Processed Soy and Meat Alternatives

What can we say? We’re on a soy kick this week. And this time we’ve been wading through the likes of no-meat loaf and veggie riblets. It has led us to this realization. What’s worse than not getting your protein from meat? Getting it from soy. What’s worse than getting it from soy? Getting it from highly processed soy products – especially those freaky riblet things.

You’ve seen the stuff – tofurky, et al. We realize we speak only for ourselves, but we scratch our heads at the cultish enchantment with these products. We’re going to go out on a limb here and declare the following: not only is tofurky not meat, it’s not a healthy, let alone attractive, alternative to meat. Oh what the hey? None of it – not tofurky, not riblets, not smoked BBQ veggie patties, Love Burger (now there’s a boxed wonder), tofu hot dogs, veggie loaf, Morning Star links, Morning Star patties, Chik’N wings, Boca burger, Boca anything. There it is. We’ve said it.

Yes, hordes of vegetarians with torches and pitchforks will be storming our door any minute now. But seriously. Hate us, curse us, draw moustaches on our pictures, but know we mean well. This stuff isn’t healthy for anybody, and – by golly – we just have to put it out there.

“So, what’s with raining on our parade, man? As vegetarians, aren’t we entitled to neighborhood barbeques and Sunday brunch fare? How would you feel?”

Some of us have been there, and we do understand. However, wheat protein and canola oil (yes, better than corn oil) mixed with tofu doesn’t make for a healthy meat substitute. The MDA line: if you are committed to a vegetarian diet and we can’t convince you otherwise, we still encourage you to eat food and not food products. As we said in Scrutinizing Soy a while back, edamame, tempeh, traditional miso (in other words, foods closer to the source) are preferable forms if you choose to eat soy. Processed soy, however, just carries too much baggage.

And it’s not just ‘cause riblets give us the willies. Scientific research suggests that soy processing techniques significantly diminish the purported benefits of soy and may even be a “risk factor” for estrogen-dependent tumor growth. At issue is the reduction in bioactive compounds.

And then there’s the question of sheer volume as well. Compared to traditional diets of China and Japan, Western intake of soy is a whole other animal. Asian soy sources are generally more healthy fermented products like miso and tempeh, whereas American soy intake comes from highly processed products like fast food, snack foods, and even bread. (Side note: Soy protein intake, in conjunction with resistance training, has been shown to result in “lean body mass accretion without negatively affecting serum androgen levels.” It ain’t all bad news…)

Finally, if that moist, grayish lump of tofurky isn’t enough to give you the hibbie jibbies, maybe this description of typical soy processing will:

Soya veggie burgers and sausages generally use the same chemically extracted fraction of the bean. This meal is the product of the industrial crushing process the vast majority of the world’s soya beans go through. The raw beans are broken down to thin flakes, which are then percolated with a petroleum-based hexane solvent to extract the soya oil. The remains of the flakes are toasted and ground to a protein meal, most of which goes into animal feed. Soya flour is made in a similar way. The oil then goes through a process of cleaning, bleaching, degumming and deodorising to remove the solvent and the oil’s characteristic “off” smells and flavours. The lecithin that forms a heavy sludge in the oil during storage used to be regarded as a waste product, but now it has been turned into a valuable market in its own right as an emulsifier.

via The Guardian

Hmmm. And what do you know? It’s not just vegetarians who can read this and weep. That emulsifier sludge and all the other unmentioned (and unmentionable) soy processing by-products end up in good-old processed foods most meat-eating Americans would simply consider good “side dishes,” condiments or even dessert.

Turns out those riblets aren’t the only lunch worth losing. Pass the carrot sticks, will you?

And don’t forget to share your thoughts, anecdotes, rants and comments.

meta viendo, CarbonNYC, arimoore, mac_vegetarian Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Vegetarian Protein Possibilities

5 Meats to Avoid

That’s Fit: Yet Another Reason to Avoid Bread (as if we needed another reason)

The Flying Trapeze: More Soy vs. Soy

Diet Blog: To Soy or Not to Soy

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