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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25 thoughts on “Processed Soy and Meat Alternatives”

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  1. The fam and I used to consume a lot of these soy-derived food products. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true, as I’m sure my wife would take issue with that statement. Allow me to rephrase. I used to enjoy a lot of these food products, and still do on occassion. The rest of the fam ate them more sparingly than I did, but still fairly often.

    I’m slowly switching my eating habits to be more nutritionally aligned with an evolutionary dietary perspective, however, I must admit, I have a really tough time. I’m almost positive I’m addicted to sugar and starches, as I often fiend for bread, bagels, rice, chocolate and anything else bad for me (cookies, candy bars, etc.).

    The fam and I have departed from our vegan ways, but not by much. My wife and I now incorporate some Fage Greek-style yogurt into our diet, maybe a few times a week. She’s a big fan of the 2%, whereas I’m a fervent supporter of the Total, full-fat version. It’s mightly delicious. We also found a family nearby that has pet chickens, and so we’ve enjoyed some eggs from them recently. My wife went and met the family, saw their chickens, and agreed with their humane living conditions, so, we got some good eggs. Upon first bite, I realized just how much I missed eggs! They were fan-toodlin’-tastic!

    We’ve also been eating scallops for a while now, on the grounds that molluscs don’t have brains or central nervous systems, and we feel okay about eating such creatures.

    I’ve recently purchased an Olympic weightlifting set with my tax returns, a squat stand and a bench press, as well as Mark Rippetoe’s book Starting Strength. Now that I’m beginning to exercise, I’m finding it very hard to get adequate protein, at least going by the recommendation that I should consume at least 1 g of protein per lb. of bodyweight. That would mean I’d need 150g/day, which seems nigh impossible with my current diet, unless all I plan on doing is gorging myself on tofu and tempeh. Having been recently diagnosed with IBS, I can tell you that eating any large meal, and especially eating such meals frequently, puts a hurting on my stomach.

    I also recently read that only 1g/protein per lb/lean muscle mass was needed. Thoughts on that view?

    Anywho, back to what I originally wanted to state. I’m finding it more and more difficult to stay in line with my previous vegan beliefs about diet. I think what changed my thinking most were Michael Pollan’s books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Those books, coupled with yours and Art’s websites, have really expanded my mind about how humans should eat. I find myself hankering for some grassfed beef, or nitrate-free ham at times. I wonder how long it will be before I break down and give sentient animal flesh a try. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but I’m now more unsure about going back to being omnivorous than ever before. (I realize that I do eat flesh in the form of scallops, so I guess I should clarify that statement by saying “going back to eating sentient animal flesh” or “the flesh of highly developed animals.”)

    Thanks for your blog, Mark and co. It’s been great.

  2. Mike – I think your body is telling you something. It’s telling you that it is designed to consume animal protein. The diet you’re describing is high in carbohydrate, which reinforces your sugar cravings by putting your insulin on a roller coaster. And you wouldn’t be the first vegetarian I’ve heard of who started craving meat when beginning to work out.

    You say you got to know the living conditions of the chickens that lay your eggs – can you get to know the living conditions of your meat animals? I am going to engage in some bubble-bursting here, but I mean it kindly – every food you eat is tainted with the blood of an animal. What do you suppose will happen to those egg-laying chickens when they stop laying? What about that dairy cow? Do you think they will be allowed to die of old age and given a loving burial in the back pasture? And even vegetable sources of protein are not exempt – plows and combines kill tons of small animals every year. Those lives are lost in vain; at least an animal slaughtered for meat goes on to nourish a life.

    We hear a lot about the taking of lives, but isn’t the manner in which lives are taken at least as important as the taking of it? Grant for the sake of argument that humans need animal protein to thrive. Isn’t one of the great things about humanity is that we can, if we choose, take the life of that animal in a way that reduces suffering? Foxes never treat chickens well; big cats inflict horrible pain and suffering on antelopes; but humans have the empathy and the option to end the lives of animals with care. Not every human who eats meat accepts this responsibility, but perhaps you could become one of the few who do.

    Oh, and I’m with you on the Greek yogurt – the full-fat stuff kicks Dannon’s sour, watery, chalky butt.

  3. P.S. I was never actually diagnosed with IBS, but I suffered with a lot of lower-digestive trouble throughout my life – until I gave up grains. So that may be another way your body is trying to tell you something.

  4. while I can’t disagree that this stuff isn’t good for you, yesterday, you had a post about Ham. Ham. Ham, really? yes, Ham. And what could be more nasty than Ham? Only Ham jerky. There is a reason why millions of people don’t eat pork products. And tenderloin aside, they might be onto something. Fess us. You guys had a picture of a honey-glazed ham yesterday. And that’s just not cool.

  5. What’s wrong with ham? As long as it’s not heavily processed, it’s just another cut of pork.

  6. Pink is right, josh. As long as you can find a nitrate free ham there is nothing wrong with this piece of pork…

  7. I have never in my life craved anything “SOY”….but during a nice long fast I crave “STEAK”…not soy, not chicken, not gatorade….my evolutionary developed brain knows what I really need to put in my body.

  8. I’m mostly vegetarian, for lots of reasons. We can’t afford only grass-fed natural meats, plus ethical issues, so we eat it meat rarely. But, we also very rarely eat “meat alternatives.” I do have a few veggie burgers in my freezer right now, but I only have them every few months, because I think they are yummy! I also have tempeh (which I’ve never tried before) and seitan. (Curious to hear feelings on seitan)

    I *never* buy tofu. I get my protein from beans, nuts and dairy mostly.

    I hear the argument about how many animals are killed plowing fields and such, but to me the issue is as much about the animals quality of life. The rodents killed by a tractor in a field probably led a pretty good life eating whatever was growing in that field until they suffered a fairly quick death.

    I have no real objections to eating animals that were raised and killed humanely (which I believe is possible). The farm Michael Pollan speaks of in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Polyface Farm? Is that right?) is a perfect example. I just don’t have access to that, so we don’t eat much meat

    (And I know that eating dairy makes me guilty, but somehow it makes me feel less guilty.)

  9. Mike, I used to be vegetarian, partly on ethical grounds. To me, the issue is not whether an animal is sentient, but whether it suffers. Every cow will die at some point; in my mind the important thing is that it’s raised and slaughtered humanely.

    I’ve switched to modest amounts of pastured meat from my local farmer’s market. My body has been saying “thank god!” ever since.

  10. I could care less about the treatment of animals. I love animal meat and I don’t care how they kill the animal as long as it tastes good and is healthy. To me vegans are nothing but pro-socialist wimps and some of the most annoying people on earth. In fact the spectacle of the Leftist, Commie Vegan is so common its become a living caricature and a ridiculous one at that.

  11. Come on, Kim… Let’s keep the tone nice and positive. Vegans (and [other] animals) need love, too!

  12. Everyone has a choice to eat whatever they want…I just can’t help it if meat is the right way. lol. Anyways, I like organic grass feed meats…as a healthy animal gives healthy meat. Jesus ate fish, was he wrong? WWJE?

    But here’s an interesting link on the fallacies for the vegetarian argument….long but maybe if I can save one vegan…it’s worth it. 😉
    here’s a good snippet:
    “As you and I know, most vegetarians are motivated, at least in part, by their view of the immorality of exploiting animals. Most of them, of course, are city dwellers who have never had the opportunity to till, plant and harvest a field with a vegetable crop.

    Crop agriculture, even if inveterbrates are excluded, is devastating to small amphibians, reptiles, nesting birds and mammals. Even the occasional larger mammal is injured during the cropping process. Unavoidably, the plow destroys burrows and young. Harvest machines kill some animals directly and expose others to the tender mercies of predators. Many times, I have watched as coyotes and hawks follow my tractor feasting on the victims of the plow and reaper [hey, but it is nice for these predators].”

  13. I’m a vegetarian and I agree with you 100% about these processed-crap soy products.

    @Mike – I workout heavily, including a rigorous weight lifting schedule and have not suffered for my “lack” of protein. And I’m no skinny-fat either. I have 16% bodyfat and according to the Rippetoe standards, I am an “advanced” lifter. I do crossfit & play several sports. My iron level is fantastic. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl. Maybe I’m a freak. But I think the 1g/lb of bodyweight recommendation is a little over the top. I was an omnivore for several years and was not nearly as strong as I am now as a vegetarian.

    That said, if you feel like your body needs humanely raised & slaughtered meat to thrive, then you will get no judgment from me. We each need to do what is best for us.

    @Migraineur – you have the most fascinating insights. (I’m still mulling over your blood glucose experiment you mentioned the other day. How did you measure that? Did you prick your finger every hour? Just curious). I agree with your thoughts on slaughtering animals. I wish everyone were as conscientious as you are.

    @Sasquatch – I’d be interested in hearing more about your switch from vegetarianism to eating some meat. Do you have more info on your site? PS> Read the book you recommended to me and it was fascinating. I think about it every time I brush my kids’ teeth.

    @John Kim – Awww, we’re not that kind of site. Stop with the hating:)

  14. Perhaps I’m one of the few people who actually have cravings for tofu…just mashed up and lightly salted. Yet all of those health indications aside, most meat analogues taste nasty. That’s probably the biggest reason I don’t eat them (except for one veggie burger brand where the ingredients are vegetables).

  15. Im all about and addicted to the MORNING STAR VEGGIE PATTIES.


    and my body does crave that and not red meat.

    go figure.


  16. Vegetarians, whether you agree with them or not, do tend to make their choices about what they do and don’t eat with a lot of thought. Because of that, it surprises me that many of them don’t apply the same rigorous level of thinking to processed, fake foods marketed to vegetarians.

    I also have moved from being primarily a vegetarian to eating more grass-fed/pastured meats and wild fish, and I feel it’s been a healthy choice. The whole world of packaged veggie burgers always gave me indigestion anyway, so I’ve never done much of that. I do eat tempeh, but that’s a traditional, fermented, fairly wholesome food.

    By the way, homemade veggie burgers can be delicious, and even fairly nutritious if you make them without any badly processed soy or wheat or corn type processed products. Think more along the lines of pre-soaked beans, lentils, eggs, ground-up nuts, vegetables, healthy fats, herbs…

    Food Is Love

  17. @Charlotte – aw, shucks – I don’t think the things you refer to as “my insights” are my original thoughts, just things I pick up from reading voraciously (and spending too much time online, heh).

    To answer your question: I bought a blood glucose monitor a while ago in response to my doctor’s refusal to order a glucose tolerance test because my fasting levels are normal. I’ve read a lot of stuff that indicates that, by the time your fasting levels are out of whack, your post-meal levels have probably been too high for so long that permanent damage has been done.

    So what I did with the steel cut oats was to stick a finger every 15 minutes (well, you know, I have ten of the things, after all) and watch my BG for a few hours. I plan to write a blog entry about this some day, but I want to do the test on some other foods, and maybe even on pure glucose. But I don’t want to do this kind of test too often, because I don’t want to subject my system to that kind of torture too often. It was not fun. I was hungry all morning (staring with about an hour after eating), developed a nasty headache, and ended the experiment when I got the shakes.

    @ John Kim – I agree with you about meat – my favorite place for a cow is on my plate. But I think that it’s a bit short-sighted to call that the end of the argument. The way an animal is raised – confinement, antibiotics, hormones, poor manure control, inappropriate diet – determines the health of the animal and the health of the person that eats it. There’s something wrong with a society that turns a blind eye to animal husbandry practices and then expects the government to fix it (how? by dipping cow carcasses in bleach?) when an E. coli outbreak kills little children.

  18. Charlotte,

    I’m thrilled you read “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”!

    I haven’t talked about my switch from vegetarianism on my site. Maybe I will someday. I have a lot of respect for vegetarians, and I still try to be thoughtful about the ethics of my food choices.

    I had stopped eating meat because I was disgusted by confinement-raised meat. It’s hard not to be when you learn what’s going on. I will not eat conventional meats to this day. I also wanted to reduce my environmental impact. But after reading “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” and getting acquainted with the local farmer’s market, I decided well-raised meat is good for my health, humane and OK for the environment.

  19. To further the point about the differences between consumption here and consumption amongst Chinese and Japanese, T. Colin Campbell found that typical daily soy consumption amongst Asians was about 9 grams….2 teaspoons. Yes, that’s the “staple of the Chinese diet” that so many vegetarians like to roll out. I wrote a post on soy last November and discussed some of the other issues, like goitrogens, protease inhibitors, and heavy metal contamination. Plain and simple, soy is to be avoided unless it’s fermented.

    Migraineur, the health of the animal and the farm that raises it also has an effect on the environment. Contamination of the water and land from these CAFOs is rampant.

    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

  20. Hi….a few point that may provide interesting fodder for discussion…..

    What is happening is that nearly all processed foods contain stuff that simply can not be handled by our bodies.

    More and more research is coming out illustrating how the heme in red meat can reduce the turnover of mucous membrane cells in the colon, thereby making it more susceptible to insults from substances like heterocyclic amines. Chlorophyll has the opposite effect (search in the proceedings of the national academy of sciences for multiple references).

    Any research on the efficacy of an Indian vegetarian diet out there? My friend’s family eats whole wheat unleavened bread with curried greens and finishes off with curried toor daal with spinach and brown rice. Sounds like a pretty well rounded meal to me.

    Plus, research is showing protective benefits of curry (specifically curcumin found in turmeric on cancer, alzheimers, and generalized inflammation. Not to mention it tastes damn good too….

  21. Even though this is an older post, I just have to share: One Thanksgiving I told my brother-in-law that we were having Tofurky. The look of horror on his face was just priceless and will be permanently etched into my memory. But, not to worry, there will never be any frankenfoods of any kind, shape or form in my kitchen!

  22. I am a pseudo-vegetarian female looking for advice. The problem: belly fat just below the belly button. I have a 28″ waist, but measure 32″ where that fat is. It never changes, except has gotten a bit bigger as I age (I am now 32).

    My History:
    I have eaten “real” foods since I was a baby (thanks mom and dad), reduced carbs for about 5 years, and no meat for about 4 years. My belly fat has always been there, even through a strict month-long raw detox with no carbs. As an ex-gymnast, I have a lot of muscle mass that sticks around, and can get pretty good tone quickly. As a result my “body weight” is higher than I look (At 5′-4.5″ I weigh 125 at my leanest, and 135 right now, in poor shape).

    My diet:
    In a typical day, I eat: 2 eggs with salsa for breakfast, a smoothie (with pea protein powder, banana, cocoa, half cup berries, flax oil) for lunch, a salad wrap (guacamole, lettuce, carrots, etc) for dinner, and a snack of smoke salmon and some almonds. I do a couple times of week break diet and a eat a cupcake or a big slice of pizza, or something. I am regularly under 1200 calories/day, and have gone over a month at about 800 calories per day if I only eat when hungry.

    My workout:
    I started high intensity training a couple years ago and love it, but in the past nine months rarely worked out. In the past couple weeks, I have been biking to work (one hour each way) with occasional pull-up/sit-up sessions. As my schedule cools down, I expect to fit in more high intensity sessions,probably 3-4 a week.

    So, what gives? Is this belly fat here to stay forever?

    1. @Jennifer, it sounds like you’re not eating nearly enough calories! I’ve been where you are. Eating less than 1200/day at one point because I wasn’t very hungry. The weight wasn’t going away! Once I started eating primally (no grains, maybe a little rice occasionally, more protein, and WAY more fat), my stomach started flattening and my waist started shrinking. I believe increasing my fat intake and decreasing my carb intake was the key. At first it was hard because I was used to eating so little, but after an adjustment period my hunger signals were back to normal and my belly kept getting smaller.