Ask Dana Carpender – Rhubarb, Soy, and What’s Next for Dana

Questions! I Get Questions!

Do you know the carb count for rhubarb?

Thanks, Claudine

Why, yes I do, or rather my software does: 1 cup of rhubarb has 26 calories, 6 grams of carb, 2 grams of fiber (so a usable carb count of 4 grams), and appreciable quantities of vitamin C (though some will be destroyed in cooking), calcium, and potassium.

And it’s nice sweetened with Splenda, as I have reason to know. Enjoy!


I loved the article Ten Hazards of a Low Carbs (sic) Diet, and I am back on a low carb diet (having strayed a bit for about a year). One question I do have for you, how do you feel about the new reports about soy intake, in regard to the problem of estrogen like chemicals, since so many processed low carb foods use soy?

Philip Bennett

I’m not a huge fan of soy. I certainly do not believe it is the Wonder Health Food Of All Existence it has been made out to be.

For those of you who are unaware of soy’s potential drawbacks:

  • Soy is a very new addition to the human diet. Grains and beans in general have only been in the human diet since the Agricultural Revolution, about 10,000 years ago, but it is estimated that soy has only been in the human diet for 500-1000 years, a blink of an eye.
  • Unless soy is specifically labeled “organic,” chances are high it has been bathed in Roundup or similar herbicides the whole time it has been growing. Living in the Midwest as I do, I hear frequent radio ads for these herbicides, and know that most soy grown in this country is specifically bred to be “Roundup ready” – to tolerate herbicides, so that farmers can broadcast spray them on their fields.
  • Soy binds minerals. Actually, all grains and beans do, which is why neolithic farmers were shorter and had weaker bones than their hunter-gatherer forebears. But soy does this worse than most things, and this property is not diminished by long cooking. I don’t know about you, but I like my bones, and would prefer to keep them. (When the USDA decided that school lunch programs could use soy as the sole protein in main dishes, instead of merely using it to supplement more traditional proteins, they noted that school children would need to be monitored for mineral deficiencies. Yikes.)
  • Soy is bad for the thyroid; this is long-established. In small children, a steady diet of soy formula has been known to cause thyroid failure. I’m already hypothyroid, I don’t need to mess my thyroid up more. (If you have thyroid problems or suspect you may – they’re under-diagnosed – please visit Mary Shomon’s excellent website
  • A study released in 2000 ( found a straight-line correlation between the quantity of tofu consumed in middle age and cognitive decline in old age. Correlation is not causation, but a straight-line correlation is a fine place to start looking.
  • Despite soy being pushed as a preventive for breast cancer, there are studies that show a faster spread of breast cancer in women who consume a lot of soy.
  • Last I knew, soy protein isolate – the protein powder found in soy protein shakes and many protein bars – had been denied GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status by the FDA. Now, the FDA grants GRAS status to some questionable things, so this is not conclusive. But as I understand it, the lack of GRAS status means that technically speaking it is illegal to use soy protein isolate as an ingredient in foods.

Except for the first three, all of these problems are tied to the high levels of phytoestrogens soy contains. I find it ironic that one of the arguments many vegetarians forward for shunning meat is “They feed the animals hormones!” – after which they suggest that I eat soy instead.

In particular, I worry about all of the middle-aged women (says the middle-aged woman) who are popping soy estrogen pills for menopausal symptoms because they think they’re a “safer” alternative than prescription hormones. Not saying Premarin is safe; I have no intention of taking it myself, though I do take pregnenolone ( and would like to start on bio-identical hormones. But to assume that soy estrogens are safe because “they’re natural!” is to ignore the fact that many of the most toxic substances in the world are natural.

Further, your average health-conscious American soy fan eats far, far more soy than any traditional Asian culture ever did, and in forms that have existed for only a few decades. How many vegetarians have a soy smoothie for breakfast, soy cheese on their salad for lunch, and a veggie burger for dinner? This level of consumption of soy foods, especially of unfermented, highly processed soy foods, has to be considered experimental.

(You know how the anti-low-carb crowd throws around “There are no long-term studies showing that diet is safe!”? That’s not quite true; whole societies thrived for centuries, if not millennia, on low carb diets. On the other hand, there are no studies showing that long-term consumption of high levels of processed soy foods is safe, and no societies that have eaten such a diet over the long haul – since those foods didn’t exist.)

So do I completely shun soy? I do not. I don’t use it much, and I’m wary, but there are a few items that include soy that are otherwise hard to come by in a low carb diet. Low carb tortillas generally have a little soy flour in them. Tofu shirataki noodles have a little, too, though despite the name they’re mainly made of konjac fiber, not tofu. I also am a big fan of Natural Ovens of Manitowoc’s Carb Conscious Bread (, which has a touch of soy. (The label puts it in the “2% or less” category.) And I occasionally indulge in a bag of flax-and-soy low carb tortilla chips. None of these foods are staples in my diet; I can go weeks or even months without eating them. But when I want them, they’re there, and they’re good, and they provide an option nothing else really does.

Furthermore, I occasionally use actual soy beans in chili or soup. Again, this is far from an everyday thing, more like once every couple of months. But, darn it, we like beans in our chili! And every now and then in the winter a pot of bean soup is just what I crave, and by pureeing a couple of cans of black soy beans with, say, a can of black beans or red beans or whatever, I can make a pot of good bean soup without the high carb load. Having these things now and then without jacking up my weight or going on a blood sugar roller coaster ride makes me happy.

It’s a question of balancing my wariness of soy with my wariness of carbohydrate, and a realization that the first rule of toxicology is “Dose is everything.”

Just so you know, the most traditional forms of soy in the Asian diet are fermented: soy sauce, miso, tempeh, natto. Turns out that the fermentation process breaks down the phytoestrogens, making these foods far safer. I use soy sauce freely without worry, and if you’re a fan of, say, miso soup or the occasional tempeh stir fry, I wouldn’t sweat the soy estrogens, though as always you’ll want to keep an eye on the carb count.

Hope this helps!



I have all of your books, and in fact have a couple of recipes in the 500 More Low Carb Recipes book…

What’s next for you? Have you another book coming out?

I have “drifted away” and need to get back to what I know works…

Thanks…I’ll keep reading!

Margaret King, Albany, NY

I thought I recognized your name! Thanks for buying my books; I’m glad you find them useful.

I recently turned in twenty recipes for Dr. Rob Thompson’s book on a low starch diet for diabetics; it should be out in the fall. I’m seriously enjoying working with CarbSmart (find all of my articles here). I’m trying to keep up with blogging. And I’m trying to get my butt in gear to do a recipe website for diabetics.

But if you know a publisher who’d like to offer me a contract (for a low carb book, of course!), I’d love to hear about it.

Actually, one of my publishers recently pointed out that recipes for stuff like 100 calorie snacks were selling well; did I want to consider writing something like that? I told ’em thanks but no thanks.

Welcome back to the world of low carb! We’ve kept the bacon warm for you.


© 2009 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the very (carb) smart author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.

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