The horsemeat scandal across Europe has largely dampened our appetite for meat and meat products. According to some people, such revelations may be a good reason to become a vegetarian. The only ones who have benefited from this scandal are the producers of vegetarian products and products that imitate meat or the so-called soy products.
Products that imitate meat have become more and more popular in recent years. There is already a wide choice between "almost lamb" roast, soy fish fillets and vegetarian turkey. According to estimates of large producers of semi-cooked foods, the demand for entirely vegetarian products has increased by 17%. For some products - such as vegetarian burger, the demand has increased by 50%.
The main ingredient in these semi-cooked products is soy. It is grown all over the world. The main producers of soybeans worldwide are the United States and Brazil. It was first used in 1959. Until the 1980s, soybeans were simply a waste product of soybean oil production. But then the American companies producing soybean oil, thought to advertise it as a healthy substitute for meat, which increased their profits.
A number of studies at the time, carried out with the financial support of soybean oil producers, identified soy as an extremely useful and healthy product. According to the published results of studies on the benefits of consuming soy products, their regular consumption helps build healthier bones, controls and even reduces the symptoms of menopause, relieving hot flashes and palpitations. Researchers say it even prevents the development of certain cancers such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer.
Many modern studies dispute these results. In 2006, the American Heart Association reported that their long-term observations did not prove the health benefits of soy consumption. No study has shown a link between eating soy products and reducing the incidence of various cancers or relieving menopausal symptoms.
A 2008 study by the Infertility Clinic in Massachusetts showed a link between increased soy consumption and soy products and reduced male fertility.
Soybeans contain natural toxins such as phytic acid, which reduce the ability to absorb vital minerals such as iron and zinc and can lead to mineral deficiencies. These toxins are also found in chickpeas and wheat, but at much lower levels. Technological processing of soybeans should completely eliminate these toxins, but traces of them can be found in soy products.
Soy also contains some isoflavones, natural, powerful, plant compounds that mimic the female sex hormone estrogen.
In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority rejected many claims about the health benefits of soy products and claims from manufacturers of soy semi-cooked products, isoflavones promote hair growth, reduce menopausal symptoms, improve heart health and protect cells from harmful oxidative processes.
In 2003, the U.S. Government Toxicology Agency identified three groups of people who were potentially at risk from soy consumption - babies fed soy milk, people with hypothyroidism on the thyroid gland and women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Another cause for concern is the way most soy products are produced. In tofu, miso or soy milk, soybeans are very lightly processed. But when it comes to vegetarian sausages or vegan cheese, soy protein is extracted by washing soy flour with acid in aluminum pans.
This poses a potential risk of aluminum, which is extremely harmful to the human brain and nervous system, getting into some of the products. Technological processing of soybeans leads to the release of glutamic acid, which can cause acute allergic reactions.
Soy products are widely used in the food industry and not just as a substitute for meat. Much of the protein bars, spreadable cheese and even ice cream also contain traces of soy. Soy can even be found in some meat products such as beef burgers.
Soy proteins are almost completely tasteless. To make them more attractive to consumers, many soybean manufacturers add sweeteners, artificial flavors, colors and salt to soybeans. The irony is that consumers who strive for a healthier lifestyle by avoiding meat and meat products, actually consume an unhealthy substitute.