Rethinking Soy: Save Your Health & Our Planet
Soy is becoming one of America’s popular foods. And it’s increasingly one of the most purchased food items in the vegan and vegetarian diets. You can easily spot it in traditional food products, such as, tofu, soy milk, tempeh, edamame, but in more subtle ways, you’ll also read it in your food labels, listed as: soy lecithin, miso, tamari, and textured vegetable protein (TVP), along with other tricky synonyms. Because of its versatile composition, soy is used in a number of industries, which include the animal feed, food, and non-food industries - it’s pretty much everywhere.
To some, it’s acclaimed for its beneficial health effects, and to others, rejected for its hazardous amounts of phytoestrogens and antagonizing role on the environment. The internet contains a sufreit of polarizing views and research on the effects of soy, which adds to its controversy. Nevertheless, whatever side of the coin you find yourself on, this mysterious food item is still vitally important to probe and unpack, for your health and our planet.
THE DOUBLE-EDGEd SWORD
Phytoestrogens & Hormone Disruption
Maybe you aren’t familiar with the word, phytoestrogens? It's okay, most aren't. So, let’s break it down: “phyto”, means plant and, “estrogens”, are important hormones for reproductive health, especially in women. Phytoestrogens are plant derived compounds found in a wide variety of foods, most notably soy. These hormones aren’t generated within the endocrine system, but rather consumed by eating phytoestrogenic plants. Due to the enigmatic role phytoestrogens play in nutrition, its effects are controversial. There are countless studies that claim certain concentrations of phytoestrogens can be either beneficial or harmful. Therefore, understanding the nature of these types of plant estrogens can spark curiosity for research, provide a deeper understanding, and benefit your hormone health.
Phytoestrogens are a form of dietary estrogen that essentially mimics estrogen-like hormones by binding to hormone receptors and secreting endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs); an increase has been known to cause hormonal disturbances. Research suggests that they also have the ability to promote the development, growth, and spread of breast cancers, cervical cancer, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and other hormone imbalance-related disorders. Doctors have worried that eating an abundance of soy foods or soy isoflavones may pose a risk to humans (Dr. Axe). Researchers have also found that in a subset of women, consumption of soy could boost the expression of genes linked to breast cancer, known as the BRCA1 gene.
Inevitably, most food products contain ingredients with traces of soy, making it difficult to avoid contents of GMO phytoestrogens; however, the goal is to try and avoid foods that contain astronomical levels, especially on a consistent basis.
Below is a list of a few foods that contain ranges of phytoestrogen content. You may find this list handy while arranging your pantry.
Soiling Our Soil
Before we uncover the role soy plays in the environment, let's explore the relationship between soy & genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) - living organisms whose genetic material have been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. Essentially, GMO's are engineered to be more resistant to pesticides or produce pesticides themselves. Soybean Farmers are increasing the usage of pesticide in soybean acres to fan off pests and reduce crop damages; all the while, adding chemicals to the same fields that kill beneficial organisms that help sustain life. Despite its convenience of warding off pests to preserve crops, a growing body of evidence connects GMO to health problems, environmental damages and more (Non GMO Project).
A staggering 90% of today’s soy is genetically modified and the GMO industry is encouraged to produce an increasingly large amount to keep up with economic demands. However, in order to grow soy, vast expanses of land are needed. In the U.S. alone, over 80 million acres of land are covered with soybeans. Unfortunately, this process of production requires infiltrating fragile ecosystems which lead to a host of destruction: deforestation of hundreds of thousands of acres, habitat destruction, over-cultivation and destruction of soils, and billions of tons of toxic chemicals spewed into the environment year after year, contaminating our soils, water, and destroying wildlife and human health.
Studies have shown that GMO’s not only contribute to the depletion of vital minerals and beneficial bacteria in the soil but the good gut bacteria in our gut. A large percentage of soybeans are genetically-modified to withstand the herbicide glyphosate, which is usually sold under the trade name Roundup. Glyphosate is used with a number of GMO crops that have been linked to disrupting intestinal microbiota.
Conventional soy that has been genetically-modified, isn’t the best option for the environment or human health. If you're not looking forward to giving up soy, try Natto - most popularly consumed in Okinawa, Japan, where some residents have lived up to 100 years! It’s one of the healthiest fermented foods, loaded with probiotics and is non-GMO!
Another way to contribute to a better environment is by purchasing organic foods. Only the USDA’s organic certification label guarantees the absence of genetically engineered ingredients. So, make sure to read your labels!
If you're wanting to make some alterations in your diet because it mostly consists of soy products, don't fret, because there are tons of alternatives. Try replacing soy milk with either coconut milk or a variety of nut milks. Most brands are fortified with key vitamins and minerals (just read the labels): So Delicious, Elmhurst, Califia Farms. You can also enjoy soy-less meat substitutes, such as, jackfruit, Quorn, NEAT, and more!
I hope the information provided sparks curiosity, catalyses an ongoing journey of research and avid food-label perusing. Staying well informed can help with better decision making, which can benefit us all. Also, we are all given the autonomy to decide what to eat and how to help maintain the planet. Simply put, eliminating soy from your diet, as well as cutting back on GMO foods can help protect your health and the environment.
Stay Healthy, Stay Curious, Stay Informed
DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are no financial ties to any supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies, or to any of the products mentioned in this post. This post is not meant to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose conditions or diseases and is meant for educational purposes. As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or supplements.