Now we get into the ‘meat and potatoes’, I mean ‘potatoes’ of the challenge (I forgot that I was vegetarian this month). AKA the actual experience. With the start of any new challenge, I always feel excited and extra motivated at the start — something, I’m sure, we can all relate to.
I went in with high hopes and expectations for myself. I wanted to try new recipes almost every day, eat healthier, and live my best, plant-based life.
As with any new goal, my excitement and motivation came in small doses after the first week. My big plans of diversifying my recipes, trying an abundance of new flavors, and exploring all the vegan influencer feeds had to offer, fell by the wayside. Here’s the reality: I made a grand total of four new recipes over the 30 days, got lazy, then pretty much just ate the same thing every day.
However, I did buy some new foods that hadn’t made a consistent appearance in my diet before, which did spice up my repetitive meals a bit. These included: nutritional yeast, spirulina, tempeh, soy products, and new protein bars. I liked the diversity the soy products had to offer since it meant I could have soy meatballs, veggie burgers, tofurkey, soy sausages… the list goes.
Unfortunately for me, within the first week of the challenge, I experienced a very unpleasant surprise: the emergence of acne all over my face and back. I’m not even talking small little pimps, I’m talking cystic acne on my back and shoulders. I felt like a hormonal teenager who was experiencing her first period.
I’m in my 30s now, so this is a throwback I don’t want to deal with anymore.
I then played the tantalizing game of which food item is making me look like a hormonal teenager? To approach this million-dollar question, I did some research on my good ol’, reliable friend, Google. Of course, many of the items I searched returned controversial answers. There were numerous studies on how spirulina was a miracle food for the skin, while others said to stay away from algae entirely — it can cause bad breakouts.
Some protein bars make my skin break out and I had just tried a new brand. Was it the protein bars?
Oh yeah, and I had just bought a new pre-workout supplement… could that be the culprit?
I slowly started eliminating one thing at a time: the spirulina, nope. The pre-workout, nope. The protein bars, nope. What else could it be?
I was at my sister’s place one Saturday afternoon and told her about my predicament to which she immediately replied, “oh, it’s 100% the soy.” I did do a bit of investigation on the subject and similar to the controversies surrounding spirulina, I couldn’t find any studies on the direct correlation between soy and hormonal acne.
I also ate soy products in the past (soy milk, edamame, etc.), but never saw a relationship between that and my skin. I did end up removing the processed soy products (ie. veggie burgers, soy meatballs, etc.) and also tofu and noticed a huge improvement in my skin. Whether it was an allergy or intolerance, I’m not sure, but I can safely conclude that soy-based products aren’t great for giving me that clear, glowing complexion.
Speaking of soy, when researching the hormonal effects, I went into a bit of a rabbit hole on the controversies regarding its effect on male and female sex hormones.
The soy debate
Soy was my first choice in a meat substitute as it contains all nine essential amino acids and was thus an easy way to help me achieve my protein targets. Soy is a hotly debated topic among the scientific community on whether it can be linked to health benefits or rather, have a more deleterious effect. I was enlightened to learn that making a blanket statement about soy is a mistake.
I found an interesting article from the Harvard School of Public Health that explained the uniqueness of soy compared to other foods in the human diet. Soy contains high concentrations of isoflavones — a plant compound that contains estrogen and actually acts similar to human estrogen but has much weaker effects.
Isoflavones have differing effects on the body depending on a few of the following factors:
- Type of study: the effects differ from animals and humans — thus we shouldn’t draw conclusive evidence on the bodily effects on humans from studies conducted on animals.
- Hormone levels: the effects can vary based on current hormone levels in the body. Premenopausal women have larger levels of estradiol than postmenopausal women, for instance.
- Type of soy products: there isn’t just one class and each can have a different effect on the body. Soy protein, veggie burgers, and tofu, for example, can affect us differently.
Soy Effects on men and women
There’s another myth being circulated that consuming soy affects men’s testosterone levels and can also increase estrogen levels in women. I also believed this myth, but turns out, it isn’t true. A meta-analysis of 38 clinical studies concluded that soy/isoflavones do not affect male testosterone levels.
Another 2009 meta-analysis conducted on pre and post-menopausal women concluded that there were no statistically significant impacts of the ingestion of isoflavones on female sex hormones. However, it is worth noting that soy can increase the duration of the menstrual cycle (worth it? Hmm… I’ll let you decide).
In sum, soy is a great meat substitute as outlined in the protein guide (as long as you don’t have any pre-existing allergies and food intolerances) and is an easy way to hit protein targets. Unless it gives you acne in which case, well, you’ll have to weigh out that trade-off.
Now that we got some of the controversies and myths cleared up, it’s time to jump into the fun part. A full day of eating…