A prominent rabbi has apparently instructed his pupils to refrain from eating soy so they don’t end up in gay relationships, once again resurrecting a die-hard soy myth.
The ultra-orthodox Rabbi Abraham Benjamin Silberberg, head of Gur’s Education Department, has reportedly banned students from eating soy-based products for fear that even just one weekly brush with the bean could increase same-sex sexual encounters.
According to a report from Haredi World, the yeshiva has instructed students to “stay away from any food containing soy because even eating a soy based product just once a week can cause unwanted arousal.”
This is founded on the errant belief that soy-based products contain harmful hormones that somehow “damage the spirituality of students” by “accelerating sexual maturity.”
Of course, Silberberg and cohorts are not new to a bit of gay paranoia. An edict banning male handshakes was reportedly issued in the summer and raised more than a few eyebrows. It should be noted though that Gur Hasidim as a sect has a preoccupation with fighting sexual urges of mostly any kind so contextually this might not be classed as a broad piece of homophobia but more a comment on the sect’s particular view of all forms of sexuality.
For our purposes, though, it provokes the larger question of why, despite there being absolutely no proof for soy making men go over to the gay side, does that myth persist? Well, it’s likely due to its links to other soy myths that seem to have proved rather stubborn.
Soy: The Food The Media Built Up to Knock Down
Soy may have been a victim of its early so-called superfood success. When first gaining prominence in America, with a most recent resurgence at the turn of the century as a healthy alternative to full fat red meat, soy was billed as a dietary wonder that could do mostly anything from cut certain cancer risks, prevent osteoporosis and even stop aging in its tracks.
Of course, most so-called superfoods have failed to live up to their early media hype and so is the same with soy. While undeniably soy does carry certain health benefits, like potentially lowering LDL cholesterol (though by how much is still disputed), and possibly helping to cut prostate cancer risks and breast cancer recurrence rates (though that’s still debated), its benefits are not quite as widespread or pronounced as we may have been led to believe.
Regardless of the facts, as scientists set about investigating soy, a wide variety of organizations banded together to attempt to discredit the product.
In particular, such groups have claimed, based on a misreading of studies into soy isoflavones, that soy-based baby formulas can harm child development because soy does not offer a complete nutritional profile and that it can throw out a child’s hormonal balance, with various news sites seizing on such claims and spinning wildly misleading articles that soy can, yes, “make kids gay.”
Given that 20-25% of adults in America choose to feed their child a formula that contains soy, this issue is one for closer scrutiny. Scientists have investigated these claims, and the idea is not substantiated. There’s no link between homosexuality and soy formula. Furthermore, while breast milk still comes out on top in some tests, formula containing soy has been shown to have no detrimental impact on either behavioral development or physical development when compared to breast milk or cow milk based formula.
“Broscience” and Soy
Men’s health magazines have also played their part in the “soy does bad things to your man-bits” media malarkey.
Bowing at the temple of meat, men’s health magazines once frequently published articles that selectively skimmed for soy’s bad press, with topic favorites including isolated cases of (already health compromised) men with a high intake of soy developing breasts, and other reports of young soy dependent men having a lower libido and erectile dysfunction.
Such notions are based on the fact that soy contains phytoestrogen, and as such could supposedly undercut male testosterone. Yet, meta-analyses have shown that neither soy foods nor isoflavone supplements in fact alter normal levels of testosterone in men or impact estrogen concentration. There is also no known link between soy consumption and reduced fertility in men.
Also, what the men’s health magazines had failed to report in their scare stories is that the negative effects of soy in almost all cases went away when soy consumption was reduced to normal levels and the person’s other health conditions, like diabetes, were also treated.
Fortunately, in more recent years men’s health magazines in general have started correcting such myths and, in some cases, even recommending soy products for those wishing to find meat substitutes or seeking a great addition to a varied diet.
There is a great deal we might not yet know about soy, but one fact seems secure: organic soy from sustainable sources and as part of a wider healthier diet heavy on legumes, pulses and lean proteins will for most people be a sound dietary choice — and one that has absolutely no effect on a man or woman’s sexuality.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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