As a vegetarian I am acutely aware of getting enough protein in my diet and, like many, I sometimes rely on soy-based alternatives. These products (which unhappily tend to resemble dog food) are quick, easy and convenient and take on the flavour of whatever you marinate them in, making them infinitely versatile and great for culinary flounders like myself! Recently, I ventured into the realms of veganism and, with some effort, I gave up my morning skinny no-whip sugar-free vanilla lattes in favour of soy milk. It took some getting used to – the taste was not so appealing and I found that the first few brands that I tried at home curdled with coffee, which wasn’t the most appetising sight first thing in the morning.
However, within a week or so I had thrown myself whole-heartedly and enthusiastically into the delights of vegan cooking. I used scrambled tofu in replace of eggs as a quiche filling; I slathered soya cream cheese on my dairy-free bagels; and I embraced soya yogurts as a great accompaniment to my morning muesli. I got off to a good start and noticed that, in my head, I felt healthier. This was perhaps in part thanks to the fact that on my vegan regime I was avoiding cakes and chocolate! However, before long I started to notice a few physical health complaints creeping in. I was constantly bloated and often felt nauseas in a way that only seemed to be alleviated by drinking fizzy drinks! By the end of the day I felt exhausted and sluggish and was suffering from stomach cramps – anything but full of vitality from my new ‘healthy’ diet.
It took me some time (3 months in fact) to point the finger of suspicion at the increase in soy products in my diet. At first, I thought it was down to a bad batch of nuts, then a possible intolerance to oats or gluten and even thought I may have a food sensitivity towards marmite! In fact, noting that my intolerance may be due to soy came about largely by accident. In my quest to discover what it was that was causing my health nose-dive I had started to keep a food diary. I diligently noted down everything I consumed and if my symptoms were bad (there were no good days) or worse. This led me to connect that on days when I didn’t have my morning soya yogurt and latte my stomach didn’t feel so tender and I felt remarkably better. The first day I avoided soy in my diet I notice a big difference: no bloating, cramps or nausea. I felt my mood lifted, my concentration was better and I felt healthier than I had for months. On my second soy-free day I was practically skipping down the street and I felt back to my pre-soy self!
My research into why I suffered these uncomfortable symptoms is on-going and I suspect that they were either due to the proteins or oligosaccharides in the soy-based products that I was not able to digest easily. Increasing them in my diet was likely putting a consequential strain on my digestive system and manifested as the range of symptoms I was experiencing.
It just goes to show you that all that glitters is not gold and what’s deemed healthy for one person may have significant unhealthy effects in another. After all, we are all different!