Soy, the bane of my existence

Soy. It has become the bane of my existence. It is everywhere, in everything, with an infiltration level rivaled only by corn. It was bad enough when I watched ingredient labels like a hawk for sport, avoiding additives that weren’t healthy to ingest in large quantities (okay, any quantity) on principal, but now the stakes are higher. The ante has been raised, and my obsession with soy has been born. For me, a breast cancer adventurer-turned-survivor, I am trying to do everything I can to stymie the survival of any lurking microscopic cancer cells that may have made it through this past year’s Armageddon. To that end, I try to eat healthy, exercise daily with copious sweating to flush out my body, and avoid things that make the first two efforts futile. One must enjoy life, though, and while I love the taste of healthy food, I also like to give my taste buds a vacation on occasion and step across the train tracks to the seedier side of food-land.  To that end, soy has become, and likely will remain, an ever present bane of my existence.

So what is the problem with soy? The basic gist of the potential problem with soy is that it contains isoflavones, which are weak phytoestrogens. The jury is still out as to the effects of soy on breast cancer, specifically hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, which I have, but more importantly, I am on anti-hormone therapy and there is no assurance that those isoflavones won’t affect the anti-hormone pills ability to do their job. Put plainly, the isoflavones could lessen the effectiveness of the hormone therapy. Ergo, no soy, at least for me.

Full disclosure here – there are lots of articles about soy and breast cancer. They are rife with words like “may” and “not clear” and “if.” For healthy individuals, good quality soy can be a healthy food choice. For individuals with breast cancer, soy may also be a healthy food choice. It really depends on your personal situation and level of obsession. Do your own research, talk to your doctor(s) and make a decision that is right for you.

I seem to be a rare individual in terms of my soy vendetta, or even someone who has heard the “no soy” message. Early on in my treatment, I asked my oncologist, Dr. Regan Rostorfer, what foods an individual with breast cancer should and should not eat. The internet is rife with lists of food recommendations, many of which didn’t make sense to me. He said to eat a balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and lean meats (no surprises there), but no soy and no fried food. It seemed like an easy task at the time. I don’t eat fried food as a rule and I don’t eat soy. No particular reason, just that my tofu phase faded in the 90s and I have never been an edamame or soy nut fan.  It seemed so simple, until I started checking labels. Soy oil, soy flour, soy lecithin, the list is endless. Cheap and abundant, at this stage in our food evolution, soy has followed the trail blazed by corn and infiltrated most products in the grocery store.

When I first got the no-soy news, I started checking labels just to confirm the absence of soy in my usual favorite “vacation” foods. It soon turned into a quest to find any products at all that did not include some form of soy in the ingredients list. The first mind-numbing revelation was that all chocolate contains soy lecithin. Even most of the so-called healthier dark chocolates do. With chocolate off the list, I then crossed off everything with chocolate in it, so no chocolate chip ice cream, for instance. Since soy lecithin does such a bang-up job of making chocolate creamy and delicious, it is also in all baked goods, like cookies, crackers and cakes. So, in the blink of an eye, I have crossed off the entire cookie, cracker, chocolate candy and bakery section of the neighborhood grocery as a vacation destination. My curiosity piqued, I moved to the salad dressing section. All the conventional brands – Wishbone, Kraft, Ken’s, even Newman’s Own, use soy oil. I have been able to find an occasional organic brand that hasn’t switched to soy oil, but you can kiss any fantasy of finding an interesting soy-free salad dressing good-bye. Even fresh meat needs to be checked, as I have found some of it packaged in a solution with soy protein. The last holdout seemed to be the chip aisle, which until recently seemed pretty soy free. Last week I was heartbroken to find that Wise potato chips now includes soy oil as a possibility. Wise Lightly Salted were the perfect chip, until they crossed over to the soy side of the tracks. Which brings me to my next point, which is the label needs to be checked every time you purchase a product, since the manufacturer may change the ingredients at any time. Finally, there are the sneaky labels that don’t list soy products, but follow the ingredient list with a disclaimer that the product may contain soy. It’s a minefield out there!

Okay, I sound a bit nuts even to me, so I won’t get into the fact that shampoos, conditioners, soaps, detergents, moisturizers, beauty products, and on and on and on, now have soy in them. You can even get soy candles. Soy is not as easy to avoid as I thought, but in hindsight I am probably much the better for it. I fastidiously read labels again, which I had taken to only skimming for a time. I have found alternatives to my former vacation foods that suit me just fine, and in reality, I don’t really miss anything that I have opted not to eat. I am still interviewing replacements, which is always half the fun anyway. In the end, the important bit is that I opted to take this path of my own volition. It is my choice and mine alone. I am free to read and interpret the soy literature any which way I want, and Lord knows it is open to interpretation. I could have decided soy is not a problem at all, or that the minuscule amount in the chocolate chips in a scoop of chocolate chip ice cream is inconsequential, but I and I alone chose not to. I chose this soy-free path, because I believe that every little  bit helps. If staying cancer free means that I need to forego the ever widening world of soy, then so be it. It doesn’t mean, though, that I have to be any less miffed at Wise for wrecking what was a perfect potato chip.

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