There is so much debate over soy: from extremes stating that it’s a magical little bean sure to cure what ails you, to the other side of the fence, which says it’s basically the devil. So today we thought we’d share our take on soy with you.
The health benefits of a particular type of soy bean, Okinawan soy, are incredible. When this research made a big splash in North America, the “Okinawan” part was forgotten, and the health claims were applied to soy across the board. But is the soy we’re eating over here the same thing? Not at all. It’s a different beast all together, and it has the ability to cause a whole lot of problems.
Over 90% of North American soy crops have been genetically modified. What that means for those consuming it, is that the body can no longer recognize GMO soy as a food, and therefore doesn’t know how to properly digest, absorb, and use it.
GMO foods have been linked to numerous health problems, including stunted growth, impaired immune systems, liver problems, allergies, thyroid disorders, kidney stones, cancer, reduced digestive enzymes, higher blood sugar, inflamed lung tissue, and infertility.
In Canada and the U.S., there are no labeling requirements for GMOs. So how do you avoid genetically modified soy, let alone any other GMO food?
Any certified organic food is not allowed to be genetically modified, and with more than 90% of soy crops being GMO, it’s a pretty safe bet that if it’s not organic, you’re eating GMO soy.
Soy specifically is associated with problems such as thyroid suppression (which can come packaged with goiters, malaise, constipation, and fatigue), breast cancer, an irregular menstrual cycle, infertility and sterility, and temporarily blocked protein absorption. One study has shown testosterone to drop 19% in males who consumed soy every day for one month.
Yet another health concern with the soy consumed in North America has to with processing methods. The highly toxic chemical solvent hexane is used to make processed soy ingredients like T.V.P., soy protein isolate and soy protein concentrate, which are used in many processed foods like veggie burgers, protein bars, and soy-based meat amalgams. Hexane is cheap, and readily available, being a byproduct of gasoline refining. Hexane is also a neurotoxin. Like GMOs, there are no labeling requirements for hexane usage in foods, however, hexane is not permitted in organic food production. So the best way to avoid both hexane-extracted soy and genetically modified soy is to only consume organic soy foods.
Various modified soy products are being snuck into all sorts of everyday products, making it hard to avoid unless you are consciously looking for it. The average person probably consumes far more soy than he or she realizes. Here are some not-so-obvious products that may contain soy:
- Cooking spray, margarine, vegetable shortening, and vegetable oil
- Chewing gum
- Soap, toiletries, and cosmetics
- Canned tuna and minced hams, ex: seasoned or mixed with other ingredients for flavour
- Beverage mixes, ex: hot chocolate and lemonade
- Dressings, gravies, and marinades
- Frozen desserts
- Meat products with fillers, such as prepared hamburger patties, hotdogs (not just tofu-dogs!), ground meat products, and cold cuts
- Snack foods, such as soy nuts
- Seasoning, spices, and MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Baking mixes and baked goods
- Milled corn
- Soups, broths, soup mixes, stocks
- Spreads, dips, mayonnaise, and even peanut butter
- Thickening agents
- Sea food-based products and farmed fish
- Bread crumbs, cereals, crackers
- Mexican foods, such as chili, tamales, and taco fillings
And then there are all the food products that we might choose to eat that are more obviously (perhaps?) made from soy:
- Edemame (whole soy beans)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), textured vegetable protein (TVP), hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP), and hydrolyzed soy protein (HSP)
- Imitation dairy food (soyghurt, soy-cheese, soy milk, soy cream cheese, soy margarine, soy ice cream, etc.)
- Infant formula, nutritional supplements for toddlers and children
- Meal replacements
- Sauces like soya sauce, shoyu, teriyaki, hoisin, and Worcestershire
- Simulated fish and meat products, like veggie burgers and imitation bacon bits
With soy being used by so many to replace cow’s milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat, and so on, it’s far too easy for what could be a good thing in moderation to be consumed in place of far too many other things. This does not mean that you have to consume dairy or meat if you don’t want to, nor that they are necessarily better for you, but that soy is not the only alternative. It is too easy to consume soy in excess, and the health-claims of the majority of unfermented soy products are either simply not true, or are out-weighed by its risks.
Fermentation is a process by which many foods can be transformed into healthier, digestive super heroes. Some of soy’s detrimental aspects change once it becomes fermented, and many new, beneficial properties emerge. Fermented, organic, non-GMO soy foods are full of probiotics (“friendly” bacteria that are oh-so-important for digestive health and immunity), enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and protein. Soy should still not be consumed every day, but fermented soy products can be a wonderful addition to any diet, a couple times per week.
These are the fermented soy foods that, if organic, can be safely enjoyed 2-3 times per week:
- Tempeh (sold as a firm brick, like a denser, less-processed, whole-food version of tofu, which has a much heartier texture and flavour. Crumble it into tomato sauce, stews, chili, and so on, or slice it, marinade it and bake or fry it.)
- Miso (a paste, great for soups, salad dressings, stews, dips, and sauces)
- Tamari (think real soy sauce, with no wheat)
- Natto (whole fermented beans that are crazy sticky, stringy and stinky, and are the best source of vitamin K2)
Tempeh, miso, and tamari can easily be found at most health food shops. Natto is the hardest of the lot to find – some Asian grocers might carry it, but it’s usually sold frozen in Styrofoam, which is not the best, and often is not organic. It usually comes with a package of sauce to put on top. Because it is so stinky and strange tasting, it really does need something to dress it up, but please throw away the packaged sauce and make something healthier yourself. The provided sauce is far from healthy and usually contains a hefty dose of MSG.
To learn more about the studies and effects of soy and GMOs mentioned here, please visit these websites:
Keep it in moderation, friends!
-The FGF Team