Soy Protein Isolate – The Real Problem + Hexane
Soy is an ingredient that gets a lot of attention. Some of it relates to how bad soy can be for your health while other sources discuss the benefits.
Whether you choose to eat it or not, soy is a controversial ingredient.
However, the food industry has another dirty little secret that could be one of the main aspects of why soy could be considered an unsafe food.
The dirty little secret is called, Hexane!
Hexane is a chemical compound that is also known as an air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency and a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is produced during gasoline refining and is often added to the processing of some foods as it is a cheap and easily accessible solvent.
The soybeans take a bath in the hexane and the oils which makes the protein separate to make soy protein isolate. Once the soy protein flakes are extracted from the oils, they undergo a steam treatment to get rid of any excess hexane that might be leftover.
The FDA is not required to monitor hexane levels in food, so they don’t.
That is why the safest option (until further research is conducted) is to avoid any products that could be processed with the solvent hexane. Remember, it is only used when processing soy, so try to avoid processed soy ingredients such as soy protein isolate.
If you want to avoid hexane treated foods look for 100% organic whole soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, organic soy milk and yogurts, and edamame.
Hexane is banned in organic food production…
This is one of the many reasons that buying organic food is so important.
Organic foods are certified to be produced without these processed toxins and chemicals. They are also prohibited from using synthetic solvents that are environmentally or health damaging such as hexane. There are also many companies that have learned about hexane or heard the worries of their customers and made some positive changes.
Turtle Island Foods, the maker of Tofurky products, and Natures Path have ensured that they do not us any hexane-extracted soy products.
On the other hand, many popular energy bar and protein powder companies will claim to use organic soybeans while also using soy protein isolate which almost always goes through hexane processing.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of studies, it is unclear how much hexane, if any, actually stays in the food after the hexane processing. The research regarding this solvent seems to be quite conflicting and the FDA doesn’t monitor it.
Many research groups claim they could find no hexane in the foods once they were processed, while others say they found enough evidence of hexane in the foods to cause significant health problems. It is also unclear if these research groups were funded by any corporations that could benefit from the studies going a certain way.
Chronic exposure to hexane in factory workers has been linked to some nasty neurological conditions. The OSHA also limits the amount of hexane that a worker can be exposed to during a shift because inhalation of hexane is much more dangerous than ingesting it. These restrictions alone should raise some alarms on how dangerous it can be.
Ultimately, it is up to you whether you would like to ingest foods that have undergone hexane processing.
The studies on hexane are unclear and conflicting.
However, major organizations such as the CDC and EPA are claiming that it is unsafe and that is more than enough reason for me to avoid products that have been treated with hexane.
If you like soy products don’t be alarmed as you certainly don’t have to give them up, simply stick to companies that use organic and whole soybeans that haven’t been treated with hexane.
Here’s a couple of great resources to check whether your food is safe and free from Hexane.
If you have any other great resources on Hexane please feel free to share below in the comments.