How Healthy Is Soy?

Tofu, tempeh and miso — how safe are these veggie staples?
A Q&A with EarthTalk; reprinted with permission

How healthy is soy? I heard that, despite its healthy image, most soy is grown using chemicals like other crops and is even being genetically modified.  

D. Frinka, Syracuse, NY

Food products made with soy have enjoyed great popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere in recent years. Two decades ago, Americans spent $300 million a year on soy food products; today we spend over $4 billion. More and more adults are substituting soy — a great source of protein — for meat, while a quarter of all baby formula contains soy instead of milk. Many school lunch programs nationwide have added soy-based veggie burgers to their menus, as have countless restaurants, including diners and fast food chains.
And there are hundreds of other edible uses of the legume, which now vies with corn for the title of America's most popular agricultural crop. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration promotes the inclusion of soy into other foods to cut down on heart attack risk. Clinical studies have shown that soy can also lower the risk for certain types of breast and prostate cancer.

But there may be a dark side to soy’s popularity and abundance. “Many of soy’s health benefits have been linked to isoflavones — plant compounds that mimic estrogen,” reports Lindsey Konkel in Environmental Health News
. “But animal studies suggest that eating large amounts of those estrogenic compounds might reduce fertility in women, trigger premature puberty and disrupt development of fetuses and children.” But before you dump out all your soy foods, note that the operative phrase here is “large amounts” which, in laboratory science, can mean amounts substantially above what one would consume in real life.

Also at issue is that upwards of 90 percent of the U.S. soybean crop is grown using genetically modified (GM) seeds sold by Monsanto. These have been engineered to withstand repeated dousing with the herbicide glyphosate (also sold by Monsanto and marketed as Round-Up). According to the nonprofit Non-GMO Project, this allows soybean farmers to repeatedly spray their fields with Round-Up to kill all weeds (and other nearby plant life) except for the soybean plants they are growing.
The U.S. government permits the sale and consumption of GM foods, but many consumers aren’t so sure it’s OK to eat them, given not only the genetic tinkering but also the exposure to so much glyphosate. Due to these concerns, the European Union has had a moratorium on GM crops of all kinds since 1998.

The fact that genetically modified soy may be present in as much as 70 percent of all food products found in U.S. supermarkets means that a vast majority of Americans may be putting a lot of GM soy into their systems every day. And not just directly via cereals, breads and pasta: Some 98 percent of the U.S. soybean crop is fed to livestock, so consumers of meat, eggs and dairy are indirectly ingesting the products of scientific tinkering with unknown implications for human health.

Since GM soy has only been around and abundant for less than a decade, no one yet knows for sure what the long term health effects, if any, will be on the populations of countries such as the U.S. that swear by it. Natural foods stores like Whole Foods are your best bet for finding non-GM foods of all sorts.

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abbyful's picture
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Small quantities of soy might be fine, but it's in EVERYTHING if you start reading labels.

I try to avoid it. The only soy I will actually purposely bring into my house (and infrequently and in small quantities) are fermented soy products like miso and tempeh.

In addition to what was mentioned in the article, soy also has anti-nutrient properties, it blocks your body from absorbing other nutrients you are eating.

Americans eat more soy than people living in Asian countries. And we eat lower-quality versions as well. In Asian countries, fermented soy is prefered and soy is used more as a condiment. In America, soy is used frequently used as a meat replacer or a base for entire meals.

Soy was never originally intended to be eaten. It was grown between seasons of growing edible crops as groundcover and a nitrogen-fixer.

sjhenker's picture
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So .... does buying "Organic" give any assurance that the soy is not GM?

roselinck's picture
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This isn't simply about the dangers of soy. It is about the morality of the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing corporation behind the monopoly called Monsanto. Monsanto Corporation exclaims they are going to save the world by creating foods sources for all. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of the farmer’s wallets and the people’s health. Monsanto is the biggest bad boy of chemical corporations. Despised by the world, they realized they needed a makeover, especially after their failed slogan "Food, Health, Hope" brought about much criticism. Thanks to a representative from Arthur Anderson, LLP, who was present at a bio-tech industry conference, Monsanto has not only been using the slogan "Growth for a Better World", but they have recently redefined themselves as a "life sciences" company to sound more friendly to the people. After all, who wants a company that is known for manufacturing chemicals, growing your food? This is indeed the question every American should be asking themselves. Monsanto is the biggest producer of harmful GMO seeds. Seeds that are bountiful yet nutritionless. Seeds that they force our American farmers to use, mostly in the form of soy. Farmers used to sow their seed, reap the crops and then retrieve and store the seed for next years planting. No more, my friend. Farmers who are desperate enough to participate with Monsanto's plan now must return all seed to Papa Monsanto every year and seed must be repurchased the next. What happens if farmers refuse to use Monsanto’s dangerous GMO seeds? They are literally run out of business, not only because they can't compete with the huge crops springing up from fellow farmers who are using them, but because Monsanto makes certain they won't make it. One way they do this is by claiming the uncooperative farmer IS using their seeds. This multi- billion dollar corporation takes the poor farmer to court, bankrupting him to the point where he must give up his land. The justification for this corrupt use of our courts is that Monsanto claims that if one seed...yes,just one tiny seed...blows into the farm of a "non-participating" farm,(and naturally it does), and a plant forms, the farmer is profiting from the seeds without paying for them. And this is one of the lesser offenses committed by Monsanto. To present the rapsheet of known crimes by this corporation would take much time and space but will be done, as they must be exposed for the good of the people. It is ironic that the official Monsanto pledge is as follows: "Integrity is the foundation for all that we do. Integrity includes honesty, decency, consistency, and courage. We will share knowledge and technology to advance scientific understanding, to improve agriculture and the environment, to improve crops, and to help farmers in developing countries." There is no integrity within the Monsanto Corporation, nor assistance to farmers of any country. The people must stand up to this corporation and those who aid them. Give control of the crops and other food industries back to the farmers and the people. Monsanto should stick to killing weeds, not people.

YogaInstructor's picture
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Whole foods carries many foods that contain GMO's! Not enough research was done on the consequences or long term effects on the environment and ingesting of GM foods, but the government approved it anyway! Also, why would anyone want to eat foods that have been infested with pesticides (roundup)? How will that effect the body, your health and the environment? Don't you think we have the right to chose, to know what foods contain GMO's? Education is key find out the truth on what GM foods are really about-FRANKENFOOD! This is not natural, it is made in an laboratory by man-NOT GOD or nature.
GMO's will not stop world hunger, it'll control populations by killing us gradually.

Begin living sustainably, get to know your local farmers and grow the food that you can!

Watch FOOD INC., FOOD MATTERS, TAPPED, KING CORN....DOCUMENTARIES! STAY INFORMED, this is what the mainstream media doesn't want you to know.

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