Ohh the noise.
There’s a lot of it isn’t there?! It seems to be a bit of a controversial food, that soy. Is it good for you? Is it bad for you? What does it do to your thyroid? Is it disrupting your hormones? How much consumption is too much?
How do you navigate the aisles + those cleverly worded marketing labels to decide which soy products, if any, are right for you?
Soy in the Market
According to the US Department of Agriculture, 94% of all soy grown in the US is genetically modified. In Canada, that percentage is slightly lower, hovering around 90%.
Genetically modified foods, including soy, contribute to many health issues. More recently, a particular herbicide used in genetically modified crops has several studies showing its link to many diseases and disorders such as depression, autism, digestive conditions, inflammatory disorders and auto-immune disorders, like celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Glyphosate, this herbicide, has not been found in organically grown soy.
Soy is one of the most heavily processed foods on the market. Because it's cheap to produce and can be made into many additives + variations like soy isolate protein and soy protein concentrate, soy lecithin, soy flour, it’s used in the manufacturing of many food products. You’re likely to find these variations in things like imitation meat, protein bars, veggie burgers, conventional chocolate, boxed cereal, conventional ice cream, tofu and most soy milk.
Soy and Your Health
Soybeans naturally contain enzyme inhibitors like phytic acid. These inhibitors make absorption + assimilation of nutrients difficult. If these anti-nutrients aren’t broken down in food preparation, absorbing the nutritional nourishment of your meal will be extremely limited.
Soybeans need to be soaked, cooked and fermented for these anti-nutrients to be broken down as much as possible. Fermentation increases the bioavailability of the nutrients and minimizes adverse effects that soy is known for. Things like hormone disruption, fertility issues, digestive issues and nutrient malabsorption.
Are There Health Building Forms of Soy?
Absolutely. Soybeans alone are not necessarily a bad food. It depends on the quality of the seed (organic, non-GMO) and how the soy is prepared for food use - soaked, cook + fermented. Given this, the types of fermented soy you’ll typically find available are:
tempeh, miso, natto and tamari
These fermented soy products are made with minimal processing. This helps improve their digestibility, and the minimal processing keeps soy more in line with the whole food philosophy of food being as close to its natural form as possible.
What About Soy Milk?
The majority of soy milk on the market (including organic) is made from the processed forms of soy, including isolate proteins and concentrates. Also, the soy is typically not fermented. So the breaking down of anti-nutrients to improve nutrient absorption isn’t happening.
If you choose to buy soy milk, read the ingredient list. It should be super short - filtered water + whole organic soybeans. Always look for whole organic soybeans, so you know it’s made from the whole bean rather than a form of soybean. There’s only one soy milk company I’ve found that meets this criteria. Their ingredient list is super short - water + organic whole soybeans. Their website feels pretty transparent. They discuss how they address the enzyme inhibitor issue, where their beans are sourced, how the beans are quality controlled and tested.
Here’s The Takeaway
If you are choosing to eat soy make sure it’s organic, non-GMO and fermented. Eat it in moderation. In my experience with clients and studies I’ve read, those who’ve had adverse effects to soy were consuming non-fermented forms and consuming it daily.
Now I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts on soy? Love it? Hate it? Where are you on the soy fence? Share with me in the comments below.
US Department of Agriculture. Genetically engineered varieties of corn, upland cotton and soybeans, 2000 - 2015
Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II - Celiac Sprue and gluten intolerance. Dec 2013; Semsel, Anthony and Seneff, Stephanie
Composition differences in soybeans on the market; Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans; Jul. 3 2013; Bøhn, T. et al