Canadian research finds that soy can limit growth of Listeria

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Recent research from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, has found that soy can limit the growth of some bacteria, such as Listeria and Pseudomonas, and that it does it better than chemical-based agents.

“Current synthetic-based, chemical-based anti-microbial agents kill bacteria indiscriminately, whether they are pathogenic or beneficial,” researcher Suresh Neethirajan, Ph.D, told CBC News. Neethirajan is an engineering professor and director of the BioNano Laboratory at the university.

Human bodies, the intestines in particular, need certain bacteria to properly process the food. Those so-called good bacteria are not susceptible to the compounds in soybeans that kill the bad bacteria, Neethirajan said.

People with allergies or sensitivities to soy don’t need to worry about soy being used to prevent bacteria growth, Neethirajan said. The method he uses isolates the active component of the soybean from the protein that causes allergic reactions. The soy isoflavones that are chemically similar to estrogen are also weeded out. What’s left is a compound that naturally stops bad bacteria.

Neethirajan said the problem with synthetic additives currently used to kill bad bacteria is that they can cause health problems.

“You do need good bacteria, beneficial bacteria, in our intestines to be able to properly process the food we eat, so that’s why a lot of antibiotic food preservatives, which are made of synthetic chemicals, have … side effects such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, gas,” he said.

“Because of the selective specificity (by soy) toward inhibiting the pathogenic bacteria compared to beneficial bacteria, it will eliminate some of the health issues associated with the current synthetic-based food preservatives.”

Neethirajan is now working to identify which varieties of soybeans are best at preventing bacteria from growing. The scientific findings could help growers choose the best soybean variety for a given end use, such as killing pathogenic bacteria.

He is also working on a method to extract the specific components. It involves using water at very high pressure to extract specific components while keeping the process environmentally friendly.

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