Soybeans for Health | Majid Ali MD

Soybeans: A Perfect Food

The ancients knew of many ways to enhance the nutritional value of their foods. Soybean makes for an illuminating case study. Soybean is an excellent sources of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, molybdenum and others. It has a rich content of some “life span oils”.

I have observed some extraordinary benefits of these natural products for patients with irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s colitis and related chronic inflammatory bowel disorders. And, of course, soybean has high-quality proteins. It comes close to being a perfect food. But there is something more to it. Soybean is a seed. Like all other seeds, it is rich in enzyme inhibitors. Here is another master stroke of nature. Seeds are nature’s tiny parcels of future life. They must be preserved. They must be protected not only from the vicissitudes of their environments but also from the enzymes  within them. These enzymes are designed to cause auto digestion and breakdown (the law of death in nature). So Nature gave them outer shells and inner molecular safety in the form of enzyme inhibitors.

Predigesting Soybeans

The ancients seemed to have intuitively known about these nutritional aspects of soybean, even though little comes down to us about their insights in these matters in a well documented form. Why else would they hold it in such high esteem? Also they seemed to have recognized the problem of enzyme inhibitors in soybean. Why else would they be so inventive about the matters of antidigestive (enzyme inhibitors) aspects of soybean? Why else would they prepare soybean dishes in so many ways with the specific result of neutralizing and predigesting it?


The ancient Chinese mastered the art of neutralizing enzyme inhibitors and predigesting soybean with several fungus enzymes, mostly from Aspergillus species. They literally “cooked” their soybean with fungus enzymes. There is, however, a critical difference between cooking soybean (and other foods). with heat and cooking them with fungus enzymes: Cooking with heat destroys life enzymes while cooking with enzymes increases the life enzyme content of foods. Tofu kan, yuba, and tofu p’i  were the names they gave to their soybean dishes prepared for the specific purpose of increasing its digestibility by adding to it life enzymes of fungi (and for conserving their own digestive enzymes). They enhanced its nutritional value and at the same time spared their own enzymes. They were prudent about their own life enzyme banks. The Chinese also used soybean curd to prepare another dish called kabitofu.

Toya, Natto , Tempeh and Miso


The people in Philippines called their favorite partially digested soybean dish toya. The well-known tofu is a “cheese” made up of partially digested soybean. Natto is the name given to a similar product. For many centuries, people of Java treated their soybean with enzymes and named their dish tempeh.

The Japanese were not to be left behind in this competition for saving their life span enzymes. They perfected miso, a fermented soybean food used as porridge at breakfast. The Japanese also experimented with other grains and made miso with barley and rice.

The principle of predigesting foods with natural substances to enhance its nutritional value (conserving the life enzyme bank account in our jargon) is not the sole cultural heritage of people of the Far East. Yogurt was the prime predigested food of ancient India. Cheeses were the predigested foods of early Europeans. They prepared their cheese to enhance its nutritional value and for specific taste goals by treating it with specific bacterial enzymes.  Predigestion of food is an old discovery of man. In almost all of his cultures and in all eras of his history, man has used the principle of predigesting his food by borrowing digestive enzymes from other forms of life.

Today we find some of its early applications repulsive, even barbaric. Jivaros Indians of the Amazon River basin prepared nijimanche by thoroughly chewing the yucca bark and spitting it into large jars where its digestion by amylase enzymes of the saliva continued for hours. They treasured this drink for its nutritional value. We do not need to adopt their specific methods, but we must recognize the relevance of their insights into the matters of food digestion to our health today. Their food “packaging” appears repugnant to our delicate taste and sensibility today. Little do we realize that they, in their barbaric primitiveness, were much truer to their food than we who hide toxic foods in elegant packaging.

Soybean is a recurrent favorite of predigested foods among people interested in their food and health. It is unfortunate that our food industry does not see the intuitive wisdom of the ancient and build upon it for healthier foods with abundant life span enzymes. The ancient perfected the art of preparing healthful predigested foods and drinks. We can both adopt and adapt their methods. Enzyme foods and beverages, as Edward Howell and others have suggested, can be prepared in many aesthetically pleasing ways.

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