I’d like to tell you about an “earthquake” I’ve experienced recently.
I was planning this month’s article for quite some time. I planned to tell you about a healthy product I’ve been using for about 10 years called Textured Soy Protein (TSP). As opposed to processed soy products like soy franks and burgers, I knew that unprocessed TSP was considered a good-for-you food. Therefore, Iwanted to explain how it looks, where you can buy it and what you can make out of it. It’s what my cookbook editor wanted to know before deciding if I should include my TSP recipes (I have about 10) in my latest book. I planned to list the advantages (high protein, low fat, high versatility, low cost) and to look into the disadvantages. I’d heard rumors that eating too much soy can cause hormonal disruptions and especially so in growing children. I wanted to check it out and get to the bottom of it all in order to safely suggest that consuming soy products once a week would be a sensible way to gain from soy’s advantages without experiencing its disadvantages.
But then the carpet was pulled from under my feet. After sending my good friend Sashi a few questions, she responded with information that turned everything upside down. Here’s part of it:
“Every time you eat any product containing Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) you are consuming traces of hexane, a petroleum chemical in which soybeans are treated in order to convert them into TVP [also known as TSP or soy protein isolates]. Soy processors use hexane as a solvent to separate soy fat from soy protein. The procedure involves soaking the soybeans in hexane, a by-product of gasoline refining. “The protein portion of the hexane-treated soybeans then undergoes a process known as ‘extrusion cooking.’ High nitrogen solubility index (NSI) defatted soy flour and water are combined to form dough in an industrial mixing cylinder. This dough passes through the barrel of a screw type extruder. The resulting product is then cut with revolving knives and oven-dried to achieve the desired form of granules, flakes, or patties. “This highly processed ‘food’ may be shipped in bulk as TVP for home cooking. Many vegetarian cookbooks, magazines and websites still include recipes including this ingredient. In other cases the TVP may be sold to the manufacturers of protein bars, frozen vegetarian meat substitutes and other purportedly healthy foods that show up on the shelves of your local market.”
I wasn’t about to take it all at face value. I made a few calls to nutritionists and health food stores to make sure the information I received wasn’t coming from a body or organization that had ulterior motives. But the deeper I dug into the topic, the more confusing it became. I needed a solution for my family for the time being until the fog cleared up around this topic.
“So that’s it guys, no more soy for us!”
Announcing this at home was the first step I took in banning the culprit. Then I deleted recipes like “Soy Nuggets”, “Soy Stuffed Cannelloni” and “Parve Pepper Steak” from my cookbook draft. And I began to rack my brain for a new idea for my column and for my kids to eat.
So I asked Nina, a naturopath I consult with from time to time, about food and health issues, what substitute she would suggest for those parve, satisfying and inexpensive meals I used to make with TSP.
“Whole soybeans,” was the answer. “They have all the advantages of soy without being processed with hexane,” she added.
Soybeans are actually called the “meat that grows on crops” since it is believed that they can supplement or replace the daily protein requirements we normally get from meat and fish – without the fat and bad cholesterol. There’s no doubt that soybeans are a nutritional powerhouse as they are rich not only in protein (they contain the highest amount of protein of any grain or legume) but in fiber, iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins as well. Some studies show that soy protein may actually lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and, because of its calcium content, help in the body’s bone building process.