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    The Soy Scare Is Back

    fotosearch_bxp159791The latest issue of Men’s Health features a section titled “Eat Like A Man,” which includes the staunchly anti-soy, overly alarmist article “Is This The Most Dangerous Food for Men?”

    The article teaser promises to uncover the “hidden dark side of soy, one that has the power to undermine everything it means to be male.”

    Is it just the undergraduate gender and sexuality studies major in me or is that last sentence ripe for a twenty-page deconstruction of American gender roles?

    Anyhow, my red flag immediately went up.  Any time one single food is exposed as being almost lethal, you know something is up (in the same way that, when one single food is touted as the cure for all ailments, you know someone, somewhere is profiting).

    Let me ask you something, intelligent and insightful Small Bites reader.

    Don’t you find it… interesting… that a large majority of the advertisements in Men’s Health are for whey protein powders?  The same ones that compete with soy protein powders on shelves?

    Let’s take it one step further.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a subtle and subconscious form of advertising.  After all, the subscriber reading this article who currently has soy protein powder in his kitchen cabinet may consider shelling out extra dollars for a whey protein variety next time he’s at GNC.

    While you ponder that, let’s continue analyzing this article.

    Oh, look, there’s the predictable “funny” image of a man wearing a superimposed soybean bra.

    And here’s the subject of our feature — James Price, a retired US Army intelligence officer (of course) with a Texas drawl (just in case you didn’t realize he’s a “man’s man.”)

    We learn that Mr. Price experienced lost hair on his fore arms, chest and legs along with penis shrinkage (huh?) when, as a result of being diagnosed with lactose intolerance, he started consuming three quarts of soy milk a day.

    His estrogen levels, blood tests revealed, were eight times higher than normal estrogen levels for men his age.  The culprit?  Phytoestrogens in soy.

    The changes weren’t just physical, as this pathetically sexist excerpts reveals:

    “I was becoming much more sentimental,” he recalls, describing his emotions as almost feminine.  “I’d break out and cry at a sad movie, that kind of thing.”

    Is this article seriously making the case that crying and displaying emotions is a female characteristic?  Did I just time warp to the days when June Cleaver and Zorro dominated television sets?

    The article wraps up with more warnings — Indonesians with the highest consumption of soy had twice the risk of developing dementia than their peers who ate lower amounts of the legume.  Although that study does indeed exist, it’s rather irresponsible to not clarify that the majority of studies on soy and cognitive function have not shown detrimental effects from soy consumption.

    Remember, it is always important to consider the entire body of literature on nutrition issues, and see what the general consensus is, rather than isolated studies that are really outliars.

    With all this craze over phytoestrogens, the writer forgot to mention that flaxseed,  garlic, and dried apricots are also significant source of phytoestrogens.  In fact, ounce by ounce, flaxseeds contain more phytoestrogens than soy.

    The article also conveniently forgets to mention that in some East Asian countries, soy consumption among men can average up to 60 pounds a year, and male breast growth is not an issue.

    After two pages of hyped up alarmism, we are told that, most likely, Mr. Price is simply overly sensitive to phytoestrogens.  In other words, “this case is really unique and not at all representative of the average man’s experience.”

    Adding to the “is this journalism or advertising?” question, the page immediately following the article is an advertisement for traditional Malaysian herbal therapies to help maintain masculine sexual vitality.  My, what a coincidence!

    A true shame.  A much better article would have helped readers differentiate between healthy versions of soy (tempeh, edamame, miso) from those that are simply processed foods attempting to lure consumers with a health halo (ie: soy puffs, sugary soy shakes, etc.), especially considering that the United States has the third highest per capita consumption of red meat in the world.

    By the way, this same issue features “the 125 best foods for men”, which is also just a big advertisement masquerading as nutrition advice.  How else do you explain a “best cream cheese category” (since when is cream cheese a  “must have” nutritious item?) but an excuse to advertise Philadelphia Cream Cheese?

    Similarly, categories like “best salami”, “best hot dog”, and “best milk” appear out of place (salami and hot dogs on a “must have nutritious foods” list ?  And how, exactly, is one brand of reduced-fat milk more nutritious than another?)

    Better luck next month, Men’s Health.



    1. Matt Hanson said on May 23rd, 2009

      Good writing. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed my Google News Reader..

      Matt Hanson

    2. Fernando said on May 24th, 2009

      Glad to see the response; I’d just read the article last night and come here to check for a response. It seems to me that the article will still convince thousands of readers — and their friends or workout partners by word-of-mouth — to begin eliminating all soy that could be in their diets. So much of the article’s effect was in what wasn’t being said outright, but alluded to. For example, though you point Andy out how the article’s commentary on the effects of soy consumption by East Asian men is incomplete and misleading, I for one think its inclusion was meant to feed off of the prevailing stereotype of weak and small Asian men many Americans still hold. I’m not a big so consumer myself, but I do hope a well-publicized response comes out to rebut many of the misleading claims made in this article. Otherwise these companies will continue to make out like bandits; they already have many folks — even those of us who lift regularly — thinking we have to consume much more pre- and after-workout protein supplement than is probably necessary.

    3. Andy Bellatti said on May 24th, 2009


      You are absolutely right. From a racial and ethnic standpoint, the article completely falls into the stereotype of feminized Asian men. Notice, for example, that you will NEVER see an advertisement for a protein supplement featuring a muscular Asian man.

      Men’s Health should be ashamed of this article. I lost a good deal of respect for them.

    4. registry cleaner program said on May 24th, 2009

      Great post. I’m not afraid to eat soy haha.

    5. Quinn said on May 25th, 2009

      Real men eat soy!

    6. just_me said on October 13th, 2009

      i loved how you pointed out the advertising intent of the article. many many magazines do this sort of thing. we as readers need to be smart and able to recognize these ill intentions. i also feel like the motive behind backlash on soy is to benefit the dairy/milk industry.

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