Ah, the great soya debate.
‘It’s a super food. It’s what keeps Japanese people so healthy. It’s great for menopausal women. It lowers your risk of heart disease and osteoporosis’
‘It’ll give you breast cancer. It’ll result in males growing boobs. It’s responsible for an increase in thyroid conditions.’
These are the headlines and if you’re anything like me you’ll be completely confused and confuddled as to which to believe.
I’ve read a fair bit about the inclusion of soya in a vegan diet, especially in relation to feeding it to my growing sons and, without having a professional qualification in nutrition, I feel like I’m floundering.
I’ve read articles that claim that the isoflavones in soya beans will introduce dangerous levels of estrogen into my sons’ bodies and they will end up having to wear a C cup! I’ve also read articles that state that soya consumption (in moderation, maybe 2 or 3 servings a day) will lower their risk of prostate cancer in later life.
Of course, I’ve also read that the much of the anti-soya information found on the net can be traced back to an organisation (I’m naming no names for the simple fact that I think they’ve had enough publicity already!) that promotes the consumption of animal fats and is heavily sponsored by meat and dairy farmers. I’m sure you’ll agree they have a not so hidden agenda in trying to disgrace the humble soya bean.
So, in a whirlwind of conflicting information, dubious journalism and unreliable sources, I’m turning to the only thing I can even semi trust: my own logic. Lord, help us all!
Common sense tells me that too much of any food is not a good thing and nothing can beat a wide variety of (plant) foods for optimal health and growth in young children. Add to this the knowledge that soya is a common allergen and I have decided to limit (not exclude) the amount of soya produce in my children’s diet. Of course this can be easier said than done even on an omnivore’s diet. For vegans, it can be especially tricky – at least at first glance.
It’s still a work in progress for the Crossan family, but here are the main steps I’m taking to avoid a soy overload.
1. Cook from scratch.
It probably goes without saying that we should be doing this for our children anyway but anyone with a soya allergy will confirm just how many every day products contain soya in one way or another. Bread and other baked goods often contain soya flour, vegan butters are generally soya based, and many processed foods from burgers to crisps contain soya ingredients.
Soya is not always clearly labelled either; it can be listed as vegetable oil, vegetable protein as well as other names that I probably haven’t even come across yet!
It might not be practical to cook everything from scratch – after all, how many of us have the time to bake our own bread every day? That said, the more home cooking you can provide for your kids, the better. Why not enlist their help with the food prep if you’re short of time?
2. Discover plant milks.
Soya milk is the most common and the most obvious alternative to cow’s milk but it’s not necessarily the healthiest or the best in terms of taste.
Oat milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, spelt milk; it’s a long list and many brands are fortified with calcium, vitamin D2 and vitamin B12 so your child gets all the nutrients added to cow’s milk but with fewer hormones, antibiotics and other hidden nasties.
Oat milk is my favourite for when I’m making a ‘cheese’ sauce, mashed potatoes or any other savoury dish as it has a very subtle taste and allows the other flavours of the dish to shine through. I also use it sometimes when I’m baking and have successfully made cakes, scones and pancakes with oat milk in place of soya milk.
Hazelnut milk is our current favourite for making porridge or pouring over breakfast cereal. It has a strong flavour so wouldn’t be ideal for some savoury dishes but it’s reminiscent of the taste of Nutella and I confess to having developed a bit of an obsession with the stuff! I haven’t tried this yet, but I imagine that it would also make a wonderful hot chocolate or custard.
NB It’s worth pointing out that some of these milks have added sugar so bear this in mind when you’re planning your child’s diet and be sure to brush their teeth regularly. But I’m sure you knew that already!
3. Go easy on the mock meats.
It’s tempting, especially for newbie vegans to simply continue to make the same old meals they are used to eating by substituting the dead animal for mock meats – products which are almost always soya based and heavily processed.
This can certainly be a useful strategy for making the switch over but isn’t ideal long term. Even without the soya concern, these foods are often high in salt and preservatives so really aren’t all that great for growing children. Better options are meals containing beans, grains and pulses.
In place of soya burgers, make your own burgers from cooked veggies, mashed chickpeas or quinoa.
Ditch the soya mince and make a fantastic shepherd’s pie or spaghetti sauce using bulgar wheat.
Instead of filling tortillas with soya pieces, load them with refried beans, soya free vegan cheese (it does exist!) and salad veggies.
Replace fake meats in stir fries with extra veg and cashew nuts or seeds (older children only of course)
4. Praise be to Seitan!
Of course there are many vegans out there who aren’t all that enamoured of beans and lentils (including my husband!) and plenty of vegans who gave up eating animals for purely ethical reasons who would quite appreciate a convincing meat alternative.
If you or your kids prefer meals with a meaty texture, why not investigate seitan?
This ‘wheat meat’ is a high protein product made from wheat gluten and an ideal soya substitute. It’s texture is meaty and it leaves you with a nice ‘filling’ sensation upon consumption. To date, I’ve only ever tried this in restaurants and have had some amazing seitan burgers which have left me drooling for days afterwards just at the thought of them! You can buy commercially packaged seitan or make it yourself – this is something I’m planning to try over the next few weeks and I’ll let you know how it works out.
So where do you stand on this issue? Do you entirely dismiss the anti-soya information and get stuck in to the smoked tofu or do you think that there’s no smoke without fire? And if so, what steps do you take to limit your soya consumption?