Everyone is different; we look, sound, feel and act differently, and so it follows this is reflected in what we choose to eat, from what we just love to something that may potentially be lethal if we’re allergic to it. Food choices are influenced by a whole multitude of factors from family, religion or health to income, location or social standing. It’s a fascinating subject.
When it comes to food allergies or intolerances, anything goes – there’s no end to the variety of substances people can be allergic to. This could be due to the makeup of a person’s microbiota, the billions of bacteria and other microbes that live in the gut. In the same way a person has their own characteristics externally, their internal makeup does too! It’s an exciting area of research, but not really that new as ‘alternative’ therapists have been going on about gut health for decades!
Despite our individual differences, there are a number of foods that people are more commonly sensitive too – the ‘Big 8’. Top of that list is dairy, followed by eggs, fish and shellfish, then nuts and peanuts, wheat and finally soybeans. Interesting that most of these are used in processed foods in some form, either as a main ingredient or a chemical derivative. Another good reason to avoid the ready-meal aisle!
I often get asked my opinion about soya products; it’s amazing how controversial a small bean can be! One of the biggest issues is that in the US, the vast majority of soya products come from genetically modified crops. Living in Europe, we don’t have the same problem but I always aim to buy organic soya products if possible, or check where in the world it has come from to avoid GM – consumer choice.
Soya is a key feature in a lot of vegetarian food, whether as tofu or tempeh, textured protein or in vegetarian or vegan products or ready meals. This is often used as a criticism of a more plant based diet, particularly as an increase in growing soya crops is responsible for deforestation and the devastation of tropical rainforests. What’s interesting though, is that about 75% of soya crops are actually used for animal feed, not human consumption. So you may avoid eating soya directly, but if you eat meat, unless it’s grass-fed, you’re also consuming highly processed soya. The world of food production is a complicated place these days!
Another issue with soya products is that it is thought to be a hormone disruptor, particularly for the thyroid gland. For some people, this may well be true. As I mentioned above, we’re all different, and foods can harm as well as heal, so it’s good to be aware if your thyroid function is compromised, but then there are lots of factors that might be involved, far to many to talk about in a blog post. Current research has found little correlation*, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. Soya contains isoflavones, phytonutrients that can help balance hormone levels, good for ladies of a certain age suffering from hot flushes due to oestrogen fluctuations! But maybe another reason that soya may be associated with disrupting hormones is the type and volume of pesticides and insecticides that are used on non-organic crops. Chemicals and humans don’t tend to go together well, even when deemed ‘safe’.
Personally, I do include soya in my diet. It’s a great source of plant based protein, fibre and minerals and as well as phytoestrogen, it has other isoflavones beneficial for health. I don’t eat it every day, I check it’s source and tend to avoid highly processed ready meals, so mainly have it in the form of soya milk, yoghurt, tofu and edamame beans. But that’s my choice, which won’t be right for everyone!
If you don’t have a problem with soya but haven’t ever tried edamame, do give them a go. These are young, unprocessed soya beans. Bright green, fresh and packed with flavour, I love eating them straight out of the pod as a snack or starter at Japanese restaurants. This is soya at it’s most unprocessed, and so in my mind it’s healthiest – all the fibre and nutrients remain intact rather than lost in processing. Edamame have to be cooked otherwise it’s poisonous but only takes a couple of minutes, so no big deal. They can be added to salads, stews or just eaten straight from the pan. Alternatively, try this super tasty and simple dip to get a mouthful of flavour and bellyful of nutrients. If, however, you know that soya’s not for you, then peas work just as well – still lots of protein and fibre, just a slightly darker green. Enjoy!
Edamame (or pea) and mint dip
1 cup edamame bean or peas – defrosted if frozen
juice of 1 – 2 limes depending on size
20g fresh mint leaves
salt and pepper
Bring a pan of water to the boil and simmer the beans or peas for a few minutes until cooked. Drain and refresh with cold water. Leave to cool.
Place the beans or peas in a small food processor with the mint, lime juice and salt and pepper. Blitz until smoothish – a little texture is good – adding more lime juice or a dash of water if too thick. Add a glug of flaxseed oil, blitz again and taste. Add more lime juice, mint or seasoning if needed. Keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days.