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title pic Decisions, Decisions: Should We Feed Our Children Soy?

Posted by Barbara Ransom on April 4, 2011

Decisions, decisions, decisions: Should We Feed Our Children Soy?

As new parents, we are constantly faced with conflicting information and can find ourselves struggling to make the right decisions. It starts at conception: Midwife or doctor? Home birth or hospital birth? Epidural or natural birth?And it just continues from there: Cloth diapers or disposables? Co-sleeping or crib? Sleep training or rocking? Daycare or nanny? To work or to stay at home?

And what happens if we make the wrong decision? Would we even know? What if the jury is still out on what is best for our children?

When my second child was ready for solid foods, we were mainly a vegetarian household. Wanting to give her proper nutrition from the start, I followed our pediatrician’s advice on giving her soy products. I was told they were supposed to provide adequate amounts of protein and amino acids, and were low in saturated fat and cholesterol. With some family history of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, soy sounded like a wise decision. And there were so many products to choose from! Besides tofu, edamame, and tempeh, there were also soymilks, soy yogurts, soy nuts, soy flour and soy cheese. Many snack foods (snack bars, crisps and prepared meat substitutes) included soy protein isolates as well. So we tried some, and found she loved soy breakfast sausage, chocolate soymilk, and soy crisps. We rested (if not always slept) well knowing these were part of her daily diet.

But it all suddenly came to a screeching halt. Major news networks, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, reported that studies had found an increase in premature development in girls, such as breast development and pubic hair as young as age 7. Soy and soy products were questioned as a possible cause. Even our pediatrician suddenly seemed to back peddle on her earlier promotion of soy.

Soy contains isoflavones, which are a source of phytoestrogens. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, phytoestrogens are “powerful endocrine disrupters” and could possibly have hormonal effects on children. They also report that taken “even at moderate levels during pregnancy can have adverse affects on the developing fetus and the timing of puberty later in life.” The Israeli Ministry, the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Officer and the British Dietetic Association have also reported that soy causes adverse health effects, and recommend that children and babies should be monitored while using soy products, or that the use of soy products should be minimized.

If that weren’t enough, soy also has high levels of phytic acid, which have been found to interfere with absorption of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. Soy could actually lead to a mineral deficiency.

I panicked. I sweated. I wondered, “Have I done irreparable harm to my daughter?” What do I do now?

But, according to Harvard Medical School’s Health Publication and, there are many conflicting studies about soy — and nothing is yet conclusive. There are claims, studies and research supporting both sides and the jury truly is still out.

So, what do we do with such a decision? We find a balance: Everything in moderation. She is still enjoying her soy snacks, and there are still possible health benefits, so I cut her soy intake down to one serving a day and continue to be vigilant.

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