Soy is often seeing as a health food. Recently, we have been introduced to this new “superfood” which claims to be a good source of protein, and low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Since then, it has been so well marketed that it’s everywhere. It’s not that soy is unhealthy but it’s not consumed the way it should be. To promote health, soy should be fermented and consumed in small quantities. This is how Asians were traditionally eating it. They were mostly eating fermented soy like tempeh, natto and miso, as well as naturally fermented soy sauce; not highly processed soy foods like we do here in America. Soy is not only found in soy foods like tofu and soy milk but is also used as a filler in so many processed foods, which is a serious concern, especially for growing children.

Unfermented processed soy is not a health food. It does not prevent or cure diseases, and is not proven safe, and especially not for infants, babies and growing children. And the most serious problem with soy may be its use in infant formulas. Several hundred studies have concluded soy to be phyto-toxic causing different neurological and physiological disorders, and even the FDA refused to approve isolate soy protein as a safe food additive with the designation “Generally Recognized as Safe”. Soy is known to disrupts several neurotransmitter systems in the body such as oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, choline and GABA, which have been reported to cause neurological disorders. Soy also inhibits important enzymes such as tyrosine and trypsin, which can also result to an assortment of health effects including consequences to the brain. Trypsin inhibitors also make proteins in soybeans that make soy difficult to digest and affects absorption of nutrients.

There are many reasons why soy formula should be avoided. The main and biggest problem is that soy formula is a tremendous source of phytoestrogens to the baby. Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic estrogens. They act as endocrine disruptors, which means that they interfere with our hormones. The large amount found in soy formula may disrupt hormones, development, and immunity. According to Kaayla Daniel, PhD, author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food, describes calculations indicating that babies fed on soy formula are consuming the estrogenic equivalent of three to five birth control pills per day. This is very troubling. Data from animal studies also suggest that phytoestrogens can inhibit thyroid peroxidase, which could lead to abnormal thyroid function, and other studies have also shown that consumption of phytoestrogens can result in infertility, and that exposure to isoflavones present in soy-based formula can cause subtle alterations in sex organ development, brain maturation and immune system function, as well as stimulating cancer development.

Soy is said to be a good source of calcium and other important minerals but the problem is that soy is very high in phytates, substances that bind with minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc in the body, which means that the body can’t absorb these minerals efficiently. These nutrients are essential for optimum health and growth in infants and children. What you eat is one thing but what you absorb is another.

Soy is also a source of aluminum and the high content of aluminum in soy-based formulas is a source of toxicity to infants. A study from the U.K. found that aluminum concentrations in infant formula were too high, which is disturbing. Contrary to traditional soy foods, processed soy foods contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), which have a toxic effect on brain neurons. Another concern is that more than 90% of the soybeans churned out on US farms each year are genetically engineered to withstand herbicides, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Soy-based formula is potentially harmful for babies and should be only used as a last resort. Feeding soy protein to growing babies is still experimental. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) policy on feeding soy formula (2008) states that that there are “few indications for the use of soy protein-based infant formula in place of cow milk-based formula.” According to the AAP, the only real indications for soy formula use are for infants with congenital galactosemia, for use by families who are strict vegans, or infants who are truly lactose-intolerant. And according to AIain Robertson, PhD, senior toxicologist at Auckland University Medical School in New Zealand, “infants on soy formula have been identified as a high-risk group because the formula is the main source of nutrient, and because of their small size and developmental phase.”

Nutritionally speaking, infant formula is a refined food composed of highly processed ingredients such as sugar – including corn syrup, nonfat dried milk, vegetable oils and a list of synthetic nutrients. Formula is high in polyunsaturated oils which can quickly become rancid, meaning that they can contain trans fats. Formula is also a poor source of saturated fats and saturated fats are crucial for the newborn and growing children. A low fat diet may disrupt cell signaling and many functions of the cell. Bottle-fed infants are known to be less healthy than breastfed infants. According to a study for a white American population showed that bottle-fed infants were fourteen times more likely to be hospitalized than breast-fed infants. Compared to breastfed babies, formula-fed babies have a doubled overall infant death risk, and four-fold risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).” Bottle-fed infants and children have more frequent and more severe upper respiratory infections, wheezing, pneumonia and influenza. They have more diarrhea, more gastrointestinal infections and constipation.

Babies need their mother’s milk and if that’s not possible, milk that comes from another mother or an animal, or a home hypoallergenic formula can be made. There is no precedent in nature for feeding babies a plant-based protein. Soy is one of the most common allergens, and soy-based formulas may be less allergic for some babies than cow’s milk but many infants who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to soy. The committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics even recommends against the use of soy formula in infants who are potentially allergic to cow’s milk. Milk based formula should still be the first choice even in those situations.

To conclude, soy and soy formula should be avoided for infants and children due to their small and growing bodies. Organic soy is better quality because it’s not genetically modified but it doesn’t resolve the problem as it still contains phytoestrogens, trypsin inhibitors and high levels of phytic acid. Soy is not a real, traditional food, and should be avoided. Not only it’s unhealthy for the growing child, but the effects are known to be transgenerational, which is very troubling. So try to avoid processed soy food and formula for your baby and if you choose soy, choose real, traditional, wholesome foods.