The Paleo Guide to Japan, Part 3: Eating Out


Eating out in Japan is more than just an enjoyable way to breath in second-hand smoke. It’s a tradition, it’s a pastime and at times it’s an obligation. Bonenkai (忘年会, year-end parties), in which eating out simply cannot be avoided, are December traditions. So for the Paleo crowd, how can this potentially gastrointestinally-disturbing situation be navigated safely? If, while you’re here, you have to be a restaurant-goer, knowing as much as you can is the only thing that is going to keep you safe. Even still, making it a treat (bending the rules to whatever degree you’re comfortable with) and not stressing about it is probably the best way to stay sane: especially when it comes to gatherings for the express purpose of drinking (Nomi-kai-飲み会), you’re going to have your hands full controlling the damage anyway.

What follows is a guide to restaurants in descending order of preference followed by a collection of Japanese words and phrases that came up in the process.

To be upfront with you, my loyal reader, I feel like I have to lie a lot to get through some meals: “I have a ______ allergy” (“_________ arerugi ga arimasu”) is the refrain I repeat everywhere I go. Wheat is the one that comes up the most, and is the easiest to solve by pleading allergies, but similar claims about soy (daizu―大豆) or dairy (nyuseihin―乳製品) would probably be just as effective, if you don’t mind stretching the truth. You may be in for a ribbing from your Japanese friends for your pickiness or the “spiritual weakness of character” that allergies are thought to be by the older generation. I remind myself that, with my wife’s father for example, I can either ignore him or look like him. It makes for an easy decision.

About Japanese in this article: I have included notes, simply, on how to describe your desires to the wait-staff, in Japanese, where they seemed appropriate. I will collect all of the phrases, kanji and their meanings at the bottom of this guide. These phrases are not, however, going to save you if you’ve been asked a detailed question about what you can and cannot eat and do not speak Japanese at all yourself. For that I leave you to rely on your own abilities and resourcefulness, and hope you don’t have as many miss-adventures as I did.


Best of the Best
I chose these three because they are generally good places to get a meal fairly well balanced, with plenty of meat and access to vegetables. In addition, these three tend to be staffed by people who speak Japanese pretty well, so asking questions (for those who can) becomes an easier task.

Yakitori (焼鳥):
Yakitori is relatively easy to eat paleo: the main dish, grilled pieces of chicken on a stick is paleo, as long as you get it with no sauce (tare nashi―タレ無し). Other dishes range from absolutely fine (cut up cucumbers with sesame seed oil and garlic or ginger) to completely out (Tempura, fried chicken, etc.), but since they generally make all of their own food on the premises and they also speak Japanese, you can generally be pretty sure that if you ask if something has wheat in it (komugi ga haite imasu ka?-小麦が入っていますか?) you’re going to get an informed answer about whatever item you’re interested in. One thing to note, however: many Japanese people don’t know that soy sauce (shoyu―醤油) has wheat in it. For things like soups, stews and the like you can save yourself by making the question about shoyu rather than komugi (shoyu ga haite imasu ka?), just in case the staff doesn’t know.

Yaki (grill) niku (meat) is pretty easy to eat paleo: get your veggies and meat with no sauce, don’t put sauce on them yourself, and yaki-away until you cannot walk any more. They will bring you the meat and veggies, you grill them and consume like the deadlifting-bear you are. The key here is ordering with no sauce (tare nashi―タレ無し) or with salt and pepper only (shio-kosho dake―塩こしょうだけ). The sauce I mentioned above? Most people eat yakiniku by dipping their grilled up meat in one of the sweet, sticky, spicy or just wonderful sauces that have been provided at the table. We, the ‘cares about our health’ section of the population, cannot. So what to do instead? I tend to eat with salt and pepper only, but often yakiniku places will provide lemon juice for those interested (it might be sitting at your table). The other option is sesame oil (Goma-Abura-胡麻油), which can be ordered, a-salt and peppered, and used like a sauce for those interested. The biggest bonus of Yakiniku is undoubtedly that most places are “all you can eat” (or at least have that option). Sit down hungry and get your meat on.

Shabu-Shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ)
Shabu-shabu follows essentially the same pattern as yaki-niku: they bring you ingredients in the form of meat and veggies of various kinds, and you cook them. The principle difference is that with shabu-shabu you’re cooking your food in a soup hot-pot filled with, at times, suspicious sauces. The safest thing to do is to get the plain ‘konsome’ seaweed soup; the others, like sukiyaki (made with soy sauce), soy-milk (tonyu―豆乳, made with soy as you might have guessed), and others are out for one reason or another. On the menu konsome soup usually has the clear liquid with the seaweed in it/ being pulled out of it, so pointing and grunting usually works in this situation. Like yakiniku, this meal comes with a variety of sweet and tasty sauces to be avoided. Now, this might not actually sound all that wonderful a treat for you (meat and veggies boiled with seaweed plain?), but there are a couple of things you can do to make it tasty: get some sesame oil (goma-abura―胡麻油, just like we did in yakiniku) to dip your meat/ veggies in, get a raw egg (like you would for sukiyaki, don’t worry completely safe) and mix some pepper and salt into it and dip in that, or experiment with shichimi (七味). All-in-all, since we’re going without sauce, I’d prefer to have my meat grilled, but this is a “compromise” I’m happy to make. It also comes in “all you can eat” flavor, which means that I will head home full, a plus.


Victim of playing against the best

Second Tier
Indian Restaurants (インド料理)
Nearly everything in an Indian Restaurant in Japan that isn’t obviously out for the paleo-vore is in, which is nice: avoid the nan and the rice, avoid the curries that have beans and you’re basically set: tandoori meats are wonderful, the mutton/ seafood/ chicken curries are fine… a common curry in Japan, that I didn’t see in American Indian restaurants (not to be confused with American-Indian Restaurants, which I’m not sure exist and sound creepy anyway) is called ‘Butter Chicken’. It’s just awesome… but it tastes like it has some sugar in it. Here we get to why Indian is in my second tier: they sometimes speak English but not always and not always well; they often speak Japanese, but not often well. It’s hard enough for a beginner in Japanese to communicate with someone who actually speaks the language, let alone use it to communicate to someone else who isn’t perfect him- or herself. This makes asking questions, like “is there sugar in this?” difficult. So, go to Indian restaurants with the knowledge that you might be getting just a little sugar in your delicious curry.

Thai Food(タイ料理屋)
Much of what I said about Indian food goes for Thai, except that there are more dishes that cannot be eaten. The problem is, again, that it’s hard to ask about the content of the food in many shops. Compounding the problem is the decreased rate of English competency in Thai places.

I love Thai food. Further, there are lots of things you can eat safely at Thai places: Green Curry, Red Curry, Yellow Curry (all without the rice), various salads with beef or pork or papaya or squid, omelets, basil-chicken stir-fries… it’s almost always safe, and it’s always great. Further, it’s perhaps the cheapest meal of its kind.


Melts under pressure

Third Tier
Izakaya (居酒屋)
Here referring to larger chains like “Hananomai”, “Uotami”, “Warawara” etc. izakaya are drinking establishments, but unlike bars they serve a lot of food, mostly Japanese style. The foods will often run the gamut from yakitori (fine if ordered as above) to okonomiyaki (a straight-up “no”), and generally be of poor quality and relatively expensive. Still, with most menus you can get something that will work (a grilled Hokke ほっけ, yakitori, etc), they speak Japanese and have to be ultra-careful about ‘arerugi’ because they’re national chains with reputations to uphold. So why put them in the second tier? Well one, there’s the temptation: the foods at an Izakaya that you can eat are much less tasty than the ones you can’t; also these places are made for drinking. Two their foods are mostly pre-prepared, so some special orders (“can I get this without sauce/dressing?” “Can you make the eggs without wheat? Oh, and by the way, WHAT THE FUCK?”) won’t fly, or at least take some insistence upon. Three their attention to detail is often so over the top as to be a larger pain the ass than is really necessary. Knowing what you can order and how to before actually ordering and a steely resolve not to give in and eat the fries and pizza that your friends ordered while the wait-staff is checking that there are no croutons on your salad, are indispensable skills.

It is probably important to note that smaller Japanese-style pubs are also called ‘izakaya’.  It is impossible to really categorize these accurately, as some are yakitori shops, some do fish of some kind, and some just make diabetes. They’re a treat for those with the Japanese ability and cigarette-smoke tolerance to deal with their faults, because of their homey atmosphere and collection of foods you might not find anywhere else in the world.  With no common menu and really no way of knowing what’s being served, however, I’d be remiss if I tried to give you specific advice (other than breath mints and a shower after, of course).

Chinese Food(中華料理)
Chinese food in Japan is sometimes the cover-story for a ramen-ya who’s trying to keep a low profile about their vile poisonous-ness (to give you a preview of the LAST thing on my list, if you find yourself in one of these, you have 2 options: water or waiting outside). If a Chinese place has no ramen on the menu, Japanese customers will get cranky. Still, food can be found,  so the real Chinese food places shouldn’t be completely ignored.

The problem, of course, is asking what’s in things. Like with Thai and Indian places, the waiters and waitresses in Chinese restaurants don’t always speak Japanese particularly well, and in this case rarely speak English. That said, you can give it a try. Some stuff is obvious: it’s cooked with noodles, or obviously with soy sauce or some sweet, sticky, different sauce, or it has rice in it, or it’s been breaded and had its brains fried out. With some other stuff it’s harder to tell. The only thing I’ve found that consistently works no matter where I go are seafood-stir fries (Kaisen Itame – 海鮮炒め). You may be dealing with some potato- flour in them to thicken the sauce; it’s still your best bet.

Rik Smits

Serviceable but not getting you anywhere

Fourth Tier
Sushi (寿司):
We’ve come to the “overt compromise” portion of our review. Yes, technically, you can get through a meal at a sushi place while staying true to your paleo roots. If you do, you’ve either a) not eaten that much or b) spent too much. Who wants to do either of those? As compromises go this is one of our best: nearly everything is a known quantity (everything except the soy sauce and the eggs either obviously has gluten in it or it’s safe), and once you’ve given in on the rice and sugar, nearly everything is eatable. It’s a great way to bend the rules, and one that, for most people, has no lasting unhealthy consequences. The only things I would caution people about are egg-sushi (which sometimes have wheat-containing ‘dashi’ (出汁ーsoup stock) in them) and some of the newer ‘sushi’ that are making the rounds. If, for example, your sushi has yakiniku on it, in all likelihood it also has yakiniku sauce on it, and thus wheat. Sorry.

Korean Food(韓国料理)
This is an area in which I have a decided bias: I have had bad, and very few, experiences at Korean Restaurants in Japan. It seems like, looking at menus, you would be able to get some meat with some kimchi and no sauce, but in my experiences I have never been able to communicate this desire effectively and ended up with a stomachache afterwords. Speaking Korean would be a big help; so would a completely fluent-in-Japanese wait-staff, but I have yet to have access to either. I wish I could be of more help to you, dear reader. Perhaps on another day we will be able to re-visit this topic, once my resentment has waned.

Fifth Tier
You’d think I’d be pretty ok with Gyu-don places: fried beef or pork on top of bowls of rice. You can even just get the meat without the rice, with an egg to eat it with. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, the no-sauce option in these places is not an option, as all meals come pre-made. Yeah, a salad without the dressing is really your only gluten-free option. Since said salads contain nothing even resembling the caloric content required to feed a supple-leopard like yourself, you’re better off just walkin’ on by.

Nope, there’s nothing to eat here. Sorry.

Western Fast-Food Restaurants (Mc’ds, Subway, KFC, etc.)
If you go into one of these, as the saying goes, you know what you doing.

You know, sometimes you can get ahold of some meat to grill on the grill at your table in Okonomiyaki places. That grill has, however, been used by your friends and all of the customers before you to bake up death-pancakes of deliciousness, so whatever you’re grilling, you can pretty much guarantee it isn’t gluten free. Sorry.

Udon and Soba (うどん・そば)
If you’re paleo and you can find anything at all to eat in a place like this you’re lucky, patient, dumb or all three.

Ramen (ラーメン屋)
A good ramen-ya serves three things: ramen, gyoza and beer. Sometimes my stomach hurts looking at them.

1) How to Drink:
Many of you are looking for advice about drinking healthfully. I wrote about this already once, so I won’t repeat much, except for this:

The absolute best thing you can do for yourself when you’re drinking is to start and finish early. Try to place as much time between you last cup of wonderful and sleep. The reason for this is simple: all of the exercise you did, all of the walking and talking and dealing with people you don’t like and writing and whatever, none of it means anything positive for your health if your body cannot recover. This is an often overlooked fact about training: you don’t get skinnier by running, and you don’t get stronger by lifting. You get these benefits by resting, especially sleeping, after you’re done. Alcohol interferes with restful sleep, especially the most important part, the release of Human Growth Hormone. You know those drugs that athletes take to recover from injury and training faster? One of them is HGH. HGH is the hormone that you’re body has been feeding you all this time to help you re-build muscle when you’ve damaged them by being too awesome, and getting in its way by drinking yourself to sleep is not a good idea, health-wise.

2) Japanese Guide
Bonenkai 忘年会, year-end parties
Nomi-kai 飲み会, drinking parties
“_________ arerugi ga arimasu”___アレルギがあります “I have a ______ allergy”<
Daizu―大豆, Soy
Nyuseihin ―乳製品, Dairy
Tare nashi―タレ無し, No Sauce
Komugi ga haite imasu ka?-小麦が入っていますか? Is there wheat in it?
Shoyu―醤油, Soy Sauce
Shoyu ga haite imasu ka? ― 醤油が入っていますか? Is there soy sauce in it?
Shio-kosho dake―塩こしょうだけ, Salt and pepper only
Goma Abura―胡麻油, Sesame Oil
Tonyu―豆乳, Soy Milk
Konsome ―コンソメ, Konsome
Shichimi ―七味, Shichimi
Hokke ほっけ, Hokke (a kind of fish)
Kaisen Itame – 海鮮炒め, Seafood-Stir Fry

Yoroshu ni




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Why are video games fun?‏

video-game guys

What, would you say, are the intrinsic elements of a good video game? If you don’t play video games, get the fuck off my blog and never come back try to treat this as a learning experience, a window into another culture. You’re an anthropologist!

Anyway, I’m sure there are important elements to the visuals, the noises and how the user interacts with the game, and for now I’m going to exclude the community aspects of gaming, including online games. I submit that the two things, inextricably linked, that truly make a game good are challenge and self-improvement.

Challenge in video games comes in a few forms, but it always inspires that same hackles-raising frustration. The solution could be yet another repetitious trip through the same, mind-numbing dungeon you conquered three times before, just to rack up xp; it could be searching the entire map for the key to that one stupid door; or it could be something else, equally as mundane, drudgerous and time consuming. In any case it is, in part, that feeling of frustration that seems to keep us coming back. You feel like you’re leaving something unfinished, no? To put it another way: I’m pretty sure there is nothing worse than an easy video game.  Am I wrong? Isn’t that why we all laughed at that College Humor video ‘If Video Games had Super Easy Mode‘?

Scorpion vs 9yo

Yeah, so… that happened. We’re just going to have to deal with it, I guess.

Depending on the type of game, one may improve in various ways; further, it may be that one’s character (the representation of oneself in the game) improves, or it may be that the player gets better at the game, learning how to deal with its obstacles better and better as time goes on.

I have often wondered why it is that I would rather spend hours in front of a tv or computer screen struggling with a puzzle made by some nerd in his mom’s basement than struggle with real problems, real challenges that exist outside of fantasy. Both represent challenges that must be struggled with to be overcome; both are rewarding, in that we feel good about our accomplishments when they are completed.

You have to go back

“No, really. You have to go back.”


This really seems like an important thing to take note of in our characters: the activity we most associate with wasted time and slacking off is best defined by challenge and self-improvement.

It’s an interesting dichotomy: we’re a species willing to spend mind numbing hours on these hobbies in which nothing is ever truly gained except the ability to say ‘I did it’ (think stamp/ bug collecting, fantasy sports, writing a blog), yet we ignore the challenges that benefit us, like learning a new sport or musical instrument, studying the universe or caring about politics.


I’m not condemning video games, I’m not. I love me a good game… in the right context. For some, though, it seems it’s easy to get ‘having a little fun/ relaxing’ confused with meeting our human needs for challenge, accomplishment and reward.

So think of this the next time getting up and getting food that’s actually good for you seems like too much trouble, or the next time you’re tempted to blow off a workout for a video game: could this desire for challenge and achievement be satisfied in a way that improves more than your score? Does your character really need the xp more than you do?

Yoroshu ni,



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でも、全然太らない人にも新石器食べ物の影響で健康が悪化することが有る。例えば、アルツハイマー症に罹った人は殆ど太らなくて、他には健康に見えるが、糖尿病の第3種類であり、余計な炭水化物、特に穀類が原因です。それだけじゃなくて、前言った糖尿病と心臓病、そして肥満症、自己免疫病、小児脂肪便症、クローン症、自閉症、関節炎、骨粗鬆症(コツソショウショウ)、癌(例えばリンパ肉腫)、結合組織炎、アレルギの色んな種類… 全部この場で話せるわけではないが、皆さんはもう大体解っていると思う。






結局、最も多く訊かれるのは「何でダイエットしてるの?」と言うことです。 意味として、それは多分「健康なのに、ダイエットをする必要は無いじゃない?」と言っている。そうですね。一つ理由にまとめられないが、じゃあ、自分の事を言ってみようか。第一の理由は、新石器食べ物は不健康に成るまで食べるという価値が無いと思っている。旧石器食べ物は十分美味しくて、普段な生活に健康に悪い物を入れる必要が感じてない。第二の理由は、私には健康や身体の能力があるからこそ、人生は楽しいと言うことは信じている。要するに、人が強くなる、或いは健康であるから、人生が楽しくなる。最後には、永遠な生命を目指している。(笑)




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Rundown on Booze

I have contributed very very little to the Paleo world. I don’t mind it being pointed out, even in the slightest: I came late to the party, I steal stuff from dudes all over the ‘nets, I have no qualification to lend credibility to my name…

My contribution, friends, is essentially limited to asking the question that lead to Robb Wolf‘s single most famous statement about alcohol. If you don’t know it already, you should: “Drink enough to maximize your sex life without limiting performance.” Perfect, right?

Yeah, that’s us!

What we’re looking for in all of this eat-to-be-healthy stuff is balance, specifically the balance that Robb is pointing out. I want you to not damage yourself with alcohol; that said, I don’t want you to ignore the fun of life by avoiding it completely, either (if you enjoy it). Further, there are ways to enjoy alcohol that make it more fun and less… regrettable. Six simple tips to drinking:

1) Drink early, if you can. Yeah, I know, I sound like a complete lush saying this, but starting in on tipsy-time around noon, and arriving back somewhere close to sober by bed time is just about perfect, as it saves you the disrupted sleep that characterizes late-evening drinking. Bad sleep = bad. It may also save you from some poor food choices.

2) Drink distilled (clear) liquor: tequila, scotch, shochu, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey or tequila, thus avoiding the liquid calories in fermented drinks, and especially the gluten in beer.



3) Drinking fizzy stuff helps alcohol along to the brain (which in theory means you’ll need less). More chemistry = drunker, quicker, cheaper and with fewer consequences*. True story.

4) Added sugar = added bad. Now, if you’re not losing sleep over it then I’m not going to, but sugar in things like Mojitos, rum and cokes and my darling Margarita is an issue to be conscious of for those trying to lose weight. By the way… if you don’t want to drink, don’t fucking drink. Duh.

Related note: don’t excuse your wussy drink because it was made with a “zero calorie” sweetener. Either enjoy it, sugar and all, or don’t. “Zero calorie” just means “tastes bad and may give you cancer”. Yeah, alright fine, if you really like that diet-fruit-color-drink, go for it. Make sure it matches your purse, though.

5) Drink with lemon or lime, as they help to control blood sugar. They also taste amazing, so… you’re welcome.

6) If you can, try to finish your ‘imbibery’ with a protein and fat snack: the two, eaten before bed, help restore melatonin and human growth hormone production, improving sleep quality and recovery.

Finally, six hangover cures that may, or may not, have worked for me in the past:

1) Water.  Obviously.

2) Coffee: pretty good for headaches and “moving things along”, intestinally-speaking.

3) Eggs. Protein and fat seem to help restart the all-systems.  Actually, eggs are pretty good anytime, just ask Chris Masterjohn.

4) Cold Shower.

5) Exercise at 70% perceived intensity for 30-minutes-ish. You know, if I can.

6) Suffer.

*When I say fewer consequences, I mean fewer consequences for non-morons, that is people who don’t take drinking as an excuse to be a douche-bag or a creeper, people who don’t try to drive when drunk, etc. For the idiots of the world, you’re on your own. I’d say sorry, but I’m not.

Yoroshu ni,



(picture courtesy of PVCNav)

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上記の肥満、心臓病、糖尿病と自己免疫病、骨粗鬆症、そして癌、小児脂肪便病、自閉症、パーキンソン病、アルツハイマー病、鬱病… これらは現代の病気と呼ばれ、原始人に無い病である。そう言う観察に生まれた説に拠れば、我らは遺伝的に異なる事が殆ど無いので、原始人の様に食べたり、日差しを浴びたり、身体を動かしたりすると、この病を一生も患うこと無く、長生き出来る。


パレオと言う言葉は旧石器時代(英語で「Paleolithic Era」と言う)を引き合いに出す。その時代において、人間に穀物、米、砂糖、豆類、乳製品などの農産や畜産物が食べられなかった。その時代から遺された骸骨を調べると、我々の原始人の先祖は素晴らしい身体を持っていた事が明らかだが、近現代でまた原始人であった民族を観察すると、何と、全く同じ事が見える。その民族には癌、肥満、糖尿病、心臓病等々...現在において死亡の最も多い原因が知られていない。 そして、実験してみると論じた通り、現代(新石器時代とも言う)の食べ物を止めれば、健康の尺度の殆どが、殆どの場合では、良くなる。






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私が役に立ったのは、ロッブ ウルフ先生の最も有名なアルコールについての声明で、私が尋ねた質問に対して彼の答えだった。




1) 酔っ払いに聞こえるかも知れないけど、時期的に早く呑む方がいい。ベストで言うとお昼くらいから飲み始め、いい酔い具合になるが、寝る前までに、酔いを覚ます事。それで睡眠を害する傾向を避けられる。悪い睡眠=悪い健康 。そしてそれで、悪い食べ物を避ける事ができる

2) 蒸留、つまり透明な酒を呑む方がいい。例えばテキーラ、スコッチ、ジン、焼酎、ラム、テキーラ、ウイスキーとテキーラなどを呑むと、発酵酒のカロリー、特にビールのグルテンを避ける事ができる。



3) 炭酸を飲み物に加えるとアルコールの吸収が良くなるので、呑む量が減ると言われる。まあ、その説もあると言ったらいいかな。化学のお陰で、呑むのがより楽しい。正に。

4) 砂糖を加える=悪を加える。まあ、気にしなければ、私も構わないけど、ラムコーラ、モヒート、そして私の大好物マルガリータは皆砂糖が結構入っていて、痩せたい人にお勧めできない。因みに呑まなくてもいい。尚、女々しいドリンクを「低カロリーだからいい」とかで簡単に許さないで貰いたい。つまりそのものを呑んで楽しむか、呑まない。低カロリー甘味料と言うのはまずい、癌を引き起こすものなので、呑む価値はないと思う。まあ、いいよ: その甘い、フルーツっぽい、変な色のドリンクを飲みたければ、呑んで。ただバッグとの色合わせを忘れないでね


5) 生レモンかライムと一緒に呑めば、血糖値が上々に上がる事を防ぐ事が出来る。そして美味しいので・・・どう致しまして。

6) 呑んだ後で蛋白質と油分が入ったものを食べると睡眠中で発生するホルモン、人間成長ホルモンとメラトニンの発生を順調にする。これでより良く眠れるし、回復が早くなる。


1) 水(当たり前と思うけど)。

2) コーヒー。頭痛を和らげるし、胃腸の運動を回復させる。

3) 玉子。蛋白質と油分が身体内を全面的に順調にさせる。実はいつでもいいものだが。

4) 水シャワー。

5) 無理のない、できる最上限の70%くらいの運動をする。まあ、やりたいと思ったらね。

6) 苦しむ。




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Soy, Re-dun‏ Part 2: The Nitty-Gritty

This is Part 2 of my two-part post about the article The Soy Ploy, where we get into my defense of the contents of the article. Click here to see my apology (part 1).

“The Soy Ploy” begins by listing the health-problems that soy has been linked to: “malnutrition, digestive problems, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, immune system breakdown, and even heart disease and cancer”, saying that this linkage was established in “hundreds of studies”. This is essentially the whole claim, the whole point of the article. It goes on to explain the proposed mechanism for a few of the problems listed, in detail, and why some cultures (like the Japanese), who have consumed soy for a long time don’t seem to have these problems in as great a quantity as you’d expect, but in essence these 7 or 8 claims are the heart of the issue. Let’s address them, and one other point the article raises that seemed objectionable to some, and call it a day.


The claim that soy has been linked to malnutrition is a fairly easy one to support: studies like J Nutr, 49, 527-39 and J Am Vet Med Assoc, 123, 38-9 , (in animal models); JOACS, 1974 Jan;51:161A-170A and Pediatrics 1981;68(3):394-6 (in humans) make pretty clear a pattern of ‘failure to thrive’ and micro-nutrient insufficiency caused by soy. In studies like these, interventions (where one element in particular is changed and everything else is left the same) isolating the effects of any particular element becomes much easier, so the results are more convincing than the often-seen epidemiological studies.

Further, the logic behind this claim is pretty easy to see: as The Soy Ploy says, soy contains phytates and digestion inhibitors (, and also Journal of Food Science. January/February 1984;49(1):199-201 and Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 1989;2:67-68, which I could not find an online source for, sorry), materials that bind to nutrients in food, causing them to be unavailable for digestion. I cite sources… there really is no need though: the presence of these substances (“toxins” is what the article’s author calls them) is established fact, essentially undisputed as far as I can tell.

Digestive Problems

The logic is pretty easy to understand here too: proteins in many beans, including soy, are irritating in the intestines, causing poor digestion (and perhaps some of the malnutrition we just spoke of). It may or may not be of interest to the reader that this effect is quite similar to the effect that the consumption of grains has.

Medicina (B Aires) 1999;59:747-752 (spanish!). Rats fed soy-based chow had reduced growth and an increase in gastrointestinal problems compared to controls.

J Nutr2000;130:2292-2298. Dietary mixtures for pigs, which are carefully formulated to promote reproduction and growth, allow approximately 1 percent of the ration as soy in a diet based on grains and supplements. (Pigs have a digestive system similar to humans.) The Central Soya Company, Inc. website gives a range of 2.5 percent to 17.5 percent soy in the diet of pigs, citing a number of anti-nutritional components that “have been documented to cause gastrointestinal disturbance, intestinal damage, increased disease susceptibility and reduced performance in pigs.”

Food Chem Toxic. 25 (10), 739-45 (link unavailable). Ingestion of soy produced enlarged pancreases in mice and “pancreatic adenoma and carcinoma in the rat.”

(animal models)

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1983 May;2(2):271-87 . Soy feeding caused damage to small bowel mucosa in 2 infants. The damage was similar to that of celiac disease and consistent with a lectin-induced toxicity.

Pediatr Res 1981 Sep;15(9):1240-1244. Soy formula fed to premature babies caused in increase in digestive enzymes compared to milk-fed babies, indicating low digestibility of soy formula.

Soy Protein and Human Nutrition, Harold L Wilcke and others, eds, Academic Press, New York, 1979 (It’s a book, publishing the findings of a conference). A group of Central American children suffering from malnutrition was first stabilized and brought into better health by feeding them native foods, including meat and dairy products. Then for a two-week period these traditional foods were replaced by a drink made of soy protein isolate and sugar. All nitrogen taken in and all nitrogen excreted were measured. The researchers found that the children retained nitrogen and that their growth was “adequate,” so the experiment was declared a success. However, the researchers noted that the children vomited “occasionally,” usually after finishing a meal; over half suffered from periods of moderate diarrhea; some had upper respiratory infections; and others suffered from rash and fever. It should be noted that the researchers did not dare to use soy products to help children recover from malnutrition, and were obliged to supplement the soy sugar mixture with nutrients largely absent in soy products, notably vitamins A, D, B12, iron, iodine and zinc.

Thyroid Dysfunction

Perhaps the best supported of all of the claims about soy is that soy causes thyroid problems, especially the auto-immune form of hypothyroidism, known as Hashimoto’s. In this experiment, published in 1939, the researchers found Goiter (thyroid dysfunction) in rats after feeding them soy flour. The rats’ thyroids grew to 4 or 5 times their usual size in seven weeks (they also required iodine supplementation, a deficiency (see “malnutrition”) created by the soy itself).

J Nutr 17 (Jun), 545-55 . That, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg: J Nutr, 22, 43-52, Gann 1976, 67:763-765 and others show other animal models of the same phenomenon. Pediatrics 1959;24;854 (link unavailable), Pediatrics, 24, 752-60, J Am Coll Nutr 1990;9:164-167 , Archives of Disease in Childhood 2004 Jan;89(1):37-40, Biochem Pharmacol 1997 Nov 15; 54:1087-96 , all show very clear links between soy consumption and thyroid dis-regulation of some kind in humans, be it soy formula increasing the likelihood of thyroid problems later in life, or soy eaten later in life inducing thyroid problems or making them worse. I see no need to belabor the point.

Cognitive Decline

Problems with cognition are harder to explain, perhaps, than goiter, reproductive problems or malnourishment. I’m certainly not Trainer enough to claim that I really understand it in detail. I do find it interesting, however, the degree to which this claim falls in line with both personal experience and widely held stereotype. It is perhaps not for nothing that hippies and vegetarians are often depicted as dopy and forgetful.

Brain Res 2000 Mar 17;859(1):123-31. Animals fed diets containing phytoestrogens for 5 weeks had elevated levels of phytoestrogens in the brain and a decrease of brain calcium-binding proteins. Calcium-binding proteins are associated with protection against neurodegenerative diseases.

Plenary Session #8: Cognitive Function, The Third International Soy Symposium, Program, November 1999, page 26 . An ongoing study of Japanese Americans living in Hawaii found a significant statistical relationship between two or more servings of tofu per week and “accelerated brain aging.” Those participants who consumed tofu in mid life had lower cognitive function in late life and a greater incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders 2008;26(1):50-7 . The study found that those who ate tofu regularly had worse memory than those who did not. The study also found that tempeh consumption increased memory, possibly due to its high levels of folate caused by fermentation.

J Am Geriatr Soc 1998 Jul;46(7):918-20. Women in the higher estrone quartiles had lower performance on two cognitive tests.

Another part of the picture is probably zinc deficiency, which soy induces (also shown in Pediatrics 1981;68(3):394-6, which is quoted above), and the increased uptake of aluminum by the brain that results:

Brain Res 1983;288:393-395 . Zinc deficiency will cause more aluminum to be absorbed into the body in general, and into the brain in particular. Aluminum will be absorbed by competing for binding sites on a zinc-containing ligand. Fluoride and phytates in soy formula will induce zinc deficiency.

Reproductive Disorders

Reproductive disorders are another piece of low-hanging fruit: phytoestrogens are known to interact with steroidal hormone receptors, especially the sex hormone receptors. It’s only logical that these sorts of interactions have consequences for reproductive health.

J Nutr 1954;55:639. Exposure to the phytoestrogen genistein caused significant advancement of the vaginal opening and a decrease in the number of litters born to mice.

BJU Int 2000 Jan;85(1):107-113. Vegetarian women are more likely consume more soy than the general population. Incidence of hypospadias was twice as great in vegetarian mothers than in non-vegetarian mothers. Hypospadias is a birth defect due to interrupted development of the penis.

Canadian Medical Association Journal 1983, May 15;128(10):1197-8. Male children exposed during gestation to diethylstilbesterol (DES), a synthetic estrogen that has effects on animals similar to those of phytoestrogens from soy, had testes smaller than normal on maturation.

Am J Clin Nutr 1994 Sep;60(3):333-340. Six women with regular menstrual cycles were given 60 grams soy protein containing 45 mg isoflavones daily. After one month, all experienced delayed menstruation. Luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone were significantly suppressed. The effects were similar to those of tamoxifen, an antiestrogen drug. Regular menstruation did not resume until 3 months following the cessation of soy protein consumption.

Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2000 Apr 25;97(9):4790-5. Researchers found that flavonoids, especially genistein, can cross the placenta and induce cell changes that lead to infant leukemia.

JAMA 2001 Nov 21;286(19):2402-3 (sorry, no abstract). Although reported in the media as a vindication of soy infant formula, the study actually found that soy-fed infants had more reproductive problems and more asthma as adults.

Immune System Breakdowns

This is another one that I don’t fully understand, but it does seem to have some traction. Apparently the isoflavones genistein and daizedin, found in soy, are suspected of blocking immune system function.

Transplantation 1991 Feb;51(2):448-50. Genistein blocks the production of T cells needed for the immune system. The authors conclude: ” . . . that genistein is a powerful immunosuppressive agent. . .” and suggest that it has a potential use in the treatment of allograft rejection.

Cancer Res 1992 Nov 15;52(22):6200-8. Effects of genistein on the growth and cell cycle progression of normal human lymphocytes and human leukemic MOLT-4 and HL-60 cells…. The results suggest that genistein “is expected to be a strong immunosuppressant.”

Heart Disease and Cancer

The seemingly most controversial claims of the “anti-soy” camp, that soy consumption is potentially a factor in heart disease and cancer are just that: controversial.

I personally remain undecided about soy even as a contributing cause for heart disease: some of the confounding factors I would like to exclude in a study of the relationship – gluten, excessive fructose consumption, other legumes, industrial seed oils, etc – are all endemic in populations that consume soy.

Luckily neither I nor Nourishing Our Children are making causal claims in regards to cancer, heart disease and soy.

First, as to Heart Disease:

Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:419-25. Many studies have shown that soy consumption can lower serum cholesterol levels. These studies have led to claims that soy can prevent heart disease. However, the theory that high cholesterol levels cause heart disease is becoming more and more untenable. Cholesterol levels are not a good marker for proneness to heart disease. However Lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a), does serve as a good marker for heart disease. This study indicates that soy raises Lp(a), meaning that it is likely to contribute to heart disease.

… that’s all I could find (easily). While I agree with the statement “lipoprotein(a) serves as a good marker for heart disease” and that the “cholesterol causes heart disease” theory is dead as dead can be, I still find the “soy contributes to heart disease” assertion tenuous.

Aaaand Cancer:

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 Dec;11(12):1674-7. People who consumed 92.5 grams of soy per 1000 Kcal were found to be 2.3 times more likely to be at risk for bladder cancer. The results were calculated to factor in levels of education and cigarette consumption in study participants.

Endocrinology 1978 Nov;103(5):1860-7 . Phytoestrogens (“coumestrol, genistein, and formononetin and the mycotoxins, zearalenone and its reduced derivative, zearalenol”) “translocate the cytoplasmic estrogen receptor and bind to unfilled nuclear estrogen receptors in whole cells. Bound nuclear receptors are then processed in a manner similar to estradiol in a step, which rapidly decreases total cellular estrogen receptors. The phytoestrogens are also biologically active; they can markedly enhance tumor cell proliferation.”

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 1996 Oct;5(10):785-794. Twenty-four normal pre- and postmenopausal white women, ages 30 to 58 were studied for one year. During months 4-9, the women ingested 38 g soy protein isolate containing 38 mg genistein. Seven of the 24 women developed epithelial hyperplasia during the period of soy feeding, a condition that presages breast cancer. The authors noted that “the findings did not support our a priori hypothesis” that soy protected Asian women against breast cancer. “Instead, this pilot study indicates that prolonged consumption of soy protein isolate has a stimulatory effect on the pre-menopausal female breast, characterized by increased secretion of breast fluid, the appearance of hyperplastic epithelial cells and elevated levels of plasma estradiol. These findings are suggestive of an estrogenic stimulus from the isoflavones genistein and diadzein contained in soy protein isolate.”

Environ Health Perspect1997 Apr;105 (Suppl. 3):633-636. Dietary estrogens were found to increase enzymatic activity leading to breast cancer. “Our findings are consistent with a conclusion that dietary estrogens at low concentrations do not act as anti-estrogens, but act like DDT and estradiol to stimulate human breast cancer cells to enter the cell cycle.”

Br J Nutr 2000 Oct;84(4):557-63. Men consuming tofu instead of meat for 4 weeks had lower testosterone-oestradiol ratios as well as changes in other hormone levels. “Thus, replacement of meat protein with soyabean protein, as tofu, may have a minor effect on biologically-active sex hormones which could influence prostate cancer risk.”

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010 Feb;91(2):440-8. “Dietary phytoestrogens may contribute to the risk of colorectal cancer among women and prostate cancer among men.”

In an unexpected twist, soy and cancer are linked in tons and tons of studies, and while I’m still sorta’ unclear about the mechanism here, the link is strong enough, to say the least.


There was another claim in the article that garnered some attention: Isoflavone (phytoestrogen) content in soy and its hormonal effects. The article claims:

10 mg provides the estrogenic equivalent of a contraceptive pill. Thus, the average amount of soy-based formula taken in by a child provides the estrogenic equivalent of at least four birth control pills. Because babies are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of dietary estrogens, the effects could actually be much greater than that of four birth control pills.

Hence the statement, “Babies on soy formula receive the estrogenic equivalent of at least five birth control pills per day.”

The doubts about this claim come from the math, specifically the conversion of the one (isoflavones) into the other (estrogen) in the specified amounts: How did we get to the equation “10mg of isoflavones (in an infant) = 1 contraceptive pill”? Is this, in fact, “black magic argumentation”?

The answer is SCIENCE. Science is how we got there.

You tell ’em, Robb! Yeah!

While I’ll admit that we are talking about estimates (though thoroughly credible ones), it sounds like it was just simple extrapolation upon known quantities:

Bulletin de L’Office Federal de la Santé Publique, No 28, July 20, 1992 (I worked hard trying to find a link to this. I… I just don’t speak Swiss-German. The Journal exists, and it’s online. It existed in 1992… but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, is really all I can tell you. If you’ve got a little more confidence with your French or German (or your Swiss-German!), you could have a go yourself and help me out). This study is quoted in a lot of places, and referenced in the article itself. The Weston A. Price Foundation summarizes: “The Swiss health service estimates that 100 grams of soy protein provides the estrogenic equivalent of the contraceptive pill.”

Proc Nutr Soc of NZ 1995;20:35-42 (this one doesn’t appear to be online, sorry). “Concerns have been expressed about possible adverse effects, particularly to the foetal-neonatal nervous and reproductive system. Adverse effects may occur by inhibition of the enzyme which converts the relatively impotent estrone to the much more potent oestradiol and by occupying the estrogen receptor resulting in antagonism of the naturally produced oestradiol. Adequate oestradiol is necessary for the imprinting and development of many physical, physiological and behavioral characteristics during the neonatal period and infancy. Infants on soy-based formula have been identified as a high-risk group because the formula is the main source of nutrient, and because of their small size and developmental phase. Infants absorb phytoestrogens and have a calculated daily dietary intake (per kg) 3-6 times that shown to have physiological effects on women. . .”

Of course, this study based its findings on serum measurements of isoflavones, so I may have spoken too soon about “estimates”:

Lancet1997;3530(9070):23-27 (YES! GOT ONE!). “The daily exposure of infants to isoflavones in soy infant formula is 6-11 fold higher on a body weight basis than the dose that has hormonal effects in adults consuming soy foods. Circulating concentrations of isoflavones in the seven infants fed soy-based formula were 12,000-22,000 times higher than plasma oestradiol concentrations in early life, and may be sufficient to exert biological effects, whereas the contribution of isoflavones from breast-milk and cow-milk is negligible.”

Supporting the Lancet finding (if disagreeing about the conclusion): Am J Clin Nutr 1998 Dec;68(6 Suppl):1453S-1461S. Noting the results of an earlier study which found that plasma isoflavone levels in infants fed soy-based formula were 13,000-22,000 higher than concentrations found in fed breast milk or milk-based formula, the authors explain these high levels as due to “. . . reduced intestinal biotransformation, as evidenced by low or undetectable concentrations of equol and other metabolites, and is maintained by constant daily exposure from frequent feeding.” The authors assert that these unnaturally high levels of isoflavones in the bloodstreams of soy-fed children “may have long-term health benefits for hormone-dependent diseases.”

If you’re interested in the subject and willing to put forth the effort you can have a look at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website: They have a pretty exhaustive collection of references with regards to soy and its health consequences, which was invaluable in writing this post. There’s plenty more there for the interested (or obsessive). Have fun.

So there you have it citizens, Soy Re-Dun. You can be fairly sure that I will not be addressing this again, unless some powerful new information comes to light.

Yoroshu ni


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