By Chaya Rivka Zwolinski
How should I prepare tofu? That’s the question I probably hear the most often from you.
The answer? Don’t!
Well, unless you have specific nutrition needs. Then you can make it sometimes for a treat. Like steak.
Soy beans are one of the most difficult beans to digest and they contain powerful nutrients that may or may not be good for us. The truth is, no one is sure. But we do know that eating soy affects hormone production. We (meaning Western scientists) just don’t know if this is a good thing.
Another problem with soy is that it is highly allergenic. In fact, it is one of the most common allergies, especially in children. Corn, wheat, citrus, strawberries, dairy products, fish and of course peanuts and tree nuts are some other common allergenic foods. Because people don’t realize that the symptoms of allergies might actually be mild, they are often overlooked. A food allergy or intolerance with mild flare-ups may not discourage children (or even adults) from eating the offending food because the link goes unnoticed.
The body responds to an allergen, which it perceives as toxic, with an inflammatory response designed to rid the body of the offending substance. So, if you constantly eat food that triggers mild allergy symptoms, or is even sub-symptomatic, you are in a constant state of inflammation. And inflammation is often the beginning stage of the disease process. And though they aren’t classified as allergies, arthritis, gout, and other inflammatory disorders are caused, at least in part, by the body’s response to a substance that it believes is a threat to the system.
Because the symptoms don’t always happen immediately after eating a food, it can be challenging to discern which food is causing the attacks. A food elimination diet is the best way to do this (for a variety of reasons, I’m against the “pendulum” and “muscle-testing” methods, the main reason being that they are often inaccurate).
According to the Mayo Clinic the milder symptoms of soy allergy include:
Tingling in the mouth
Hives, itching or itchy, scaly skin (eczema)
Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body
Wheezing, runny nose or trouble breathing (which some might attribute to a cold)
Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
Redness of the skin (flushing)
Soy has risen in popularity almost as much as another easy-to-grow crop: corn. What do soy and ethanol (a corn-based fuel) have in common? They are both products forced into our consciousness by an aggressive lobby—and neither of them live up to the hype. I’m really not such a conspiracy-theorist, but the fact is that the soy farmers pay for studies that “prove” we should all eat…soy. (Okay, I don’t exactly blame the soy farmers’ lobby, I hold the scientists in their pay a bit more accountable). One day perhaps I’ll give you my ethanol rant, but for now, let’s stick to food.
I’m not the only holistic nutrition writer that’s noticed that children who are fed on soy formulas, especially those containing corn solids and/or corn syrup, develop GERD. In fact, there are pediatricians that have begun to regret the soy-formula phenomenon, too. However, some pediatricians and even moms deny the connection. Yet, there’s a generation of formula-fed babies who are prescribed Prevacid as infants. This can’t be a good thing.
When Macrobiotics “hijacked” Japanese cuisine, it encouraged the use of rich, salty soy foods such as shoyu/tamari, miso, and also the Indonesian soy product, tempeh, edamame and so on. If eaten in small quantities on occasion, there is nothing wrong with these foods — in fact, I served vegetable miso soup for dinner last night. Sprouted soy beans, gently cooked, are very nourishing for some people. Fermented soy foods such as miso and tempeh contain bacteria that’s great for the gut, for instance. And tofu, prepared right, is actually a favorite of kids! (I prefer to use sprouted tofu especially during the summer). Store-bought soy milk and “soy nuts” though, are probably only good to eat in emergencies. Like, you are stranded on a mountain and there’s nothing else to eat.
From an energetic perspective, soy —a fatty, dense protein — is cooling. According to TCM, too much soy can weaken the kidneys and adrenal glands. But, it’s a terrific transition food. If your family has the standard American diet (known as SAD), then substituting a soy protein for an animal protein one or two meals a week is a great idea (assuming no one is allergic).
And a soy-based meal, with reasonable serving-sizes, once or twice or even three times a week wouldn’t be a problem, except for one thing: you are probably already eating soy every day without knowing it. If you buy vegan or parve ice cream, boxed cereals, packaged cookies, snacks, biscuits, or chips, bottled sauces or frozen dinners or any one of a thousands products, soy (like corn and wheat), lurks. It can take the form of hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which is a euphemism for MSG. It can be hidden in foods made with vegetable oil (vegetable oil can be made from soy, corn, or other crops). Whatever the name, soy is there.
Here are two non-traditional recipes using Miso, a fermented paste used to make soup stock and flavor sauces, spreads, and dips. It can be made from soybeans, chickpeas, soybeans and rice, soybeans and barley, and other bean and grain combinations. We pretty much only eat chickpea miso because we find it to be the tastiest and most digestible, though that’s really a personal preference. Miso is salty, so if you aren’t able to eat much salt, you might want to stay away or limit the amount you eat. Although it’s a great transition food, very tasty and satisfying, its very concentrated and best in small doses.
Bonus: Miso is packed with friendly bacteria and has many of the health benefits of yogurt, especially if you serve it warm or unheated. (Oh, and buy unpasteurized miso.) For certain health issues, miso might be used daily for a brief period of time.
Living Miso Hummus
1 1/2 cups sprouted chickpeas (or 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas)
1/4 cup tahini (I like Artisana’s raw tahini)
1 tablespoon organic, extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon chickpea miso, or to taste
1 tablespoon (or more) organic apple-cider vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed, optional
1 teaspoon each, cumin and ground coriander, optional
Blend all ingredients in blender or food processor. Serve as dip, spread, or sandwich filling.
Variation: Add up to one tablespoon of any of the following fresh herbs: basil, dill, parsley, mint.
Savory Sandwich Spread
1/4 cup raw or toasted almond butter
1 level tablespoon miso, any variety (you may add more or less miso depending on your taste and the variety of miso you use)
1 finely chopped scallion, optional
Mix ingredients well. Use as sandwich filling. Makes two servings. A great substitute for lunch meat.
Note: Artisana sent me complimentary samples of their delicious, high-quality products, some of which I already used on a regular basis.
Chaya Rivka Zwolinski, has written for PsychCentral.com, Breslov.org, Ami magazine, and numerous online and print publications. She’s ghostwritten or edited numerous books, is the co-author of the patient-rights best seller, Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better and Move On, and is currently co-writing a book on Jewish spiritual approach to recovering from addiction.