But I’ve Heard Soy Products Are Bad For You?

“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison” – Ann Wigmore

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The World Health Organisation define Genetically Modified Food as, “Organism in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally”. I recently watched the documentary GMO OMG. I learnt that there are two basic types of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), and can give you a little crash course, but as my friend Sophie would say this is put your seatbelt on kinda information. Here goes (note: pesticide equals insect and other pest killer, herbicide equals weed killer): Pesticide producers are manufactured by inserting a gene from a naturally occurring soil bacterium into the DNA of corn, most commonly. This modified corn produces a protein which is lethal to various insects which hence preserves the crop. Herbicide resisters are produced by altering this soil bacterium gene, most commonly to make the soy bean, resistant to Round Up. When farmers spray their crop with Round Up and other herbicides the weeds within the crop die but the soy bean plant remains unharmed. The soy bean has, for the large part, been taken over by Monsanto. Monsanto is a grotesque American chemical company which invented Round Up and has over time come to eradicate organic soy bean seeds and replace them with their own GM seeds, primarily by paying out and intimidating organic farmers.

The focus of the GMO OMG documentary is the politics of GMO’s. That is, the ethics surrounding gene modification of our food and giving corporations the right to patent, or own, life. The precautionary principle dictates that as we’re not sure about whether consuming GM food is detrimental to our health, we shouldn’t eat them and should be given the information to make an informed consumer choices. The labelling of GM food is so lax it’s almost impossible to know whether you are consuming GMO’s or not. There is currently a movement in American to pass a bill to get GM food labelled, but the bill and the discussion has been shut down by big corporate wallets. We are slightly more fortunate in Australia. When I go into a supermarket I can purchase soy products that have a label to say the product is ‘non-GMO’. However, indirect (for lack of a better word) consumption of GM food is as bad here as it is in the States. Chances are the chicken, pig and cow products many Australians consume were raised on, or at one point in time, fed genetically modified corn. Foods from animals that are fed GM feed are exempt from GM labelling in Australia, even certified organic animal products and by-products. The accumulation of pesticides in the bodies of frequently consumed animals then accumulates in our bodies (as discussed in my second blog on Disease), which contributes yet another health risk associated with consumption of these products. It’s pretty funny then, that some people dismiss veganism on the basis of belief that soy products are bad for them, whilst they consume GMO’s in their favoured meat and dairy products. For more information about GM food in Australia, SBS has written a well-rounded article which is in line with my understanding of GMO labelling.

Are we allergic to food or are we increasingly allergic to what has been done to it? – Robyn O’Brian

Apparently, genetically modified food in and of itself is not bad for us, it can make corn bigger and juicer, which is a good thing of course. From what I can gather, the primary concern with GM food is the chemicals that have been sprayed on the plants throughout their maturation, being ingested in our bodies. The science is out, or rather, the impact of GM food on human heath has not even been studied, bar one. A two year study found that rats fed K603 corn manufactured by Monsanto (read: sprayed with Roundup) developed liver and kidney disease and mammary tumours. The French researcher, Gilles-Éric Séralini, is a French molecular biologist but his research was discredited given that he is political advisor and activist on genetically modified organisms and foods. Despite this conflict of interest, many are concerned that something that is lethal it insect’s, or been sprayed with Round Up, is likely to be bad for our health.

The humble soy bean, in its organic form at least, is nutrient dense, providing high quality protein and in some products provides good sources of well-absorbed calcium. Soy is also extremely versatile in both function, such as emulsifying and absorbing, and in variety of products available, from the steamed edamame bean (immature soybean in a pod) to tofu and milk formula. I believe the soy beans ties with genetic modification and Monsanto is the reason, conveniently for the meat and dairy industries, that soy has got a bad reputation. Soyfoods have long been controversial in research, about cognitive function, thyroid health and in particular, hormone regulation.

Soyfoods are unique dietary sources of compounds called isoflavones. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens that is, plant estrogens, and hence serve important health benefits including alleviating hot flashes in menopause. Research has found soyfoods have either no effect or negligible effects on estrogen levels in women and The World Cancer Research Fund International recently concluded that eating soyfoods may help to improve the survival of breast cancer patients. And what about men consuming soy? Clinical research shows conclusively that soyfoods do not affect testosterone or estrogen levels in men, even when very high amounts of isoflavones were present. The research concerning links between soy and hormonal issues, particular breast cancer, were nearly all were conducted in animals. Animal studies often poorly predict effects in humans, and this is especially true in the case of soy, as rodents metabolize isoflavones differently than humans. Men can gain a number of benefits from eating soyfoods since these foods help to lower blood cholesterol levels and may reduce risk for prostate cancer.

Coming from a whole-foods plant-based perspective, some soyfoods loose points for being heavily processed. Choose your battles. I personally eat soyfoods every second day, either in my latte or Asian dish. I was a difficult baby and couldn’t be breast fed after three months. I developed eczema when given cow’s milk-based formula as a baby and had to be given soy-based formula instead. Even with all the investigation I have done into soy, this is still the most powerful evidence I need, that soy is not bad for me, or at least not as bad as the alternatives.

References and Resources

To watch GMO OMG on YouTube for $6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5yFq-QREOw (for assured jaw drop and shift it attitude favouring organic food)

Help fight the good fight but liking March Against Monsanto on Facebook, as they should not be able to modify our food, least of all without our permission, across the globe: https://www.facebook.com/MarchAgainstMonstanto/timeline

The Guardian article critical of republication of Seralini study: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/24/controversial-seralini-study-gm-cancer-rats-republished

SBS article about food labelling in Australia:  http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2012/11/15/factbox-gm-foods-australia

A guide to everything you ever wanted to know about soy, including clinical research, list of all the differnt types of soyfoods and the nutrictional value of each: http://www.soyconnection.com/sites/default/files/SoyfoodsGuide_2015_web.pdf

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