too many healthy Korean and Chinese
folks in their 80's and even their 90's who have long enjoyed den
jang (miso) and tofu to be able to believe that including some soy
in one's diet is a critical mistake. If you enjoy soy, my advice
is to eat the best varieties available to you in moderation, and
to be filled with peace and compassion as you eat it.
for the record, my wife and I love Malto Mario. :)
Health With Our Free E-mail Newsletter
Join thousands of people from all over the world
who receive our natural health newsletter.
free. You can unsubscribe anytime.
spam. We respect and protect your privacy at all times.
information that you can use to improve the quality of your health
Just a note to let you know how much I appreciate
your newsletter. As a fellow health care provider (optometrist)
and medical researcher, I find your distillation of the literature
into lay terms to be accurate and very understandable. I really
enjoyed your contribution regarding macular degeneration. Keep up
the good work. - Kristine Erickson, OD,
I get a lot of e-mailed newsletters and yours is the only one
I read thoroughly from top to bottom. Your advice is enlightening,
educational, easy to follow and it works! Thank you so much for
all that you offer. - Lisa Abramovic
Thanks for your excellent health newsletter. I look forward
to it every week. Thanks for providing the best online health resource
I have found. - Moorea Maguire
I'm sure as a doctor you hear your share of complaints. I just
thought you'd like to know that there's at least one person in your
"e-audience" that appreciates the time and effort you put into sending
the emails. I really look forward to them. - Linda H., Raleigh,
Many of my adult ESL students are Korean, and enjoy bits and
pieces from your newsletter that I have shared with them. In addition
to your logical approach to health, I enjoy sharing your newsletter
because your English is unfailingly correct as well as easily understood.
Thank you for your beautiful approach to life. - J. Zetterstrom
I thank you and your staff for such a great website. I am former
National Level Bodybuilder so I know a thing or two about health
and fitness. Your site is very valuable and I do my best to pass
it on to friends and people I train. It is also a helpful resource
in my career as a human service provider working with clients who
need to recover from substance abuse. I believe a major part of
recovery is getting your body and mind feeling healthy and strong.
Thank you again! Great Website! - Michael Christopher, MSW
I truly appreciate your wonderful newsletter - your balanced
and professional way of looking at issues is so helpful! -
Throughout this website, statements are made pertaining to the properties
and/or functions of food and/or nutritional products. These statements
have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and
these materials and products are not intended to diagnose, treat,
cure or prevent any disease.